Almost 11pm. Finally, parking the car after a 4 hour drive. I could barely take a deep breath of relief and rest for a few seconds with my eyes closed, as a voice came from outside the driver’s window
“So you are the new neighbor?”
If I wasn’t so tired and sleepy I would have probably jumped in my seat. For a second that face remind me of an aunt I hadn’t seen for ages, mixed with an old lady from an horror movie. Not that she was ugly, but the amount of make up combined with wrinkles was… well, an interesting one.
“Yes, I am. Nice to meet you”
“Good” she said, while her eyes glanced at the inside of the car, trying to understand all the stuff I had brought with me, “you must be hungry from such a long journey!”
“I’m ok, I brought somethings to eat on the way”
“That’s nothing, I’m going to give you a nice warm soup” she interjected
“No it’s ok, really, I’m not that hungry. I just want to rest now”
“I’m sure you do. Your landlord is out for the weekend but he left your key with me.” she said, while reaching to her pocket and taking out the key “anyway, you need to eat or else you won’t have strength to take all this things out”
At this point I began to convince myself that this was a hard one. No point in arguing back and forth, better to just accept and move on.
“I’ll bring it to you in a few minutes” she said happily, while moving to her house, dragging her feet in bed slippers in that rocky road.
I took the chance to glance at the my new house for the next year. So far, everything seemed just like in the pictures. My curiosity was not so much about how it was on the inside, but the garden in the back. I was finally moving to a place where I could step outside and have some green around me. No elevators or stairs, no big streets. Opening the small iron gate and walked along the side of the house until the garden. It was small, but big enough to have some space to breathe and to try some food growing experiments.
From the garden there is another door with access to the kitchen, which I found very convenient.
A small wall, waist height, divided my garden from the neighbors’.
The previous tenants were not so keen on farming or gardening. The small plots of earth and grass between the concrete floor were naked, with a just a few weeds, rocks and a couple of plastic pieces torn out from something.
The nights during this October were still quite warm, just so nice to be outside. Taking another deep breathe I gazed up at the stars. Being far from a big city’s lights is a privilege, you can gaze at millions of stars and eventually grasp the milky way patch on the sky. “The best show in the universe, is the universe” I remembered someone saying.
“Here it is” the show got interrupted. How did she moved so swiftly that I didn’t even hear her opening the door?
Instead of an expected bowl of soup, she was carrying a container that could hold soup for six. She leaned over the divider wall and put the soup on top.
“Better eat it while it’s hot”
“Thanks” I said, “but it’s too much, I can take only a small bowl”
“Save it for tomorrow, that way you don’t have to do it yourself”
I could argue again, but I remembered that it was only a waste of time to insist discussing this things with her. I thanked her again and wished her a good night. Unfortunately for me, she was still well awake and willing to keep talking
“So are you coming to work around here?”
“Kind of. For now I just want to get settled here and know the place. Later I’ll think about work”
“Oh good for you. You’ll like this very much. I live here for more than 50 years and can tell you it’s a nice neighborhood. My mother brought me here and I grew up in that house over there, and then moved to this one when I got married”
I hummed while trying to look interested in the story. Probably that was a bad idea. I guess I was looking so interested in the story that she went on telling me the story of her life for about twenty minutes. And twenty minutes was as much as I could take.
“I’m sorry, I really need to rest, we can speak more tomorrow”
“Of course, of course. If you need anything, let me know. Good night”.
I still had about half an hour ahead of me, unloading and unpacking things from the car. Just the bare essentials to get me through the night. Apart from half of the house being in the dark with burnt out light bulbs, everything else was as expected.
It was already well past midnight when I finally laid down in the mattress and my sleeping bag. One last deep breath of the day while I gazed, not at the stars this time, but at the ceiling above.
THE FIRST DAY
Last time I woke up with the sound of birds singing was perhaps 20 years ago. Nothing like it. Well, perhaps the sound of a running water stream can beat it, but birds are quite good too.
With the first rays of sunlight coming in through the windows I took a better view of the house and the surroundings.
The inside of the house had some unexpected surprises. The rooms that had no light bulbs also had the walls with black spots of humidity all the way from the floor to the ceiling. How come that was not on the pictures? I walked from room to room to understand better what I had seen before or not. Upon close inspection, the rooms that were in the pictures had patches of fresh paint in the corners. So that’s why! Anyway, I rushed to the back door and into the garden to take a better look at it with proper light.
The house was at the end of the street, so the back side was also facing another street. The neighborhood was quite small and intimate. From each house one could see plenty others, as they were all small in size and not all of them had backyards.
