The Neighbor (c)

She, he–couldn’t tell–seemed to have either multiple existences, or multiple personalities.

I knew superheroes existed when that sunk in. She, he, would come in, quiet as ever, not a word, barely a nod, maybe shy, we all thought, but then, late at night, that one neighbor, living alone, would talk up a storm, not every night, but just enough. And the conversations, actual conversations except that it was one voice, were beyond imagination.

Sometimes fights and struggles with giants, “I will get you, and will erase your despicable existence.”

I would hear about the muscles and the promises, and even sometimes doubts and fears. Other nights were about throwing fireballs and ice clouds. Yet, other nights were simply about going back and forth in time.

And, then, every following morning, it would be the same faint smile, gentle nod or blink.

This went on for a few months after we moved into this building. Of course it occurred to us that not much could happen, really, on the other side of our own dry walls, but it just was too real.

So, after those few months passed, we sent an invitation to dinner.

~~

The whole week before dinner, she, he… oh, this is crazy. I learned recently that Malay uses neutral pronouns. It’s a language spoken by peoples on islands like Madagascar, Indonesia and Taiwan. It uses the same pronoun for men and women and animals and things. I will use that. Dia. Anyway, dia was quiet that whole week. It was as if dia was busy with something else, or maybe did not want to risk a discussion with us.

The night dia came over, I have to say, I don’t think I could ever forget.

First, we learned dia had a name, of course. Alex. That wasn’t a big deal, but happy, for sure. Even more happy for me was that Alex sat next to me. And, the most important moment came when I happened to be staring. I couldn’t help it. When Alex looked at me, saw my eyes and smiled, I instantly blurted out, “who do you talk to at night?”

Alex leaned over and whispered, “whom.”

“What?”

“Whom do you talk to.”

“If you say so. TO,” I emphasized, “whom do you talk?”

Alex looked around the table for a split second; dia seemed satisfied that everyone was too busy with their food, looked back at me, and, again whispering, said, “you might as well disappear off the planet if I tell you.”

I thought that was underwhelming. I know my face said as much, “please, you can do better than that.”

“Fine,” dia replied. Voice determined. Eyebrows raised. “I will show you. Be outside my door tomorrow at one after midnight. Can you handle that?”

“Can?” I chuckled. I was being sarcastic, but really I shouldn’t have been. For one, I knew this was no joking matter. “I will be there, neighbor Alex.”

~~

I pretended to sleep early, but really I was up the whole time, in bed until fifty past midnight.

Minutes later I stood in front of the neighbor’s door, breathing hard, excited, unafraid, ready to knock. The door opened before I managed it. It squeaked a bit, then swung open to reveal our neighbor.

My eyes opened wide, surprised to see a hooded brown cloak covering Alex almost completely.

“Alex?”

“Yes. Of course,” Alex replied. “Please come in!”

I took a short step, then another, past the door’s frame, then into the apartment. The entire time, my eyes fixed on… I don’t know, the cloak, the hood. I was surprised, but still unafraid. Somehow, for some strange reason, I trusted this person. I trusted Alex to be good. And I wanted to know everything. Everything that was happening in this apartment.

“Welcome, I have a chair for you by the window.” I heard from behind me.

“Okayyyy.”

There were in fact two chairs by the window in the living room. I stood by one of them, still looking at the cloak and the hood. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to smile or ask questions.

Alex moved into the living room and sat at the chair farther from me. “You can sit, you know.”

“And do what?” I asked.

“Well. First, we will sit quietly for a few minutes.”

“Then?”

“Then, we will close our eyes. This is very important. You cannot, must not, open your eyes once you close them, until I tell you. Agreed?”

“ahhh, I don’t know…”

“Well. You asked. It was your idea.”

“I did. But… I am a child you know?”

“You are a person. Someone who is curious.” Alex was looking at me. I think dia was smiling, I wasn’t sure because of the hoodie. It was kind of creating a shadow over the face. “Ready?” dia asked.

“Umm. Okay. Yes. I am.”

“Good. Close your eyes.”

I squeezed my eyes, closed them tight.

~~

“Relax yourself.”

Relax, relax. What does that mean? I asked myself.

“Breathe in, deep… then out a slow breath.”

I fidgeted in my chair. It really wasn’t the best or most comfortable.

“Relax. Try not to move. Focus on the air coming through your nose.”

We did this for maybe five minutes. I don’t know really. Then, my chair moved. It shifted. Honestly it was not me. I know it was not me.

“Keep your eyes closed,” Alex said, voice sounding like it was coming from the left side of the window, from where the other chair was, so I know Alex didn’t move my chair. “Keep your eyes closed, don’t worry about the chair.”

What? How can I not…

Then there was this huge sound, like a screech but not painful. It lasted for maybe a second or two.

“Keep your eyes closed.”

Suddenly there was a brilliant light, it was like daytime, like a sun high and bright. There were trees everywhere.

How could this be? My eyes were still closed. I thought that I had to be imagining.

(to be continued, someday 🙂)