In the safety and sterility of my truck as I rattled off down the road away from Anacostia and its troubles, my mind was buzzing with all the experiences of the past hours. The hodge-podge of events began to gradually settle themselves in a logical way in my thoughts. Somewhere halfway home, I clapped my hands on the steering wheel in fierce determination. Okay, my mind was made up. I knew what I had to do. No sooner than I returned home, I called my realtor and related the entire strange drama to him and my even stranger involvement in the future of this lost community. I sought his professional maneuvering to make an offer for the house, $5,000 below asking price. In other words, I would purchase it “as is” for $100,000.
As I spoke with my realtor from the cool of the balcony of my high-rise apartment, my eyes feasted on the Washington Monument in the background, with weekend crowds milling around restaurants and shops in Pentagon City. Two communities so close, yet so far. Was I going to be a catalyst for change? A harbinger of events to come?
My realtor delved into the history of Williams’ house and called me back. The house was actually in foreclosure, with Williams not having paid his mortgage for over seven months. The bank had already set in motion the process to repossess the house. What was more, the payoff was just a little below $100,000. For some strange reason, Williams had refinanced the loan a couple months back. It seemed such an unfair twist of fate, a bitter shame that they were losing the house. After forty years of struggle, after forty years of sweat and blood and reams of dreams, you would think that they would have something to show for it.
The next day came, Monday, and soon after my work day I met with Billy at the house. He had beside him a youthful, pleasantly plump-looking woman with, honey-brown eyes and thick hair captured in a tight braid. There seemed to be a substantial age gap between the two. I thought she looked closer to my age. She wore a police uniform and I could tell right away that she worked as a dispatcher for the DC Police. Billy laid his hand on her shoulder as I joined them. “Chito, I want you to meet Tina. Tina has the power of attorney. You deal with her from now on as the seller and for the settlement. Just deal with me for the repairs and renovation.”
“Nice to meet you, Tina.” Tina’s glowing eyes penetrated my gaze and held eyes contact for a long moment. She was trying to tell me something, I felt. Behind the casual friendliness I could see an urgency, a desperation, a plea for help, to get them out of the mess they were in. I felt a strange invitation being silently extended to me, to join as an ad hoc member of the house and to become part of their family. There was no racial division. It didn’t matter that I was Asian. As she held my gaze she knew she could trust me. She knew I would end up being their saviour in preserving their father’s house.
It was all gone in a moment, though. Tina grasped my hand and said, “Very nice to meet you. Where are you from?”
“I live in Virginia. Arlington to be exact.”
Tina’s five year old son, Daryl gripping his mother’s skirt, looked me up and down in silent, intense absorption.
Tina was suddenly all business-like. “So how much are you willing to offer for my father’s house?”
There were several offers on their house, I knew that by now – a couple of them over the asking price. Yet it seemed that she was more interested in the prospect of my involvement in their house. She seemed to be making a close assessment of me as a person.
“Not much over the asking price,” I replied. “But pretty close to it.”
I was trying to be cordial but I had to maintain a professional demeanor for the sake of the peculiar business transaction that seemed to be taking place. She gave me a hard look. Then her face broke into a warm grin and she gripped my hand in a firm, tenacious clasp. “You are in, that’s for sure.”
I thought I was dreaming. I had not really given a strong offer but it was obvious they had welcomed me into the family with open arms. This was really incredible. Almost against my will, I had got dragged into this family situation, and as much as I wanted to keep my distance, I knew I couldn’t. I was in it with them whether I liked it or not, the rapport and affinity I had felt from the start subtly changing to compassion and a compelling passion to save this house for this family.
As I reflected momentarily on what I was taking on, I felt a surge of panic arise in my throat. I had never tackled anything of this scope. I wasn’t even handy. But deep down in the core of my being, I knew I had to take on this challenge. Unswerving determination gripped me. I would learn construction. I would hire Billy’s team and together we would demo the basement, layout the floor plan and build the rooms to specs. A formidable task may be, but it was my calling both on a personal level and in recognition of Alphonso Williams for all his hard work and commitment.