by George Opacic
A small electric vehicle backed into a driveway from a quiet neighbourhood street. The garage door opened as the EV slowly moved toward it.
Next door, a person was pushing his smoky, noisy lawnmower along their short adjoining fence. The young muscled man in a bright-coloured tee-shirt with a bold saying on the front (“OIL IS GOOD FOR YOU!”) grinned over at the driver in the EV. He shut off the gas engine to wait for his neighbour, Faheem, to emerge from the garage.
Faheem smiled at Lance as he walked to their fence. “How are you doing on this fine day, Lance? Is that old lawnmower still working?”
With an intense scowl, “What do you mean by that, Feemy?”
The neighbour has never approved of Faheem’s family moving in next door. When Lance and his family moved up from Houston to what they thought would be a better life in Kelowna, they didn’t expect the area to be harbouring what they called FOBs (Fresh Off the Boat). That may have been one reason to explain why they rarely went out, except to buy groceries. Bags and bags of groceries that consisted primarily of salty, greasy manufactured things. All of which constantly filled their garbage cans to overflowing.
In fact, Faheem’s family was from Montreal, where they had settled over a hundred years ago.
Lance’s family came from Venezuela with their toddler, Leonardo, to start a new life in Houston. In school, Leonardo had been picked on by everyone because he didn’t fit into any of the predominant cultural groups. He found his way onto the high school football team and became locally famous for his strong arm as a quarterback. That was where he was given his nickname, Lance. US Immigration caught up to the family after a jealous team-mate secretly complained to the authorities. The family had to quickly relocate to Canada.
Faheem’s family had moved west from Montreal when the grandfather was offered an engineering job in Vancouver. Faheem’s father decided to leave engineering after his firm was involved in a tragic event after a harried apprentice made a calculation error with the strength of gussets integral to a high-rise steel building. He opened a tire shop in the Lower Mainland then expanded to the Interior. They did well in business.
The family had purchased a cabin in the Kelowna area so they were familiar with the different climate. Faheem’s father decided to move his family to Kelowna to grow their business further and to be closer to the comfortable cabin on the lake into which his grandparents had retired. Their now-elderly grandparents enjoyed the drier summers at their cabin. Faheem later took over operation of their Kelowna store while a cousin handled the stores they had around Vancouver. Faheem’s parents slipped into semi-retirement by cruising the world. Life was good.
After the senior grandfather passed away, grandma stayed in the cabin. Faheem and the young family visited her just about every weekend.
Shortly after establishing themselves in Kelowna, Faheem moved into their quiet neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kelowna after their second child was born. Faheem’s wife, Sharron, told him they needed more room for their first child, five-year-old Noor, and their infant son, Numa. Faheem let her handle the house purchase while he was occupied with supply chain issues at work.
The neighbours on one side, Chris and Elenore, were very busy with their respective careers. She was an executive who traveled often for her company, while he was a night manager at a local hotel. He spent more time in the bar than at home. They hired a gardener to do their lawn.
On the other side, Lance lived with his parents and did the lawnmowing, though it was a pro-forma cut with no work on border flowers or shrubs. Lance’s parents bickered too often. During their loud bickering, Lance would close his upper level bedroom door. Even after his parents retired to their separate corners, Lance kept his door shut. He became adept at a host of electronic games. As he approached thirty, his life became more and more digital.
The family that had owned Faheem’s house had been fastidious gardeners. Early on, Sharron worked very hard to keep up the front and back gardens. Her worsening arthritis made that a sometimes painful task so Faheem convinced her to accept the help of a landscaper for the heavier jobs. The result was a lovely front yard and a delightful oasis in the back – almost as pleasant as their cabin property.
This made Lance jealous, on the occasions that he emerged from his house. Indeed, Lance’s simmering distemper after a life of being bullied and of bullying, did not make him a pleasant neighbour. He took every opportunity to pepper his brief conversations with Faheem with disrespectful comments and needling about Faheem’s lifestyle.
So, Faheem avoided speaking with Lance whenever he could. But, that day, there was Lance, facing Faheem boldly, daring him to engage.
