Random Thoughts

My Multicultural Neighbors

I find that the sun deck of my house gives me great entertainment in the early mornings and late evenings. The view is not that enchanting that one can boast about, they are just the normal backyards facing each other with average size lawns that hardly have any contrast except for my neighbor on the left, who need occasional reminders of the savage growth that nests the mosquitoes during the warmer season, that could be the vectors of deceases. Every house is fenced with weather-beaten six foot cedars dividing the properties. The residences were built over thirty years ago and I have seen roofs replaced on few houses over the years that I have been here. Despite the busy street, the backyard has the ambience of countryside, quite exposed from the sundeck and yet from the ground offers life of a privileged.

I sit on my comfortable chair and read books during the summer months while barbecuing and observe the activities of people. During the winter months I stand by the railings in the late evenings when the profound silence spreads itself in the backyard. There, I enjoy my solitary moments gazing the dark blue twinkling skies that expose few planets on the clear night. Come to think of it, as a writer it is my business to be curious about people and their behaviors. At times I ponder on the peace of this scene, charged with tremulous and dark significance, affecting the people who live here. The tender and yet strangely sinister aspect of the scene that I witness during the hours of the day is imbued with some mystical qualities. The life led by these people after work is certainly their business and it seems they attach a good deal of importance to the social things considering that they may belong to the well-to-do class of society.

During the summer solstice when the days are longer, neighbors water their gardens every day and the flourishing flowers bloom in multi-colors and vegetables ripen before the season maturity verges to decline. The season changes so do the people's mood and their desires. The previous autumn foliage, the withered trees, the sodden pasture lane once again breathes to life with flying colors. The black crows along with seagulls during their morning flight towards the embankment stop by and snack on bread and chapattis that my wife kind heartedly throws in the backyard. Many times flock of ravens in flight would land and munch on the tit bits on the ground also. Neighbors don't seem to care to enjoy the sight of birds being fed in the cool afternoons; in all probability I believe they don't care about these transient airborne creatures anyway. The only complain the neighbors have about their homes are half of them face west and the other half east and the heat of the molten sun is constant on the front and the backyard.

At the beginning, the early morning lawn mower noises were unbearable and now over the years I have become immune to them, like one of my colleagues did with trains passing behind his house when the hour stroke to twelve every night. Every Sunday, early in the morning, everyone seemed to be mowing their lawns, while Mr. Lin, my neighbor on my left, who owns a moving company, chooses the odd time of the day to mow his lawn.

'Mr. Lin, please don't mow your lawn at six thirty in the morning, you disturb our sleep,' I complained one day.
'Oh no, it is good exercise before work,' he replied with great ease.

After disturbing the neighborhood with weed eater and lawn mower noises he brings out his old furniture and other odd things and has a garage sale by seven in the morning. He is tall, slim with large handsome friendly eyes, always dressed in white. He would be in his forties and his wife is short and slightly obese. She has never uttered a word to me since they moved into the neighborhood. I gathered from their hodgepodge in the yard that the husband is the collector of discarded things that people refuse to take when they move. I remember in early March, he left a sofa soaking in the rain for a week.

'Oh sun come out, sofa dry someone buy, cheap, you buy?' he said laughingly.
Poverty stricken in China, he managed to get landed status in Canada. He told me that when he landed at Vancouver Airport, he had five Canadian dollars to his name. He speaks very little English; sometimes I do not bother to ask him to repeat what he had said. 'I hire East Indian and Chinese anytime, hard workers,' he said. He mentioned that one time he hired a Caucasian to work for him, though he admitted that humans are incalculable and that he would be a fool who told himself that he knew what a man is capable of. 'He no work, want more pay, I fire him, no good,' he said as he lit another cigarette from the one he just finished.

