The loud beeping sound of a truck backing up coming from the neighbour’s house intrigued her, so she put down the grass broom that she was using to sweep the floor, momentarily abandoning her task, and moved to the window, curious to see what was going on outside. High-density housing was just that: high density. There was not much space between the houses, but from the safety of her vantage point, she could see most of the neighbour’s front yard without the risk of anyone spotting her there; and what she could not see was compensated for by what she could hear. Because the open window in her family’s living room was only a few feet away, Chido could hear almost every conversation that was going on outside. The men who were standing in the front yard were discussing where in the house to put each item of furniture that was in the truck, and one of them was concerned that the house was too small for all the furniture they had brought.
“Don’t worry about all that.” The tall, light-skinned one gestured as he spoke. He seemed to be in charge. “Your only job is to just get everything inside the house.” The rest of the men nodded in agreement and got to work, whilst the tall light-skinned one gave them directions.
Curiosity got the better of her, so Chido stood there for a little while longer and watched quietly through the window of the small bedroom which she shared with her older sister and her sister’s four-year-old son, hoping that the lace curtain would provide her with sufficient cover. It was only just after ten o’clock in the morning, but the sweltering January heat had already left the men drenched in their sweat. She watched as the men went back and forth between the house and the moving van, unloading from it all kinds of expensive-looking household furniture, appliances and luggage. After many months of speculation, it was finally happening. The new neighbours were moving in!
Across the street, Mai Munashe and her other friends from around the block had already gathered on her verandah to see what was going on. Chido could tell from the way they were fidgeting and laughing out loud, high-fiving each other in the typical way that the women of their community did, that they were itching to introduce themselves and poke their noses into the neighbour’s business. She felt sorry for them: women her mother’s age who had nothing better to do than to make the goings-on of the neighbourhood their business. They were literally the community’s own neighbourhood watch organization. This was the trouble with living in the high-density suburbs: everybody knew everybody’s business. Everybody made it their responsibility to know everything about your life. Privacy was a foreign concept.
The house next door had been empty for a while, as the owner, who was believed to be living abroad, had hired contractors to renovate, update and paint the house. They had done a great job. The house looked fresh and clean and stood out among all the other worn down houses on their street. Since she was currently unemployed, Chido’s main job involved helping her mother to keep their house clean and tidy, and babysitting her sister’s toddler during the day, on the days that she did not go to the community crèche. Occasionally, Chido would accompany her mother to the city market, where she helped her to sell her doilies tableware and other handmade home decor items made to the locals and tourists, but every time she looked at the neighbour’s house, she wished her parents could afford at least to paint the outside of the house.
Hurrying through the rest of her cleaning chores, Chido returned to her vantage point, this time laden with a tray containing a huge cup of tea and two thick slices of bread slathered with margarine and peanut butter. Since she was home alone, she decided that quite out of the ordinary, she was going to enjoy her breakfast in her bedroom. The new neighbours’ moving in was the entertainment of the day. She watched quietly as she ate from the safety of her vantage point, grateful that she was home alone, and in particular, that her sister was not home. Tari would have been out there already introducing herself and making herself known, and in Chido’s opinion, making an utter fool of herself. As far as Chido was concerned, her sister was loud and obnoxious in an embarrassing sort of way, especially when men were in the vicinity. Tari had gotten herself pregnant during her second year at the teacher’s college and had to drop out of college just before her son was born. She had hoped to go back and finish her diploma, but motherhood had a completely different story planned out for her, so now she and her son also lived with their parents. As much as she despised her sister’s obnoxious tendencies, Chido had to admit that she also admired her bravery and tenacity. Despite all odds, Tari had managed to get herself a job as a receptionist at an engineering consultancy firm in the city, and, for the most part, she was able to singlehandedly take care of her son. The child’s father was still unknown to the family.
There were four men going in and out of the house, emptying the truck a seemingly unending amount of household goods. Chido looked around but could not see any woman, or any children, so she wondered what the family moving in next door was like. Just as she finished her tea, she heard one of the men announce that the truck was empty. They were done unloading. She watched as the men gathered closer together, unable to hear now as they were speaking in hushed tones. Next thing they were shaking hands and three of them got into the truck and drove away. The one man who was left stood watching ruefully as the moving truck drove away, then turned and looked up as Mai Munashe called out a greeting to him.
“Welcome to the neighbourhood,” she said, rather loudly.
He smiled politely and waved, turning to head back into the house. As he turned, he paused and looked into the direction of Chido’s house giving Chido an opportunity to take a good look at him. Mr. New Neighbour was tall and lightly fair-skinned, and quiet athletic-looking: Chido could not help but notice the way his t-shirt sleeves seemed to be tight around his biceps. She held her breath as he looked in her direction. Could he see her? Did he know she was there? Or maybe he was just looking at how pitiful their front yard looked compared to his freshly spruced one? Either way, Chido felt embarrassed, so she froze. Unable to move, lest he spotted a movement in the shadows. Eventually he looked away and headed back into his house. She heaved a sigh of relief as she headed back to her chores. She did not see him the rest of that day, as she dared not look out the window again, just in case this time he would catch her staring again.