Shruti looked forward to the Easter weekend when she could spend time with her cousins. But one thought troubled her. “Who lived next door?” she wondered.

Shruti looked out of her bedroom window. The scene that met her eyes was picture perfect. Far in the distance she could see the gently sloping mountains with a few cottages interspersed. In the light of the setting sun, the slopes of tea were a luminescent green. Closer home, she saw the green lawn with the flower beds bordering it, the fruit trees in the corner and the sound of the birds coming home to roost.

But the house next door, stood silent unmoved by the beauty around it. The wooden gate had long since broken from its hinges and the gate posts were almost rotten at the base. The driveway was overgrown with lantana and ferns. There was no garden to speak of, just a lot of bushes and shrubs and weeds all vying with each other for space and sunlight. The façade of the house had nothing to recommend it. The once-proud house now stood defeated with its paint peeling and its roof tiles broken. The window panes were grimy and dirty.

“Wonder who lives in that house?” she asked her parents when they shifted in.

Her father had very sternly told her, “Shruti, people respect their privacy. I do not want you going and pestering the people next door.”

In the couple of weeks since moving in, she had seen a group of boys come to her neighbour’s front door and ring the bell. When they heard shouting and the door being opened they would run away laughing. The boys must be taught a lesson, she thought. But first I must find out who lives there.

Soon it was the Easter weekend. Her cousins, aunts and uncles were visiting. Shruti was excited and looked forward to playing with her cousins. But a niggling thought in her head refused to go away. What about the neighbour? On Easter morning, after they got back from church her mother got busy preparing lunch. Shruti looked over the hedge to see if she could spot any activity on the other side. An idea came to her and she knew it was going to work.She sneaked into the kitchen when she knew had mother had finished preparing lunch and was not around. Quickly, she took out a couple of casseroles and filled them with the delicacies that were laid out. She placed them on a tray alongside a card she had made and crept out of the house. She went next door and rang the bell. She was met with silence. She rang it once again. She heard a shuffling sound on the other side, then a loud grating voice shouted, “Go away you nasty children. I will not open the door! Go find your fun elsewhere.”

A visit

“It is not the boys Sir. It is me, your new neighbour,” said Shruti.

“Go away. I don’t want to meet you.” “Oh please, please, do open the door. I will only take a minute.”

“Go away,” he shouted. “I refuse to budge till you open the door. If you do not I will sit here all day and all night too.”

She sounded quite determined and her neighbour seemed to realise that too. She was glad when she heard the sound of bolts being drawn back. The door opened an inch. Shruti put her foot in, and brought the tray forward. She saw an old man, shabbily dressed with uncombed hair and an unshaven face.“What do you want? Take your foot out of the doorway.”

“I do not want anything. I refuse to take my foot out of the door and if you shut it on my foot I will scream the place down.”

“Okay okay. What a difficult child you are,” said the man. “What do you want?”

“Just to give you this!” she said as she handed over the tray to him. Shruti spent a delightful afternoon with her cousins. She was sad when it was evening and they all piled into their cars and waved goodbye. She went to her room to get ready for bed. But then, she heard her mother calling out to her. “Shruti, someone to see you,” she said. Puzzled, Shruti went to the front door. At the door stood her neighbour — the old man. He had taken pains to tidy his appearance. Gone were his ragged clothes. He smiled at her and returned the casseroles.

“Hello,” he said to the surprised parents. “I am your neighbour. My name is Lazarus. Your daughter was gracious enough to share her Easter lunch with me. She also made me an Easter card with a message that was so simple, yet so true. It said, ‘Easter brings hope, love and joy. May you have all three. Happy Easter!’ Thank you, Shruti.”