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The next four weeks went by in a haze as I was all by my lonesome in the compound. The caretaker came by once a week to see how things were going. He was a pleasant and jovial man who liked making small talk: something I was quite grateful for. Occasionally, I would take a stroll out or watch a movie. Shopping for groceries and foodstuff was done every weekend. Life was pretty mundane and it felt good.
In a few days, I expected my neighbours to be back from their vacation. My life would definitely take a new turn. If it would be for better or for worse, I had no idea yet. I would just have to ride the waves of change that would come along with it.
It was three days later as I was sitting outside with the gateman and having a discussion on political issues that we heard the honking of a car horn outside the gate. I wondered who it was when Samson, the gateman, mentioned that it was my neighbours. He took off to open the gate and I rolled my eyes, picked up my chair and went inside as I mentally fortified myself for the experience of meeting ‘the Neighbours’. Call me a coward and you would not be far off the mark but I really was not in the mood.
I watched from my kitchen window as a grey Toyota Venza was driven into the compound. The driver parked next to my car and got out. He got out and looked at my baby with suspicion and called out to Samson. He came running and, with a respectful bow, said ‘Oga Victor, welcome sir.’
The man named Victor replied, ‘Thank you, Samson.’ He pointed at my car and asked, ‘Who has the car?’
‘It’s the new tenant. He moved in last month.’
‘Really? Okay.’ He turned to stare at my flat as if he had x-ray vision.
Meanwhile, Samson bent even further to look into the car to look at the other occupants of the car who had not yet come out. He greeted the other occupants with a wide smile. ‘Madam, welcome o.’
At that point, I tuned them out as I focused on making dinner. Spaghetti and stew seemed like the likely choice for tonight.
The next morning, as I was catching up on some novel-reading, there was a knock on my door. I had been waiting for this all day and there was only one set of people that would be knocking on my door. I was very tempted to stay really quiet and pretend that no one was around but I really am not cut out to be a hermit. So, after the third knock and with a resigned sigh, I stood up to answer the knock.
I opened the door and was greeted to the sight of a woman, who was undoubtedly the madam Samson had greeted enthusiastically yesterday. She was accompanied by a boy who could be no older than seven. The boy had an innocent smile on his face and I just knew this one was a very active child and he would be trouble; the good kind. I smiled back at him and looked back up to the woman.
‘Hi,’ she started with a nervous smile. ‘I’m Amelia and this is Ben. We live upstairs.’
‘I’m Makinde. Hello Ben.’ I answered with a smile.
‘Good afternoon sir,’ the boy said in a small but lively voice.
‘We came to say ‘Hello’ and to welcome you to the compound.’ She said to me.
‘Thank you. That’s very kind of you. Would you like to come in?’ I asked automatically even though I really did not want them to come in.
‘We don’t want to bother you. We brought a welcome-to-the-compound package for you though.’ She brought a bag from behind her. I was not sure how to react to this but I accepted it with a real smile.
‘Thank you for this,’ I said as I took a quick look inside the bag. Dried fish, a packet of salt and a small collection of seasonings were among the contents. My smile grew wider in appreciation.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to come in?’
‘Maybe some other time. I’m taking Ben to get his school books for the new term and we want to get to the bookshop on time.’
‘Really? What school does he attend?’
‘The British American International School. It’s close by.’
‘Wow. I’ve heard good things about the school. What class is he going to be in?’
The kid replied before she could get a word in. ‘I’ll be in the fourth grade.’
I bent down to look him in the eyes. ‘That is a very important class, little man. So, work hard, alright?’
He nodded his head vigorously as I stood back up. ‘Thank you for this. I’ll be sure to come over when I’m free’ not that I had anything worthwhile I was doing right then ‘to say a proper ‘thank you’ to you and your husband.’
‘I’ll let him know when he gets back.’
‘It was nice to meet you.’
‘You too,’ she answered with a smile.
‘Thanks again,’ I called out as they left and I shut my door. What a nice woman and gorgeous too. I took off to the kitchen to stash my loot with a stupid smile on my face. In my mind, Life did not seem to be bleak in the nearest future and my neighbours, at least the ones that I had met, looked like ‘Okay’ people.
You remember that proverb (or is it an idiom?) about not counting your chicks before they hatch? I probably should have remembered that. About twenty minutes after I had stored safely the package and I was relaxed in my sofa with my novel, I heard another knock on my door. I wondered if it was Samson. I walked to the door to open it with the belief that nothing could ruin my day.
I opened the door and the last person I ever expected to see was standing right outside my door still as beautiful as the last time I saw her. The shock must have been evident on my face as she tried to smile but could not send the proper message to her facial muscles.
I choked out one word that still haunted my dreams, ‘Pam…’