'You play Mah Jongg, Chinese game, very good, you come we play,'
'Thank you, but no, I have not the slightest where to begin, I will pass on this opportunity. Do you play Chess?' I asked him politely.
'No, Mah Jongg nice game, we need one player,' he insisted.
'Oh by the way, the engines of your trucks make lot of noise in the mornings.'
'How I go work then, no start engine no work, stay home no money,' he replied.
'Well I am ok, it is my next door neighbor who complains about the noise.'
'You tell him, put ear plug, no noise sleep good.'

Mr. Lin works hard during the day, if not skillfully, certainly with proficiency. He mentioned that it was quite a lucrative business. In the evenings, before the sun had subdued its colors in the far horizon, he has his super and changes in his bedtime attire and sit in his deck facing his dining room puffing on his cigarette lost in his thoughts, thinking what the next day would bring.

Mr. Chan who resides behind us is a short, slim man with an elfin face and it seems as if he is trying to keep his face above the water to keep afloat. His wife Mai is slightly taller. She has slender figure of a dancer with short black hair. She is not the kind that would end up in a church on Sundays, maybe to any lively parties perhaps. Her eyes are light brown and always seen in her jogging outfit. On the other hand, Mr. Chan, looking much older than his wife, is always seen in his office garb and gardening gloves, either mowing his lawn or clipping the bush of roses. He wears his pants above his naval and the back of his pant hangs slightly lower. He walks with his waist protruding and I believe this sort of catwalk with its incandescent hype could put him in the fashion world. He definitely could be rewarded in any pagan festival. But he is certainly not a heathen. And there is Jenny, a five year daughter who, in her white frill dress and black shoes with white socks, comes outside to play only when the parents are outside doing their chores. Then they have a son who never comes out for anything, it seems he has nothing to do with the backyard. Over the years, they have never waved or glanced at me while I am out on the sundeck.
'Hello, Mr. Chan, how is it going?' I would ask, trying to start some sort of conversation. He would not even look up to acknowledge my greetings. Past winter he stacked his patio chairs against the wall and dismantled the table and until now, it is summer, he had left everything as is. Mrs. Chan has nothing much to do and the days passes easily enough for her. Though the spacious backyard gives her freedom to enjoy the fragrance of the morning, the serenity and quietness, she would rather stay inside committed to her chores. I did come to know later that they did not speak the English language and since I had stopped the greetings.

On Sundays, Mr. Chan unlocks his tool shed and takes the electric lawn mower out and locks the tool shed again. Then he would ask his wife to hold the cord while he cuts the grass. Young Jenny with her toy lawn mower would run along side her father pretending she was the one cutting the lawn. After mowing the lawn he unlocks the shed and places the mower inside and locks it again. I often wondered about Mr. Chan's strange habits but never had the courage to ask him why he would lock and unlock the shed when his entire house is fenced and protected. Couple of weeks there was a gasp of dismay. I thought something terrible has happened; they have not mowed their lawn for over two weeks. Then one day, while I was barbequing, I saw Mr. Chan bring along a manual lawn mower through the rear gate. It had a red handle and green cutting blades. Immediately in his formal clothes, he starts to mow the lawn. After cutting a few rows he asks his wife to try out the mower. They took entire evening to cut the grass and while doing they pointed at each others mistakes without taking umbrage.

'Nice lawn mower, Mr. Chan. Did you just purchase it?' I asked.

