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Ni Hao, Neighbor

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

New York City living can be defined by the apartment you live in and the office you work in. Repetition and consistency, although great, can also become mundane after you make the same walk, or subway ride, over and over again. 

My roommate and I have been living in a 2 bedroom apartment in the lower east side neighborhood of New York City and have loved every minute. From the soccer pitch across the street to the community we have the privilege of living in, our home provides us that peace of mind from a city that never sleeps.

Over the last 6 months, we have come to know our neighbor in passing; a small, always smiling Chinese grandma, who reminds me of my baba’s smile and fragility. Everyday, I come home from work to a welcoming face on our 4th floor walk-up. It’s always my neighbor getting in her steps by walking from one end of the hallway to the other, back and forth, one step after the other, over and over again.

In September of 2019 I got a knock on our door from a reporter and her team. They were asking if we’d seen our friendly neighbor as she had just been the victim of a Chinatown mugging a few days prior. “Oh no!” I thought to myself, “I hope she’s alright,” feeling for her and her family. While the reporter wrote down her number and asked me to phone them if/when she returned, I elected not to in fear of causing unnecessary stress after such a traumatic experience.

A few days later I returned home from work, arriving to the sound of 4th floor footsteps once again pacing back and forth. It brought a smile to my face to see her again; this time with battle wounds in the form of 4 missing teeth and some bruises. She smiled, wide as ever, and I waved and gave her a hug as she tried to explain what had happened. After a few hand signals and a big bright smile, I knew that she knew we were on the same page even though not a single word had been spoken.

I got home that day and couldn’t stop thinking about the recent events that had unfolded. How could an 85 year old grandma, who had just been mugged and robbed a few days prior, already be back to her daily routine? What could she be thinking about as she paced back and forth staring down at the checkered, black and white tiled floor?

In trying to explain these events to myself, I subconsciously started thinking of ways to spice up her daily routine. I began brainstorming. The idea of buying her a Fitbit popped into my mind so she could track her steps - too expensive I thought. Or even just the simple gesture of making her a home-cooked Indian dish would mean a lot to her - too cliché for asians I thought. Both these options were viable and meaningful, but the better option, one that could bring more spice and more consistency to her daily routine, was already right in front of me.

On a Eurotrip with my childhood friend back in 2016 we had purchased a size 1 football at the Adidas store in Munich to play with in the English Gardens and on our travels. It proved extremely valuable as it gave us something to do, allowed us to meet new friends, and was easily transportable from one city to the next. This ball still resides with me in NYC; I dribble it everyday through our coffee table pegs, under the couch and off the walls and this felt like the right time to pass it along.

The next day, during the same time, hearing the same footsteps, I peeped out of my front door to offer up my size 1 Euro 2016 Adidas replica ball. It was small enough for her and small enough for the hallway she’d be walking in. Again, no words were spoken, but before she could react or think of why I would be handing her a football, I placed it on the floor and started to emulate her walking, this time dribbling the ball one step after another. I gave her the ball, gave her a hug, and went back to cooking my dinner. 

I knew that she knew we were on the same page. A simple gesture, but one packed with emotion.

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