The SUV goes down the road and turns around. It parks on the other side of the street. A man in a turban gets out and starts picking up tennis balls that have flown over the fence from the court.
I’m watching videos on my front porch, on the other side of the street. The coffee’s hot.
“Thanks for cleaning those up,” I say, going over. The balls are soggy from the rain.
“I don’t get why people don’t come around and get their balls,” I tell him.
He looks at me. “Do you play tennis?”
“No. I sit over there and drink coffee. I watch people play.”
He nods, like that makes sense. He gets into the car and leaves.
A week later, the coffee is bitter, because I used too much espresso.
He pulls up and comes out with a bag. There’s a puddle of tennis balls near the curb, like the balls decided to huddle together. He tosses them into the bag.
I stand on the road. “There’s a girl that practices on these courts. Her mother hits balls to her, over and over. She’s really good. Now and then, she messes up, and a ball goes over the fence. I think that makes her angry. She never comes for the balls. Most of these are from her.”
“How old she is?”
“Must be fifteen. I think she’s going to be a star. What do you do with these balls?”
He looks at me. “I don’t play tennis.” It’s hot outside. Humid. He’s sweating under his turban. “My wife played tennis.”
“Was she any good?”
“Yes,” he says. “She was very good. She came to this court often.”
“I’ve probably watched her play, then.”
He stares at me. “I’m sure of it,” he says, and goes back to collecting the balls. A couple enters the courts, and begins a warm up. When he’s gathered all the balls, the bag is full. “She had a favorite ball. It has the initials “JK” on it. That was her maiden name, Jaspinder Kaur. She said when she played with that ball, she could never lose. And the sun was always shining for her. But she lost that ball at this court. Maybe it’s one of these. Maybe it’s not.”
When he’s gone, I finish my coffee. The last sips are hard to drink, but I force them down.
The next two weeks, I gather all the balls that fly over the fence. Every day, I go out there with a milk crate and do a collection. I go in the mornings, before the courts get busy. Then I sit down with a coffee and pretend to read a book, as a video plays on my phone. The porch is thirty feet long, four teak chairs and two wooden tables. People can’t see me here, when they’re walking or driving along the road. It’s camouflage.
He shows up on a Wednesday morning. There’s no tennis balls on the grass. None against the curb. He walks up and down the road, hunting. He’s wearing pants and a dress shirt, nice shoes. Like he’s going somewhere formal, a place where you have to dress up.
He looks everywhere, but doesn’t find anything. And he doesn’t see me, on the porch.
“Hey,” I call out. Wave him over. Next to the table, there’s a milk crate full of balls. “I gathered these for you. Want to sit?”
“Why did you do this?” he asks, in the shade of the porch.
“I didn’t check to see if there’s a “JK” on any of them,” I tell him. “I figure that’s something you’d want to do.”
He comes over and sits down. “Yes.”
We both stare at the road. A couple of cars drift by, but they can’t see us. We’re hidden in the shade, behind the bushes and the flowers. In the camouflage.
“I made a lot of coffee,” I tell him. “How do you feel about coffee?”
“It’s much better than tea,” he says.
I pour him a cup. Across the street, a couple is playing tennis. The woman is pretty good. The man is a mess, but he’s strong. So strong that he hits a ball high into the air. It sails like it’s got wings, or the wind is carrying it. Or something. It looks like it might land inside the court, but it sails over the fence and bounces on the grass, again on the road, and comes to a rest on my lawn.
We both watch it, nestled in the grass. “Good coffee,” he says.
“A bit too much espresso,” I tell him, but he doesn’t seem to mind, and neither do I. No, neither do I. Not really.