The sign hanging in Asia and Imran Khan’s new dry cleaning business, Snow White, at Chicago and Humphrey avenues reads, “Please check the pockets.” But Anthony Hardman, who’s recovering from surgery, was loaded down with far too many suits and pants and shirts to go through them all as he dropped them on the counter in from of Asia, the last Saturday in January.
Not that he missed the $900 he’d left stuffed in one of his suit pants pockets. In fact, he’d forgotten all about it.
“It was among some of my suits I haven’t worn in a month of Sundays,” he said.
Imran, who works the back of the business, dry-cleaning and pressing suits, goes through the pockets of every item, looking for forgotten pens, lipstick, and prescription medicine. He found the wad of cash and showed it to his wife. After waiting 30 minutes, fully expecting a panicked Hardman to coming rushing back in, they telephoned him.
Hardman, who operates Reliable Funeral Services in the 5800 block of West Division Street in Chicago, didn’t know what to make of Asia Khan’s call. “I didn’t have a clue. I was absolutely unaware of it,” he said. “She just said, ‘We found something in one of your coat pockets.'”
Hardman laughed as he recalled some of the thoughts that went through his head at the time.
“I’m thinking, what did they find, something illegal?” he said, laughing again. “I told my driver, if you see the Oak Park police in the parking lot, keep going.”
There were no police when he arrived, though, just the Khans standing behind the counter, holding up a wad of bills.
The money was the Khans for the keeping, had they just kept silent.
“It could have been like Christmas in January,” Hardman said.
Being Muslim, Asia and Imran Khan don’t celebrate Christmas, but they do celebrate honesty. For the two Pakistani immigrants, keeping the cash was not an option. Period.
The Khans could be excused, perhaps, for thinking they might have had some right to keep the money for themselves. Around eight years ago, when they first came to America and were preparing to be married, Asia left her purse, containing $1,000, on a counter in a store while shopping. When she returned a short while later, the owner told her he hadn’t seen the purse.
Its own reward
A grateful Hardman peeled off several bills and offered it as thanks to the Khans, who declined the reward.
“They didn’t want to accept anything,” he said.
Hardman looked down at the Khan’s 8-year-old son, Fayaz, who was playing at a table behind the counter.
“I asked him what he liked to do, and he said he liked to play with clay.” So Hardman offered the boy $50 to buy art supplies for school.
“He froze stiff as a statue and looked at his dad,” said Hardman, laughing at the memory.
This time the Khans relented. “I think that’s more than enough for $900,” said Asia.
The Khans said their response required no hard thought. “Honesty is not the kind of thing you adopt. It’s in you; you’re born with it,” she said. “I learned from my mom and my brothers and sister just to be honest.
“As you do today,” she added, “it will return to you.”
Hardman, though, still thinks $50 isn’t enough thanks. If he has anything to say about it, a lot more people will know about the Khans, and not solely for their ethics. “If I haven’t told 50 people, I haven’t told anyone,” he said. “Anyone who’ll listen, I’ll tell them.”
He’ll also tell them about the Khan’s work ethic. A couple of days after getting his money back, he picked up his dry cleaning.
“The workmanship was good,” he said.
There are still plenty of empty hooks on the dozen or so looping racks used to store the dry cleaning orders, however. More business is one reward Asia Khan said she’ll gladly accept. She and her husband have no false modesty about their business. “We do good quality work. Bring your clothes in,” she said. “We’re doing good. Slowly, gradually, people hear about us.”
For whatever challenges they face, Asia considers herself and her family blessed. All they ask for from God, she said, is a chance to build a good life here.
That’s something Tom Wendorf, another of the Khan’s new customers, admires about them.
“They’re really nice people, working hard, doing the right thing, trying to be a presence in the neighborhood.”
Hardman said he’s pulling for the Khans to be what they dream of being-an American success story.
“I can’t think of a more deserving couple,” he said.