|Winter 2016, Kennewick, Washington|
“Well, thank you,” I said, surprised by this kid’s enthusiastic welcome.
“How do you like it here?” he asked. He was a slender kid, with black hair, dark eyes, and an infectious smile.
“We just got here,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“It’s a nice neighborhood,” he said, and turning to look across the street said, “We live right over there.”
I ran into the kid a lot after that. He played with a boy that lived next door to us -- football, baseball, soccer, hockey -- and all in the front yard and the street. The tennis ball with which they played baseball invariably ended up in my yard and after I’d fetched it a few times, they invited me to play “home run derby” with them. I was assigned pitching duties.
Thanks to the kid, I got to know his family a bit -- father, mother, a younger brother, and three younger sisters. Nice people. Good neighbors.
The family moved after a year or so -- not far, but far enough so that my baseball career was over. The next time I saw the boy he had walked over to see his friend and stopped by my house to say hello. He asked after my wife and son.
“Fine,” I said, and asked after his family.
They were all good.
He was wearing his soccer uniform. I asked him how he was doing on the high school soccer team and he told me he wasn’t playing because he was experiencing bad back pain. I asked him if he’d hurt himself. He said no. “They don’t know what’s causing it.”
It turned out the boy had childhood leukemia. He required an aggressive regime of chemotherapy, targeted drugs, and radiation at a hospital in another city, three hours away. He spent a prolonged stay in the hospital for treatment, and to avoid infection. After his release, his father drove him back to the hospital every week for two-day treatments. The father’s contracting business was put on hold.
I went over to the family’s new house several times during this period to check on the boy. He’d lost his hair. He had no appetite. He’d lost weight. He looked pale. And he asked me, “How are things in the neighborhood? How’s your wife? How’s your son?”
The boy is 16 now. His hair has grown back. He’s gained weight. He’s playing soccer again. He still has to be taken to the clinic every month for maintenance chemotherapy. This will go on for two years.
The family is doing well. The father is working full time again. They just had their sixth child -- another boy. They are strong in their faith. It sustains them -- “Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”
Ahmed is happy. He just got his learner’s permit. He told me he wants to be a doctor. “I want to cure cancer,” he said.