Calling Faheem “Feemy” was intended to be disrespectful, of course, and provocative. Faheem didn’t bite. He understood that the sentiment came from Lance’s difficult life. Lance had failed at high school football because of the family’s forced move. He had attempted to join a local motorcycle club but a single-vehicle crash and loss of the expensive bike had nixed that foray. He had begun to bet heavily online, with never a significant win. And he had these new neighbours for the past year whom he could blame for his life being in the shits.
Knowing all that did not make it any easier for Faheem to take more than a minute’s worth of derision from Lance.
“I’m sorry, Lance. I was just commenting on the huge grey cloud of smoke that’s being blown into our neighbourhood by your old lawnmower. Would you care to use our electric…”
“That piece of junk couldn’t even cut my grass! And the cord’d get the way!”
“Well, actually, it’s a battery mower. No cord. And it does have more than enough power to trim heavy grass. When Chris and Elenore went on vacation last fall, their gardener didn’t cut their grass so I did it for them a couple times, if you remember. For the first cut, the grass had to be almost fifteen centimetres…”
“Hah! Electrics can’t do anything as well as a good old gas mower!” He pulled the wrinkles down on his tee-shirt so it could be read easily. “And what the hell’s a sissy centimetre anyway? Talk English if you can, Feemy.”
Without further reply, Faheem shrugged and walked away.
That weekend, Faheem’s family went to their cabin as usual, to let grandma play with the newborn Numa.
With grandma cuddling Numa, Faheem sat with Noor under their backyard gazebo overlooking a quiet lake. Seeing a furry flash in the shadows under the shrubs near the lake, Faheem was reminded of an incident that happened at the cabin.
He chuckled, “That mouse might have been the one on the dresser that scared grandma so much, a couple years ago. She ran out the door with a scream and wild eyes and headed right for the car and grabbed at the locked door. She was terrified and yelling, ‘Open the damn door!’ I don’t remember grandma swearing before…” He grinned broadly.
“You remember that, Noor? You must have heard her and you ran to her with the keys. Grandma flung open the car door, jumped in and huddled, shivering in the back seat. She was going to stay there all night.”
“Was it cold?”
“No, it was a pleasant night. She was shivering because, well, some people do that when they’re really afraid.”
“Oh. Do you get really afraid like that?”
“Not in the same way, Noor.” He chuckled again. “Would have been funny if that was the night the mother black bear from the forest decided to take her two cubs up to the cabin to find some food. Ha ha!”
Chagrined, “Yes, sorry… But… I can just imagine if grandma looked up to see the bear licking its lips at the lunch in the back seat.” He suppressed a laugh.
“Daddy! That’s cruel! Did you leave the lunch in the car?”
“Sorry, Noor, no, it, ah, wasn’t there. Sorry, that was insensitive.” He couldn’t help grinning at the vision. “From the frying pan into the fire.”
Curious, “What’s that mean, daddy?”
“Well,” he thought for a bit, “it means, well, the frying pan might have been hot but the fire was much worse.”
A glimmer of understanding. “So… the mouse in grandma’s room was bad but the bear outside the car would be worse?”
He gave her a hug. “Exactly.” And he thought, So much better to talk like this than for her to paste her eyes onto a screen and watch flashing lights all day.
Noor was still curious. “But daddy, what would you do if you were in a frying pan?”
“Ah…” Caught off-guard, he had to think fast. “Well, being on a hot frying pan is not something to do…”
“But what if you were?”
He stared at the ceiling. “Ok. So, the first thing to remember when you’re in deep, ah, doo-doo, is to not let your mind go crazy. All the signals in your head at that time, in an emergency, can cloud, it can block you from seeing a way out. Like, what I would do is look for a safer way out. Like jump up to the handle and carefully walk away from the fire.” He was pleased with himself for having found an answer.
“Yes, but what if it was the Giant on the beanstalk who was holding the handle?”
“Well… The Giant has long sleeves on his shirt, doesn’t he?”
“So I’d run up his sleeve and start tickling him until fell into a fit of laughter! Then I’d scurry the h…heck out of there!”
Noor thought for a minute then nodded with a smile. “You’re so smart, daddy.”
Neighbours!!! Anyone you know?