Make Good Neighbors
When he was a little boy he bounced a ball. Up and down the sidewalk in front of his house, I’d see him on my way to get groceries, tight brown afro, wide eyes set in concentration as he worked to keep it moving. Siblings and parents and grandparents would watch over him from the porch.
When he was a bigger boy he pulled a wagon. Same as with the ball he’d go up and down the sidewalk, one house up towards the corner, two houses down in the other direction, then turn and back again. He would keep at it for hours, I’d spy him on my way to run errands, he’d still be out there when I returned.
When he was a teenager he exchanged the wagon for a stroller, now and then there’d be a child in it, sometimes a doll, but mostly it was empty, the point never the passenger but the activity itself, little brothers and sisters often ran in the yard beside him.
I live in the neighborhood I was born and raised in. I went away for a little while and then I came back, I raise my own children here now. I feel ownership over the streets and the sidewalks and the houses and the families inside them. They are my neighbors, my people. I chart their existence like a sailor charts the stars in the sky, measurable beacons of time and place that point you in the direction of home.
The house on the corner beside the boy with the ball sat vacant for years. The tree in the front yard died and threatened collapse. The shutters fell off in the yard. All the while the boy with the ball, then the wagon, then the stroller, walked past it and back again. But last month everything changed. Last month someone bought the house on the corner and painted it white. The paint made me happy. What did not make me happy was the six-foot fence they placed at the edge of the yard, just feet from the porch where for a decade and more the boy with the ball’s family watched over him. They can’t see him now when he goes to the corner; all they see now is fence.
In the ocean of my neighborhood I am an expert on the tides. The young white couple that planted small shrubs on their side of the fence don’t own that house. They are renters who will be there for two years at most before the world swallows them up and spits them back out into deeper waters. The same can’t be said for the fence though; the fence lives there now. Fences are forever.
That fence was built to block the view of the boy and the family who watched him and no one will ever convince me any different. Humans can be very small. There will always be some who put up fences to keep from seeing what they don’t want to see.
He has upgraded now to a rolling suitcase. He is tall and handsome and he walks up and down the sidewalk while his family sits on the porch and watches him, trusting that he’ll be okay for the few seconds he is out of their sight, one house up towards the corner, two houses down in the other direction, then turn and back again. He’ll still be out there when the couple on the corner has turned their sights to distant shores. He is a buoy in the ocean, unpersuaded by the tides, anchored, strong, immoveable.