My father wanted to know just how much our house was worth, so he brought in a man whose job it was to look around and figure out a number.
“This man is an appraiser,” my father said. We watched him in our backyard from the kitchen. “He knows about houses and he knows about the market. He will tell us what the house is worth so that we can give a fair price when we sell it.”
I thought it was very strange. It was the first time the man had ever been to our house, and yet he was going to tell us about it. And he was a white American man, so whatever he could tell us about it was very limited.
He did his work quietly and seriously, and I felt insulted that he didn’t want to ask me anything about our house. I hung around nearby as he worked, thinking he would want to know something. I didn’t like the idea that somebody right off the street could come and tell you something about your house that you didn’t know. We had been there for five years, half of my life. When we had first come there, the backyard had been full of weeds and my father and I had gone out there in the evenings and pulled them out. I felt like the appraiser didn’t even care about a thing like that.
I was hanging around when my friend Bennie Rojas came over.
“Who’s he?” he said.
“He’s an appraiser.”
“What’s he doing?”
“He’s looking at our house.”
“I don’t know.” I felt too disgusted to explain.
I didn’t think he was listening, but the appraiser heard it. “I am trying to figure out how much the house should cost,” he said.
“How?” Bennie said.
“I look at it and I see what it has and what it doesn’t have.”
“And then you decide what it costs?”
I shook my head, as way of saying to Bennie, See what I mean? He thinks he knows us.
“Who decides what bikes cost?” Bennie said.
“I suppose it’s the bike store.”
“Yes. I’m sure they use a lot of information.”
“When I grow up, I’m going to have a bike store where all the bikes are cheap.”
“You won’t make very much money.”
“But everyone will come to my store.”
“There is a perfect number for a bike that is fair to you and fair to the customer,” the appraiser said. “I like to find the perfect number for a house.”
He looked nice when he talked about a perfect number, but I wanted to stay disgusted by the appraiser.
“You can find it just by looking at it?” Bennie said.
I felt glad. We were great friends.
“Yes,” the appraiser said. “What else am I supposed to do?”
It was a funny thing to hear him ask us.
“You could ask the people if they like the house,” Bennie said.
He gave us a funny look.
“Kami has been at his house a long time. Almost as long as I’ve been at my house,” Bennie said.
“The value of something is above liking it. The value of something is above everything,” the appraiser said. He looked happy talking about the value of something.
“It is a science,” he said.
I knew the kind of things we studied at school in science, and I didn’t know what they had to do with our house.
“There are going to be times in your life when you like something very much, but you are going to have to ask yourself what is the true value of this thing? I still ask myself all the time. I guess if you appraise houses long enough, you start appraising everything. But I like it. It’s been a good way to go through life. It’s gotten me here at least.”
I hadn’t thought of his appraising as a way to go through life. It made me think about ways to go through life. I didn’t know if I had one.
I picked up my basketball lying on the grass and I stood with my back to the basket facing the porch. There was a spot on the post that if you threw the ball with the right force, it would bounce off the post and go in. I had marked it in pencil. My father made me wipe it off some time ago. I remembered it though.
I threw the ball off the post and it bounced and just missed going in. It was still pretty impressive though.
Bennie and I looked at the appraiser.
“That’s pretty good,” he said.
I took my ball and ran upstairs to my room and leaned out the window. Bennie stood just next to a spot on the driveway and I tossed the ball. It hit the spot and bounced high and almost went in.
“Not bad,” the appraiser said.
I ran downstairs and out to the back to our plum tree. I picked a plum and called to Bennie, “Ready?”
I threw it over the roof where it would bounce off the chimney and roll right to him.
“Thanks,” Bennie yelled.
“Very nice,” the appraiser yelled.
We did all our best tricks out there on the grass and the appraiser appraised us. We did everything we could think of and then we tried some new ones too.
“This is a pretty good house,” the appraiser said.
My father came outside and told us to quit bothering him and let him do his work.
“They’re okay,” the appraiser said.
We were a little tired then and we sat on the grass and watched the appraiser look at our house. He was okay too. I knew that somebody had built our house and I knew that we lived in it, but I just never knew that there was somebody else out there who had the final say. I thought if somebody had told me, if they’d told me that all this time we had been living there and being who we were, being a family from Iran, my mother and father very much from Iran and me and my sister mostly from Iran, the food we cooked being all the way from Iran most nights, except for when my sister asked for pizza, if somebody had told me that all this time somebody who didn’t know anything about our family or about Iran would be able to walk right in and have the final say about our house, then I would have taken that into account. But to just spring it on a guy like that, that wasn’t right.
I tried to explain it to my father later after the appraiser had left.
“I didn’t like how he was looking at our house.”
“He didn’t do anything to make our house. All he did was look at it.”
“That’s his job.”
“Well, it should be somebody who at least knows us.”
“He is only here to appraise the house. Not us.”
I still thought it was ridiculous, but I couldn’t explain it. I remembered how the appraiser had looked when he’d first come to our house. I thought of how he had looked at our backyard and hadn’t even asked me, was this yard once full of weeds? And did you and your father go outside in the evenings and pull them all out? Was that the start of everything with your life in your house?
How could you expect to trust a guy like that?
I went up to my room to read and pretty soon I forgot about it. A few days later, the appraiser’s report came in the mail. My father opened the letter and read the first few pages. Then he saw there was another page in the envelope. He studied it for a while. He got up from the kitchen table and handed it to me.
Basketball toss (porch), it said. Next to that there was a line and the appraiser had written: 8. Under that it said, Basketball toss (window), and next to that he’d also written an 8. Next was plum-throwing, and he’d written a 9. I read all the other items. Tree-climbing, fence-jumping, grass-rolling, wall-balancing. I considered the scores and whether they were fair.
My father had gone back to reading the other report.
“What do you think?” he said.
“It’s fair,” I said. “I’m going to show Bennie.”
I ran down the street until I thought that a guy with an appraiser’s report didn’t need to run. He could walk, because he had the thing he had been waiting for.
Bennie came outside and we sat on his porch and read it together.
“A nine for the plum?” Bennie said.
“It should be a ten.”
“Maybe he’ll come back again.”
“Maybe he’ll come to our house.”
“I’ll help you if he does.”
We sat on the porch and read it again. I hoped the appraiser would come to Bennie’s house because we had all kinds of tricks that were just for his house, and even if we didn’t, I was sure we would by then.
Siamak Vossoughi is a writer living in Seattle. He has had stories published in Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Bellingham Review, Columbia Journal, Gulf Coast, and West Branch. His first collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and his second collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize.