We built the house as quickly as we could, because the children we had adopted needed bedrooms and a place to play. The neighborhood was so raw and new that there were no neighbors. But as other houses were added, and other households took roots, we were different. Not the same. Out of place. My children didn’t look like all the rest.
Deep into the first summer, I was lonely, frustrated, and finished with my attempts to get anything to grow in the heat in Arizona. I heard the knock at the door, and answered it with a baby in my arms, and two on the floor at my feet. The little brown man who stood there said, “I will help you with your yard.”
I recognized him. He appeared next door every other week, and when he left at the end of a few hours, everything was manicured, perfect, and uniform. I said, “I don’t have much of a budget.”
He answered, “Budget? You mean money? I don’t need much.”
He was true to his word, as it turned out. Every other week, when he was finished with the perfection next door, he went quietly into my yard and teased things into growing. He brought starts of pepper plants, and anything that seemed colorful, hardy, and stubborn against the sun. Eventually, my back yard was a friendly place, with splashes of red and green.
I traded him a fountain that I was afraid my kids would climb, for a brick patio that still sits as tidy and even as it did a couple of decades ago. I still plant peppers, and the pomegranate tree that he liked trimmed and I didn’t is now bushy, out of control, and prolific.
Manuel was part of the warm months for years, until one day I got word that his wife had died, and he was so sad that he went home.
Home, where he wouldn’t be so lonely.