I like to do silent observation, to allow the mind to absorb what’s around me, without thinking or judging. The biggest challenge with silent observation is, of course, finding silence
“So did you had nice sleep?” the old lady neighbor said while standing near the divider wall.
How the hell does she get there and I never notice it? Suddenly there was not silence inside my mind either. Did I slept well? How did she get there without me noticing her again? Is she really outside with that sleeping dress and wearing fresh make up?
“Yes, thank you” I said, eventually.
“Good. I also like to come to the garden early. You know, to water the plants and take care of things”.
I took a better look at her garden for the first time. Although the size was just like mine’s, she had less cemented floor and more soil. Well, let’s call it a big rectangle of brown dust with a dark twig coming out, right in the center. I guess someone had an idea to try and grow a tree there. The cement floor was also full of pieces of earth and brown patches. Besides that a couple of vases were on the floor along the back wall, either with dead and dried plants, or with plants that were begging to be killed.
“Yes, “ I said, at last “of course”.
I pretended to be busy observing and analyzing what was on my own garden, taking a closer look at the small weeds and moving things from one place to the other, just so that I could break the conversation and free myself to do other things.
I resumed the work of unloading things from the car. It was such a fine morning that I decided to unpack and arrange all the things that were going to be used on the back yard. That way I could enjoy the fresh morning air, my favorite.
In the meanwhile, she had turned on the garden hose at full pressure. That thing looked more like a water cannon coming from a fire truck than a hose to water your plants. At least that explained why there was so much of earth splattered all around. The poor vases could barely stand straight when she targeted them with the water hose. You could see that she really enjoyed watering the garden. That’s why she spent more than forty minutes doing it. Sometimes I stopped just to try to understand what was actually going on, but couldn’t do it. After the middle piece was completely soaked in water, she proceeded to water the cement all around the around. I guess the point was to clean it from all the earth that came out from before. The cement had the same dedication than the rest of the garden, some good twenty minutes of watering around until the whole house was looking more like a small castaway island in the middle of an ocean.
I thought that she could be doing it as to make good impressions with a newcomer in the neighborhoods. Perhaps they like to look clean and tidy.
Having cleaned and organized most of the things I brought with me, I finally went to take a nice shower. The moment I turned it on, the shower lasted for just about five seconds. Then the shower head was on one side and the water on the other. It’s not that to have a nice shower you need a shower head, it’s better if you do have one, but you can also “shower” without it.
Before lunch time I decided to go out for a walk and have a look around the area, getting to know the surroundings and also to see if there were any grocery stores open.
I opened the front door and went out, seeing for first time the neighbor in the front. His window was open and he was sitting just by it, with his back to the street and his head down, like if he was reading something. I approached the window to introduce myself and starting to get to know more people around me.
He must have heard my footsteps as he turned his head suddenly to the window. When he saw me and I noticed that he seemed to be naked, it was already too late to turn back and pretend I wasn’t going to speak with him. I approached a bit more slowly, keeping a certain distance from the window as I preferred not to find out if he was just without his shirt or without everything.
“Good morning”, I said, trying to break the ice and not looking weird
“How are you?” he replied, in a most natural way.
I couldn’t decide what was more out of control, his hair or his eyebrows. Both were gray and a bit too long to be left so loose like that. He was around his sixties too, I thought, but I’m never very good at estimating people’s ages. At least that’s what I concluded since the last two or three times I tried to do it my estimate was always off by around twenty years.
“Good, thank you. Just arrived yesterday, going now for a walk to know the area. Can you recommend me something?”
“There’s nothing much to see here, “ he started, in a grumpy sort of way, “always the same crap. But not even that crap I can see! This stupid leg doesn’t allow me to walk properly, always in pain. Now I’m stuck to this chair most of the day, and when I’m not I need to use those bastards there!”, he concluded, pointing at a pair of crutches
“Oh, I see” I said, not knowing what to say. “Well, if you need anything, I’m right across the street”
“Yeah… I’m Jackson, and I’m here where you see. Anyway, enjoy your walk” he said, with a tone of voice like if he was really saying “good luck”
My street only had eight houses, so it was very small. Most of the houses had their front door open and you could see older people lived in all of them. Well, that’s what I deducted from the volume of the tv sets and the entrance decoration.
The street connected to a bigger road and in the intersection there was a nice park with big trees, grass and wooden benches. That sort of thing that looks really nice but that you somehow know that nobody goes there.
Next to the park I found a small grocery shop. Just what I needed to get some supplies for the next days. The smell of fresh fruit guided me to the door.