And I have been thinking about the dubious blessing my secluded neighborhood of residence is; a place at the edge of this large city, barely a town, certainly not a village; where no one pays you a surprise visit. If you are adventurous enough to like strolls on roads bordered by bushes and quiet houses with casual but curious stares from behind low fences, unobtrusive vehicular traffic on dusty roads with mild gullies and the occasional loud truck carrying stones, gravel, blocks or cement; if you like to see the frequent squirrel on tree branches and fences, sometimes darting playfully off the path as you approach, my neighborhood is a good place for you.
As secluded neighborhoods are wont to be, neighbors mind their own businesses; a plus, if you are an indoor person. This is how I think of the houses, fenced or no: republics, each with its own water, power, and security. My street is a close, and a fully realized continent; each of the five houses, sovereign. Interactions are barely beyond the sound of tires on gravel and stones passing on the road that connects us or the barking of the two cross-breed dogs in the fourth house when the occupants honk at their gate.
To be fair, interactions were better between houses before a neighbor passed unsubtle messages that she wanted to be left alone. First, it was in not responding to greetings during the infrequent meetings on the long road between our street and the junction. Then it was her forbidding her son from going to any neighbor’s house to play. Later, she’d refuse car ride offers from everyone from the street when seen on the way out. If anyone was in doubt as to her message, it was the prayers that cleared it.
Once, we were in front of her house, heading out in the early evening, my two cousins and I. I believe I was going to church for a play rehearsal, and my cousins to the neighborhood football field when her prayers leapt at us through the open gate and crawled up our backs.
I could, if I wanted, plug in my earphones and resume the music playing on my phone at a high volume so that I would not hear the owner of the house cry out for the death of “the enemies in this neighborhood”; so that my recollections of the previous play rehearsal would not be truncated; so that I would not have to wonder if my family’s decision to only honk at her on the road when greeting was unavoidable and never stop to ask “where are you going?” sufficed to make us her “enemies in this neighborhood”. Instead, I allowed the prayers crawl all over me like tiny ants, the type that did not sting but made a person do an untidy jiggy. I told my cousins to wait while I made a detour to the opened gate. I didn’t tell them I remembered the past with her and her son and the nostalgia it evoked. A past they were not privy to: of being in their living room to charge my phones and catch up on Drake and Josh episodes I’d missed when we had problems with light in our house; of the night her daughter’s water broke and went into labor in the house and her panic cry brought my mom over to assist with her granddaughter’s delivery; of the Christmas food and drinks we had shared; of the three-a-side football matches her son, my brothers and their friends would come to play in our compound.
What I remembered made me consider if it was her daughter eventually losing the child; her first son leaving home in the middle of one Sunday morning after a publicly held shouting row between mother and child; or her last born (our friend) repeatedly failing JAMB exams, while my brother, his former classmate, was in his third year at the university.
I stepped through the open gate and walked beside the small cornfield she had on her plot to the source of the prayers. I knocked on the glossy brown wood-plastic door till her praying stopped and the door slowly opened.
“I think someone forgot to lock your gate. I came to warn you because of the goats around,” I said.
She nodded slowly and said:
“Thank you. I’ll come and lock it.”
I worked up a smile and turned and headed to the open gate. Her footsteps were careful behind me.
I got busy shortly afterwards, leaving home early and rarely back until late in the night, that I didn’t hear prayers from her house anymore. Some mornings when I pass by the shut gates of the house, I wonder if one day, I’ll find her in front of it asking me with a shy smile: “May I ride with you to the junction?”