Remembering the man behind the counter

December 12, 2012

Author’s note: This entry, the first of a few related posts, is self-explanatory. However, the preceding this earlier item provides a little additional background. Thanks for your interest in my blog!

***

Mohammed was his name — I think.

I don’t remember precisely when I met him or under what circumstances. But my memory, too often elastic and elusive, produces this recollection.

The first time I went into Kabab and Curry House, I think, one table was occupied and another recently had been. I could tell that there had been customers at the other table because the used items remained there. There was one server, a woman who seemed to have little English, but she had little interest in clearing up after customers. I remember waiting a little longer than I’d have preferred to get my food.

I met and slowly got to know Mohammed over the course of my next few visits to the restaurant. I always ordered takeout, since the interior was so drab and my house was so close.

I quickly learned that Mohammed was the main man at Kabab and Curry House. He spoke excellent English, unlike the rather withdrawn servers I encountered. Mohammed often ran the register. He also cooked the food, which I hadn’t initially realized.

About the food: It was tasty basic Indian cuisine. If I hadn’t been trying to save money — and trying either to shed or keep off pounds — I would have gone to Kabab and Curry House at least three or four times a month. It usually took a good deal of self-restraint for me to avoid scarfing up an entire takeout order in one evening. Occasionally, I was able to parcel out helpings that were small enough so that I could enjoy Mohammed’s fare over parts of three different meals.

But the food wasn’t the only reason to go to Kabab and Curry House. Because Mohammed was as warm and welcoming as his dining room was dingy. I don’t think we ever exchanged names, but he recognized me and remembered what I’d ordered on previous visits.

Mohammed sometimes appeared to confuse me with some other customer when we talked. Frankly, though, I found that amusing rather than annoying. He was so friendly that it was hard to imagine him offending anyone.

***

On the morning of Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, a neighbor sent an e-mail message about a shooting. There was a link to a short news story. Police were investigating; there were no suspects at this time. I scanned the item and turned to other matters.

But something kept nagging at me. I looked at the news story a second time. That’s when I realized that it was about a place I knew, rather than a downtown eatery with a similar name, as I’d initially thought.

The shooting, a murder, had occurred more or less around the block from my house — not downtown. According to the story, the victim was the owner of the restaurant.

I couldn’t believe it. The friendly guy who had cooked my meals was dead.

A few minutes before my realization, I had tweeted this about the slaying: “#RIP Mohammed Arfan Sundal, 51. WRAL says Sundal was found shot + killed 10 pm Thursday by his restaurant. #DurhamNC.”

Now, I fired off some more messages on Twitter:

I just realized that I knew Sundal. His restaurant, Kabob & Curry House, is on Guess Road near my house. #RIP #DurhamNC

#DurhamNC police say they do not yet have any suspect or vehicle description in the slaying of Sundal, per WRAL.

I liked the food at Kabab + Curry House. It seemed to have a small but loyal following, but very few diners. #DurhamNC

About two weeks ago, I think on a sunny Saturday or Sunday morning, there was some kind of incident near K+C House.

About incident: An ambulance and police were looking at a car and driver. No one was urgent. Not sure what happened.

Sundal was very cheerful and friendly. How strange to think he is gone; let alone murdered. #RIP #DurhamNC

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. And then I recalled having heard a sharp report the night before.

The odd gunshot, unfortunately, is background noise in my neighborhood. I’d say that once every month or two there is a shot fired or some kind of noise — yelling, dogs barking, the screech of tires — that makes me think there has been an altercation nearby. In the year and change I’ve lived in this house, I’ve called 911 a few times, especially after hearing multiple shots or some prolonged suspicious noise.

There had been just the one gunshot the night before. When I heard it, I was near my front door. I froze, listening, but nothing followed the report.

From my previous experiences with 911, I knew that the operator usually asked the direction from which the suspicious noise had come, whether I could describe the people involved in the altercation and whether I saw anyone carrying a weapon. Not having any useful answers, and feeling strangely reluctant to step outside my door, which I’ve done on a few occasions, I simply shrugged and returned to what I’d been doing.

***

Recalling that moment Friday morning at the boutique local coffee shop where I was whiling away a few hours, I turned again to Twitter.

Ugh. I’ve started shaking a little bit. Thinking back, I may have heard the gunshot that killed Sundal.

One of my Twitter correspondents lives near me, and she’d eaten a few times at Kabab and Curry House. It turned out that she was also familiar with the neighborhood around it thanks to her experience as some kind of social worker. We tweeted back and forth about the neighborhood and the usefulness, or not, of reporting odd noises to 911.

I left the coffee shop earlier than planned. My original agenda for the time, playing a word game and working on my blog, just didn’t seem important. I wanted to get some flowers to leave at the restaurant.

I ended up going to a popular organic grocery chain. I chose a card for condolences and picked up fruit and some other items I needed. Then I stopped by the flower counter.

I didn’t know what to tell her beyond the basics: Someone I knew, but not well, had died; I wanted to leave flowers. She asked for a budget. I shrugged; a moment later, I named a range. We picked out a few flowers. She handed me some bar codes so I could pay while she arranged the flowers. I did, and then I went to my car and returned to the flower counter.

The attendant hadn’t finished the arrangement. I stood there, looking down. I wasn’t numb, but I felt sort of vacant.

***

Author’s note: I’ll add some more thoughts about the murder in a few future entries, which I expect to put on the blog on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 in coming days on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thank you very much for reading.

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