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Panda Returns From Rehab
Neck mended by Laundry Friend, free of charge
I want to tell you about two of Kina’s friends.
The first friend is Panda—a stuffie given to her two years ago by our downstairs neighbor Arcangel. Panda is a panda, with all the trappings of a panda, but he has emerald green eyes that have been scuffed up in the dryer from all the banging around, giving him a lived-in look that fits with his general scruffiness. Panda has been among Kina’s favorite stuffies since she first met him, despite his humble origins at the local dollar toy store. She’s loved him literally to pieces—he recently burst a seam between his head and torso, leaving a hole that grew larger as time went on, because Kina would soothe herself, somewhat disturbingly, by hooking her finger into it. Until very recently, we had been thinking that his days were numbered.
The second friend is Kelvin—the owner of the dry cleaning concern on the corner of our block. About a year ago, when Kina got really into careening down ramps on her scooter, she would end her outdoor routine with a stop at the front door of Kelvin Cleaners, where she would wave briskly before shoving off down their access ramp. After only a few weeks, the crew of guys who work there (who are not generally friendly people) started rushing from the back of the shop anytime Kina showed up, so they could wave back at her before she sped into the distance. Over time, Kina took to waving both on her way out of the building and on her way back home, which has made Kelvin and his staff her very best neighborhood friends. The other day, I took her winter coat down to Kelvin for a cleaning, and he grilled me for a full two minutes on the quality of her backup jacket. In twenty years, I have never gotten an overnight turnaround from Kelvin, but Kina did.
When Kina and Laurea went to pick up that winter coat the other day, Kelvin saw Kina hugging Panda, and he asked to see him. She showed Kelvin her other best neighborhood friend, and he carefully examined Panda’s leaky neck. “This is hand sewn,” he muttered, before offering that he might be able to give Panda a proper rehabilitation. Figuring that Kelvin had better things to do, we waited a week before picking Panda up, but when we stopped in yesterday, he had produced from under the counter a clean and fully-mended Panda before we’d even opened the door. Kina stood grinning at the transom as the various launderers of Kelvin Cleaners fawned over her. She walked over to the counter, and Kelvin reached across to place Panda in her arms. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, when we tried to pay. Kina hugged Panda tightly and waved goodbye. Kelvin waved goodbye back.
Sometimes I think about leaving this neighborhood to find an apartment with level floors and a normal-sized bathroom on some quiet street elsewhere in the city. Sometimes I wonder if we should leave the city entirely—if the years ahead will bring trouble back to this place. When I think about those things, a montage plays out in my mind: front yards, second bathrooms, a kitchen with a proper counter, clean air. That movie almost pulls me in, but it melts away like a frame stuck in the projector as I think about the people we know here: Arcangel, who lives in a studio apartment and has a bum hip, but routinely walks two blocks to buy toys for Kina; Roberto, who lives next door to us, is ninety-three years old, and gives Kina fist bumps on the sidewalk; Eddie, our superintendent, who cried when Kina gave him a portrait she’d painted of him this Christmas; the older lady who lives downstairs, who has never told me her name, who once got a new toilet by shattering her old one with a sledgehammer, who used to flick lit cigarettes at my head from her second-story window when I first moved in, and who now sweetly asks about Kina’s well-being at every opportunity; and Kelvin, who will hand-stitch a stuffie’s head back on for the four-year-old who lives next door. Like a blooming glow of halogen light, these people burn through any thought I ever have of leaving this drafty apartment.
These people are worth more.
Kina is sleeping with Panda as I write this.
Friends take care of each other.