We don’t know our neighbors very well. In fact, we hardly know them at all. Most of the families living on our floor are locals, some of them are Lebanese, and I noticed a few Sudanese-looking kids. Needless to say, we were surrounded by Arabic-speaking families. That was until a year ago.
A few days before Eid last year, an Indian family moved into the apartment next door. I don’t go out much, so I never knew when the Emirati family, who used to stay there, moved out. One night, while I was home with my mother-in-law, the door bell rang. It was an Indian woman, who greeted me by saying, “Hi, can I borrow your wiper?”
Apparently, when she and her husband came in a couple of days ago to clean the place up, they forgot to turn off the tap. The water had flooded the entire apartment. The building watchman phoned them, because they took all the keys with them too.
And so, I came to know that we were going to have desi neighbors. Boy, was I thrilled! Finally, there was someone who could speak our language. And they have a little girl. I began planning on how to meet them.
So on Eid last year, with a bowl of some homemade kheer in hand, my mother-in-law and I went over to meet our new neighbors, who didn’t visit us after borrowing our floor wiper. She welcomed us in. We sat there, among three other women and two children, who didn’t speak our language. You see, we eventually learned that day that our new neighbors are from Kerala and didn’t speak Hindi. They didn’t understand much English either. Seeing my mother-in-law becoming rather uncomfortable, I decided to leave.
Few weeks later, my mother-in-law tells me, “She didn’t return our bowl yet.” But I didn’t want to go, so I asked Masood instead, who of course, didn’t agree. “Why should I go get that bowl? You brought it there in the first place.” Of course, he has a point. Why should he go into someone’s apartment and ask the woman living there for our bowl?
Therefore, I went next door to get my bowl back. Our neighbor opened the door, rather surprised to see me standing there. “Salaam. How are you doing?” I didn’t know how else to start the conversation. “Walaikum Assalam,” she replied, still looking surprised. She was holding a broom.
“I came to get the bowl, the one which contained the kheer I brought on Eid,” I told her. “Ah yes,” she replied, as if she didn’t notice that one of the bowls in her kitchen didn’t belong to her.
While she disappeared into the kitchen, her four-year-old daughter came out from a room, dragging a bucket behind her. She was in her undies, but wearing all these gold jewellery! Her embarrased mother suddenly came out, with my bowl, telling the child to go inside. “I was just about to give her a bath,” she tried to explain.
I took my bowl, thanked her, and returned home.
Since then, I have never heard from my neighbors again.