Jake sighed as he slumped against the steering wheel of his truck and moved back into the lane. He had moved over to the side to let a motorcycle past because the truck filled the whole lane. It had been years since he’d been on a bike, the girl who loved to ride on the back of his cruiser when they were dating had mysteriously morphed into a wife who made him sell his bike because she was worried he’d get killed riding it. At least that meant she wanted him to make it home, right? Things could be worse. Some couples burned hot for a few years and then faded but they still lay in bed on Saturday mornings laughing and cuddling like newlyweds. He smiled, thinking about her eyes looking up at him. Continue reading
Molly ran down the dirt road, squealing with delight. She felt as though if she went any faster her body would break gravity’s hold and she’d be able to soar off into the sky. She jumped and spread her arms wide imagining it, before landing knees bent and then springing forward again.
Look at me daddy, I’m flying!
Her father came walking behind, heavy backpack weighing him to earth as they slowly climbed the mountain. Their previous camp spot downtown under the bridge had been a hell of a lot more convenient, but the police had a habit of waking people they caught camping with a kick to the head and if one of those bastards hurt Molly, things would get very intense very fast. He wasn’t going to let that happen. So instead, it was up into the hills. Less accessible, more places to camp, no cops, and clean fresh air.
Up ahead, Molly was perched on top of a boulder, looking out at the city below. She had no concept of homelessness or unemployment and if her father had his way she never would. And while she still cried sometimes at night because she missed her mother, this last summer had been one gigantic adventure and she was thrilled to have her daddy spending so much time with her.
Tom found himself walking the path, lost in thought. When his wife had been diagnosed with cancer he thought his world was ending and things couldn’t get worse, at least until their health insurance refused to pay for her treatment and they’d had to take out a second mortgage to cover the bills. He quickly used up all his time off and sick leave driving her to doctors appointments. His work suffered, but even so, the layoff had taken him by surprise. Unable to afford the treatment and with his credit cards maxed out, he’d taken Jeanine home; hardly leaving her side for those last weeks. Molly didn’t understand what was going on and cried constantly, they all did. A month after Jeanine died, he and Molly had moved in with a friend and put the house up for sale while he continued to look for work. But the work hadn’t come and there’s a limit to the generosity of even a good friend.
Look at the city daddy! It’s beautiful!
It’s hard to stay depressed around a five year old, especially one as precocious as Molly. Tom pulled himself together and bent down to look along her outstretched arm at the city below.
Well, I promised you a place with a view didn’t I? Only the best for my little girl.
He hugged her like he’d never let her go, his whole world wrapped up tight in his arms. They watched the sun set over the trees.
“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.”
Jacob was having a great day. One of those days that you look back on for years and remember as a perfect moment of happiness. After months of thinking and planning about how to ask Katy to marry him he’d just blurted it out as he drove her to work. To his great surprise, the answer had been an easy ‘of course’ and a smile that lit her face up so bright he was sure astronauts could see the glow from space. Jacob was thrilled. He felt like a kid on christmas morning who’d asked for something incredible, never expecting to actually get it, and found it waiting for him under the tree. As he pulled away from the parking lot and into the intersection he could practically hear his heart beating he was so happy.
He never even saw the other car coming. Continue reading
She said the word like it was the ultimate answer and within it he could find any truth he might seek. Her eyes shone with laughter at the look on his face and he smiled back. He hadn’t been sure about being a father and still lost sleep most nights worrying about whether he was doing a good job, but when Molly laughed it felt right. It felt like home.
“Tacos it is then!” He said it like he was introducing a rock band and the response was no less enthusiastic.
Above them the train clattered along it’s tracks and the bridge shook like an over sized dog who’s just escaped a bath tub. Out beyond the overpass the rain came down in heavy sheets muffling sound and painting the world in great splotches of grey like some monochromatic impressionist painting. But for now at least they were warm, dry, and had enough to eat for dinner. As far as his little girl was concerned nothing else mattered.
As he pulled the pans out of his backpack and lit up the little butane stove he thought to himself:
One more day. We can do this, just one more day.
Grey clouds still obscured the sky but the day was finally getting warmer, and about time too! After months of a spring that felt more like winter, John was ready for a little sunshine. The weather forecast all week had been sunny but so far the clouds had managed to maintain their grip on the world and shut out the sun like curtains over an insomniacs bedroom window.
Unfortunately, John had been up since well before dawn. Up at two, at work by three, and hours alone in front of the oven before laying eyes on another human at 6 when he opened the shop. The early risers weren’t much good for conversation even then – most were barely awake enough to walk in a straight line and grasp their coffee cups like life rafts. Even with the new Starbucks that had gone in right across the street, his shop was still full most mornings – his bacon and egg croissants were the stuff of legend. And while his coffee wasn’t as fancy or sugary, most of his customers seemed perfectly happy to be able to order a “Large” instead of a “Grande.”
Today though, John was tired – a crying baby makes a poor room mate and neither he nor Anna had slept much in months. There’s only so much caffeine can substitute for sleep after all! And the Starbucks was doing one of their endless promotions, drawing away his customers and leaving him with more than the usual number of unsold pastries. He gave the leftovers to the guy from the homeless shelter who came by at closing time every day – at least they wouldn’t go to waste! But with his wife staying home to take care of Molly, every dollar was precious and far too many of them went into the donation bag.
He made his way home slowly, feet tired from standing all day. Finally, his door, his home. A wife tired and almost certainly cranky after spending all day with an infant. Once more into the breach! And in the door. Kiss the wife, take off the shoes, take the baby, and sit in his chair by the window to try and rock her to sleep. To his great surprise, Molly didn’t cry or fuss but settled down and fell asleep on his chest almost immediately. As if on cue, the sun broke through the cloud cover and streamed in through the window like liquid gold.
It was a good day.