Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

Byron

“Here you go,” he said. “It was delivered to my house by mistake.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said. “That was nice of you.”

“I’d want someone to do it for me. Have a great day.”

As he left, I opened the envelope and caught the cash that slid from my birthday card.

The man—no one I knew—had driven a few blocks to our house to ensure I got my mail. He could have kept the card—along with the cash—and I’d have been none the wiser. I was moved by the effort. But what other mail had we missed?

Husband and I noticed how often mail that wasn’t ours was delivered to us. We ran it wherever it needed to go. So did Veronica when she found welfare checks scattered in the middle of the sidewalk right before the Fourth of July weekend. She spent the afternoon delivering the important pieces of mail to the people who counted on them.

The mail delivery issues kept us guessing. One day, I discovered a handful of rubber bands—right by our front door—that the postman had spilled from his bag. They trailed down the steps and to the left. Like Hansel and Gretel’s sprinkled bread crumbs, the rubber bands marked his path. Another day, our mail landed in the bushes.

“At least it got to the right house, if not in the right place,” I said to Husband.

Husband’s eyes narrowed as he peered down between the boards of our front steps. He drove to the store and returned with a special tool—two-and-a-half-feet long—with a little grabber on one end. He plucked the rest of our mail from the dark underbelly of the steps as heroically as if he were retrieving a stuffed animal in that claw game at the arcade.

Then a piece of Glenda’s mail ended up in our mailbox. I walked it to her house, and on my way, found a letter for us that had fallen on the sidewalk leading up to her front door. Two birds with one stone.

For twelve years, we received mail from Social Services for Antonio Long. I returned each piece to the postman. But the mail kept coming. I paid a visit to the main post office downtown to inform them the man hadn’t lived at our place for at least sixteen years—if ever. But my visit didn’t change anything. Finally, we settled the matter with Social Services. By the time we said goodbye to the barrage of mail, I had grown attached to our elusive Antonio.

People in the neighborhood complained. I figured I’d get the mail I was supposed to have, and the rest was never meant to be. We humans sometimes frame things that way for ourselves.

Our mail carrier went away. Someone said he was let go. A new one came, and delivery improved for a while. But not long after, another change happened, and again we needed to pitch in to get the mail to the correct addresses.

“No one wants to deliver mail on the north side,” someone on social media said. I frowned. We weren’t afraid to do it, and we knew of others who weren’t held back by fear either.

While the home mail delivery was lacking, things were about to change at our neighborhood post office. One day in 2007, I discovered the mother lode there—a gift to the community.

“Anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous?” Byron, the postal worker, said to a female customer. “Batteries, perfume, kryptonite?”

I smiled, darting a look around. No one else seemed to have heard Byron. The customers around me stared at invisible places with glazed eyes. Others—glued to their cell phones—seemed to have left their bodies behind to wait in line.

“And I trust you didn’t accidentally package up your cat?” he said to the woman in his low-pitched, monotone drawl. Only his eyes smiled.

Again, I shot a look around me. Did anyone hear Byron? The customers in line still stared at their cell phones—or at nothing.

The female customer at the counter looked at him in confusion and fumbled for cash. Then I noticed another woman acting as interpreter for her. With their business concluded, they left.

Byron helped the next customers—a mother and her little boy.

“So are you heading back to the office after this?” he asked the boy.

The mother looked distracted. Before leaving, she took the coloring book Byron gave her for her son.

The line crept. When it was my turn, I pushed my package across the counter to Byron. He eyed the address label.

“I’m glad to see Jim and Sharon are still together,” he said, nodding. “That’s good. That’s good.”

“All’s well,” I said with a laugh. I handed him a Netflix movie. “Could you mail this too, please?”

“So how was the prequel to Speed 2?” he said, dropping it into the bin.

“Not everyone gets the humor,” I said. “But I do.”

 

One hot summer day, the post office line stretched out through the door. Like the other customers, I made a dull-eyed assessment of my surroundings and waited. The worker behind the counter was in no rush, and his face registered boredom—tinged with apathy. I shifted my weight, the box in my arms growing heavier by the second. After a while, I glanced up at the large clock on the wall and watched one minute tick by. Just like being in labor, I thought.

Then I heard a familiar baritone voice—a droll tone—coming from the back room. Byron rounded the corner, replacing the employee at the counter.

“Excuse me,” he said, loud enough for us all. “Is anyone here about to miss their bus for day camp? A show of hands, please?”

I laughed. One customer flashed a patronizing smile toward Byron and then dropped her eyes to her cell phone. No one else seemed to have heard.

“The pet rock craft starts at 3:00. I promise we’ll get you out of here in time,” he said.

 

When I got home, I thought about Byron, dedicated to making the humdrum job of a civil servant zesty, no matter the response. On a sea of monotony, he invited us onto his party boat. The mail delivery in the neighborhood may not have been reliable, but his humor over the years was something I could count on.

And the packages I hauled to the post office felt just a little lighter when Byron was behind the counter.

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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