Going Home

“A 20% down payment on a $600,000 house is $120,000.  You’ll need that plus another $20,000 to cover closing costs at minimum to get started.”

Back in India that amount of money would have bought a palace and even elsewhere in the US it would have bought a mansion, but here in the Bay Area it would buy only a modest 3 bedroom in a not-too-bad part of Oakland.  The numbers were so big they might as well be imaginary.   At more than a year’s gross salary just to get started, it was an almost impossible number to raise.  His programmer’s instinct kicked in and Ajay immediately started breaking down the numbers into smaller pieces.  $12,000 for the new motorcycle he had wanted since his bike had died – riding BART into the city every day had tripled the length of his commute.  $15k for a used minivan to get the kids to their soccer games and violin lessons.  Another $6,000 or so to take the whole family to India to visit his grandparents – after all they weren’t getting any younger and he wanted his children to have memories of them and of the village where he grew up.  Those costs had seemed insurmountable on their own but even all together they were only a third of what he’d need to raise here.  All of that and he hadn’t even scratched the surface of this phenomenal figure.  Still, his family needed a place to live and rent isn’t all that much cheaper than a mortgage once you get the down payment out of the way.  Why throw money down a hole? And Pita, his father, had always wanted the family to own land in America.

He and Vedika had saved everything they could for years but still barely scratched the surface of what they needed.  They both worked full time, lived frugally, almost never went out to restaurants or took vacations.  They’d managed to scrape together almost $20,000 over the course of the last 4 years – only to watch housing prices soar, dip temporarily almost into the range where they could  afford something, and then take off again with hardly a pause.  They had made several bids last year only to see all three houses get snatched up with cash offers from property management companies that promptly turned them into rentals.  When their offer for the last one fell through he and Vedika had been so disappointed they sat together and cried.  Their son, John (they’d given him an Anglo name to try and help him fit in) was 5 and had been so frightened to see his parents cry he’d joined in as well.  They kissed his tears away and let him sleep in their bed, the three of them holding each other tight like refugees on a life raft lost at sea.

Last month Ajay’s father had died, his mother had died of an illness years before and he was an only child.  He had been a good father, stern but fair; but they had never been close.  By the time Ajay was a teenager they were more like housemates than family.  He’d hardly discussed his money troubles, only a dutiful nod that “yes father, I am still saving.  We will buy land as soon as we can afford it.”  Pitā was old, but not that old so the death was a shock.  As far as anyone knew he was in good health.  Ajay was doubly shocked to receive a check for $150,000 from an insurance company – apparently his father had signed up for the policy just months prior.  He must have known somehow that it was coming.  And so the money appeared out of the blue, a message of love from the father he had hardly known.  He was alternately moved to tears, overjoyed, relieved, and ashamed at himself for feeling such emotions instead of the grief everyone expected.

The bank manager was impatient, drumming his fingers on his clipboard.  Mister Sampat, did you hear me?  There’s no point even looking unless you are ready to make a bid, the market is moving far to fast.  Do you have your down payment ready?

Yes, the money is all here.  It was a gift from my father.

Alright, I’ll need a signed and notarized letter saying that it was a gift and he will not be expecting repayment…

No, I’m sorry.  You don’t understand, he’s dead.  It was his life insurance money.

The man was caught of guard and stammered “Oh I’m, I’m sorry for your loss.”

It is alright, there’s no reason to apologize.  I will send you all the papers tonight.

A week later they made their first bid on a home, two weeks later they found out it had been accepted.  They kept waiting to give notice to their landlord in case something went wrong and the deal fell through, but all went as planned and a month later he had the keys.  He gave notice the same day.  As he and Vedika loaded up all their things into the moving truck John started to cry and asked “where are they taking our things Pitā?  Where are we going?”

Ajay picked up his little boy, the light of his world, and held him close.  “Dry your tears my son,  today we go home for the first time.”