Again there was no reply, he ignored me as usual and I did not mind. A few weeks later, Mr. Chan's fourteen year old son decided to have a party with his friends. Mr. Chan put up an open tent at the very corner of his lot. While the boys were having fun drinking soft drinks and eating cookies, he comes out of the living room and sits among the teenagers. Suddenly there was an absolute silence and no one spoke. Mr. Chan starts to insist upon the children to eat more cookies and have more drinks. His son rushes inside the house and within few minutes Mrs. Chan comes out. Mr. Chan looks at his wife's vague smile then looks down. He glances up again at his wife's searching look and perceives her influenced vague smile. They must have been married for at least fifteen years; he knew every expression on her face and every thought in her mind. With a kind gesture Mr. Chan gets up from his chair and walks into the house. The laughter and jokes begins once again and the party becomes livelier. At the end of the day when the party ended, Mr. Chan comes along and dismantles the tent and places it in the shed and mows the small portion of the grass where the tent was put up. Then he walks inside and fetches an empty basket and collects the clothes from the line. At midnight, while I was gazing the skies, Mr. Chan rose up to check the fastenings at the back door and the lock on the tool shed. The lights in the room were turned on. I saw him walk into every room to check if everything was alright. Finally he rested on the sofa and turned on his TV and turned off his family room light. As I was about to close my kitchen door, I saw Mr. Chan in his night gown open the back door again and place the kitchen garbage can outside and take the basket full of clothes inside and turn off the portal light.

Next to Mr. Chan lives an elderly couple from Philippines, Mr. and Mrs. Marco Salcedo. They had retired few years ago and they owned the house. One evening just before dinner the conversation drifted to the subject of how they escaped and came to Canada.

'There were few passengers on the bus that day, usually six in the morning the bus is always crowded. We had the whole seat to ourselves and Manila is phar to traaval,' said Mr. Salcedo barbecuing his steaks while Mrs. Salcedo sat inside and knitted. I stood by the fence and listened to his tale with curiosity. 'The land was yellow green and lots of rice planted all over. The driver was a young boy in his twenties.'

'No he was phifteen, ya, just phifteen, Marco is loosing his head, he is getting old,' interjected his wife through the open patio door, then she said few words in her native Tagalog and went back to her knitting.

'Ya ya, ok phifteen. The ditches phul of water and lots of coco cola signs by the towns. The children were walking to school. Well under Martial Law the things were little bettaar. We reached Cabanatuan, a small town; we had fried beef and egg we had brought along for our lunch. We ate in the bus. Then the bus pulled in Manila station just before nightpall. The same day we flew to America. We left everything there, everything.' Mr. Salcedo thought of his dream once more to continue but had difficulty remembering the scenes and then suddenly he lost everything, as if a rag had been wiped across his brow.

'Well, it is a sad story; do you want to go back now?'

'No, this is my kuntri now, what do I do there now, open a shoe store for Imelda Marcos?' Marco said placing the steaks on the plate to take them inside the house. Over the years, I had noticed Salcedos always barbecued their meals. During the cold winter months Mr. Salcedo would stand outside by the barbecue turning his steaks even when it snowed.

Mr. Salcedo rented the basement to a young Pilipino couple with two kids.

Williamnove hardly stayed home except in the evenings and he also barbecued practically every day. He was tall, slim and well mannered. His wife Evita, a part Chinese, looked after the two girls who were less than six years of age. To keep the children occupied they bought them a white rabbit. A few months later they bought another rabbit. Evita was young with fine dark eyes, and always gave a bright and pleasant smile. She was in a bind with the children being quite young. She obtained her degree in economics from the University of Shangai.

'I like to work but I have to raise these two girls first,' she told me one day. 'Besides I am lucky to have a Pilipino husband, they are unlike the Chinese. There is nothing to prevent a Chinese to have two wives if he wanted them,' Evita said shying away behind the drawn curtains.

'Listen, Evita, I would love to have as many wives as I could but the question is what would I do with them, one is enough in bed.'

'Williamnove has PhD in science and still it is difficult to find a decent job.'

'Don't worry, soon the worst will be over and both of you will be on your way to success,' I said to sooth her.

The entire night, behind the transparent curtains the flashes of colors from the television projected like the festive lights of Christmas. The late night dinners were unavoidable and by the time they had put the girls to sleep, it was almost one in the morning. There were times I came outside when the full moon was bright. Nothing moved, not even a leaf. In the stillness of the night the ghostly figures silhouetted. The slight chill from the wet embankments came along in waves and I got the whiff of the benign fragrance of the air that cooled the land.  


More by :  Dhiraj Raniga

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