I knew him for years; he was the man from downstairs. Yet, this was the first time I would utter more than a single word to him at one time. He was much older than I was, I heard him grunt more than I heard him speak and, he had a distinct musk of boiled cabbage, yet, it wasn’t completely unappealing. Ever since I moved here, I'd assumed he was just another grumpy man out to make my life difficult. Every time I had a guest, it was always too loud. He moaned when I picked up the guitar, I somehow always managed to play the wrong song. Even when I took the time to decorate the lobby for the holidays, which all the other residents seem to enjoy, he protested it wasn’t appropriate.
I still had about half an hour ‘til he was expecting me, and I couldn’t help but sit here in silence wondering why he needed to meet me. Why not the couple who lived across the hall from him? They were the only people who I’ve ever seen him talk to, besides when he’s complaining to the caretaker. What was even stranger was that this 'meeting' was advertised on a poster in the foyer, which was only brought to my attention by 4B, whose name I did not know.
“Did you see this?” 4B called as I was heading out.
My name was scrawled in green marker pen, promptly followed by ‘Tuesday, 6 pm, please meet me. - Ezra, 2A.’
For the duration of the weekend, I had only one thought: ‘should I go?’ It was the only topic I could bring up in conversation. It completely engulfed me. But, by the time Tuesday rolled around, for lack of a better phrase, curiosity had gotten the best of me.
Now, with only five minutes to spare, I gathered myself and made my way downstairs, to 2A.
He opened the door slowly as if he wasn’t sure who was coming, but then let it swing wide, leaving me to wander in on my own. In the far corner of the dimly lit room, he had positioned two small cups of tea and a slice of pie with two accompanying plates. It took a few minutes for Ezra to walk the short distance over to the chair facing the window, move his cane to one side and gripping the leather arms enabling him to creak slowly backwards into it. Photos in elaborate frames plastered the walls from the hallway right through to the living room. The images were filled with people. Most that looked a little like him, only now he was more grey, frail and wrinkled. The gleam of excitement radiated out of each image, the figures within contorting their bodies into all sorts of shapes. Some had their hands on their hips, some were on the floor, and a few had their legs stretched up high. Although most photos were black and white, those that were in colour were just that; pinks, blues, greens, yellows. The further I walked into 2A, the more photos I could see. There were easily more than a hundred, although I’m not the best with estimations. More often than not, the women were in dresses and the men in suits, but a couple of the photos were in less formal attire - your average dinner clothes or pyjamas. Suddenly I realized I was taking more time than Ezra had to make it to the nook where he was eagerly waiting, his hand stretched out to the seat opposite him. Flustered, I turned towards him and followed his inviting hand to sit, noticing as I did a final picture on the table next to the teacups and pies. This picture, unlike all the others, wasn’t framed, rather it looked as though it was folded small enough to be kept tucked away inside a wallet.
“I see you like my photos,” he laughed. I had never seen him laugh before. What was going on? I smiled back, hoping he could read the confusion on my face so he would explain why I was here.
“I’ve made you some tea. I wasn’t sure how you like it so I just did it like mine, with a dash of milk and sugar. I can make it again if it isn’t to your fancy.”
“No, that’s fine, thanks.”
“I’m so sorry for calling you so abruptly, it’s just that, this week has been eye-opening for me,” he said, quickly taking a sip of his tea. The fastest thing I’d ever seen him do before. This was no help to my puzzlement.
“Do you know who this woman is?” He picked up and presented the photo on the table as if he were doing a show and tell. I shook my head.
The image was dark although it wasn’t black and white. It showed the sort of intimate moment that I, a stranger to the people depicted, would be intruding on. I felt as though I shouldn’t look. There stood a woman and a man, the woman a lot shorter than him so that when he had his head hung close to her shoulder you could catch a glimpse of his face. As I looked closer, I realized I had seen the bushy brows in the photos hung on the walls, and right in front of me. The man was Ezra. However, I could only see her back. She wore a bright orange shirt and a hat adorned with a blue feather. I could make out a small gold earring, and as I looked I felt a strange pang of nostalgia. The earring was so familiar…
“I believe this is, or I’m sorry, was your grandma.”
Their heavy breathing matched. Coarse greenery scratched up her shins as she ran further and further into the valley. Their carelessness for step work. The light wind refreshed their sweatless faces in the steaming atmosphere. A plane darts overhead. An occasional waft of dampness. One wrong step and they would be exposed. One wrong step is what some took. Look at them now. What once read ‘leave no man behind’ turned dark and selfish. She ducked under the banana trees and sighed, finally, in relief. It wouldn’t be long until they had to be on the run again. Who knows how close the others were? But they grew quiet, listening, cautious. Any rustle tightened her chest. Any yell shocked her heart. Any sign fluttered butterflies.
“We can’t stay for long.”
“Shut up, Emily, I’m thinking.”
Silence. The heat started to catch up. There was no longer flowing air. Their limbs stuck. The climate grew thick. The only calls were of a black kite swirling above.
Rustle. Yell. Sign. The others were here.
She thought she was quick to act. But the others were quicker.
“We have you surrounded.”
They yelled out. It was too late. With AK’s and rifles, the others exposed themselves.
One of them started to cry.
“We won’t shoot if you get off our base.”
One of them yelled back, “you came onto our base first!”
Soon enough, they were running again. Pelted by yellow balls. The others ran after them. They got hit in the arms, legs, backs. One of them later complained it struck her ear.