My neighbor Vinny Capriani is a great neighbor. I’m happy to have him as one. I live in a state where a man shot another because his kids’ basketball fell into his neighbor’s yard. So I’m happy Vinny is my neighbor. My other neighbor, a tubby attorney, has only spoken to me once. He wanted my signature on some paper because he was running for a county office.
Of Vinny, my kids say he’s the kind of guy that would survive anything—including a zombie apocalypse, a pandemic, and even the end of the world. He walks five miles everyday no matter the weather. When it snowed heavily last winter, he came over with his humongous snowblower and hoovered the piled-up snow off my driveway.
He consoles me by reminding me that I was born in the tropics, while he is New England born and raised—not in a hostile way but in a flinty New England way. He often boasts about the fact that he’s never left New England. My neighbor, Vinny, is prepared for any and every eventuality, my kids would say. Quite true.
When my heat stopped working in the middle of one of the worst winters in New England, he came over to take a look at my furnace. When he couldn’t do anything after examining the beast with a flashlight, he gave us two humongous space heaters to use for as long as we wanted. He often speaks in anodyne England aphorisms: Happy wife, happy life. Oh well, if you don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes its gonna change. Taxes? Taxes are evil. I’m gonna drive my truck until the wheels fall off. I hate the car tax.
A few days ago, I saw him taking his traditional five mile walk.
“That’s a nice deerstalker hat,” I said.
“Oh, is that what it is called?”
“It just keeps my bald-head warm,” he said. “You guys getting ready to hunker down?”
“A little bit,” I replied. “We bought toilet paper and paper towels.”
He laughed. “I never heard of someone dying from not wiping properly. What about about actual stuff you’d need, like food?”
“We have rice, beans, chicken etc.”
“Suppose you are unable to cook?” he asked.
Vinny is as resourceful as the protagonist from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. “I don’t think it would come to that.”
“Always stay one step ahead, my friend,” he said.
Vinny owns a Glock. He also loves jollof rice and dodo. Last night, he knocked on our door; he’d brought us tons of stuff. Chips, doritos, tostitos, salsa, cupcakes, muffins, pound cake, cookies.
“Vinny. Wow, thanks,” I said. “These are great. But we like to eat healthy.”
“Stay alive my friend, ” he said. “You can eat healthy later. Stay alive. Dead men don’t eat healthy. They don’t eat at all.”
Did I mention that my neighbor, Vinny, has a large sign in his yard that says: “Parking For Italians Only, All Others Will Be Shot.” My neighbor, Vinny, and I never talk about his yard sign. As another flinty New Englander once said: Good fences.
*This story was first published on Facebook by the Nigerian author and Caine Prize winner E. C. Osondu. The piece was written in response to the ongoing global pandemic SARS-CoV-2 which has necessitated the practice of social distancing as a way to contain the spread of the highly infectious virus. It has been republished on Brittle Paper with permission from the author.
E. C. Osondu is the author of Voice of America. Born in Nigeria, he received his MFA from Syracuse University and is the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and a Pushcart Prize. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, n+1, Guernica, and other publications. He teaches at Providence College in Rhode Island.