No one had ever seen the face of the man who lived in flat number 403. Not even me, his neighbor who lives in flat number 404. You do not need to know my name. I am an ordinary person with an ordinary life. A boring life really, that was until my new neighbor moved in on the 11th of July. I cannot forget that day when everything started to change.
I saw him move in that night dressed in all black around midnight when I was returning home from a walk. He carried only 2 small suitcases and I would never have noticed him if not for the glint of the steel key by the streetlight. There was a certain smoothness in him movements almost like a dancer. He made almost no noise as he moved trying his best to seem invisible, almost like a ghost.
The next day went by normally I woke up, showered, ate, went to work, and came back exhausted, got a drink from my fridge, and plumped onto my couch staring at the ceiling. Lately I had been feeling that the monotonous repetition of my daily life drained me more than my actual work. But then I began to hear the soothing sound of a violin being played nearby. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was my new neighbor. He played almost everyday at the same time for as long as he was there, and I never seemed to get tired of the addition of this new repetitive thing to my daily life.
He played the violin ALMOST every day. I realized over the next few months that he never played on the new moon and the full moon days. I know this thanks to the lunar calendar my sister bought for me on New Year’s. It showed the face of the moon every day of the month. These days began to feel very empty, and I missed the music terribly. I was even tempted to knock on my neighbor’s door to ask them if they were alright. It’s funny how you feel the absence of something much more strongly than you appreciate it’s presence. At this point I have not even met my neighbor once, so I was not sure if they were a woman or a man. I had assumed they were a man based on the brief glance of their build I saw on the first day. I had no idea how the other residents of our building made that assumption. But the whole apartment was abuzz with weird rumors about the new tenant.
I heard people whisper about him as I passed by the different floors walking up the stairs to my own room.
‘You better eat your vegetables, or the boogeyman who lives on the fourth floor will come get you!’
‘He is definitely an international superspy! A superspy I tell you!’
‘I bet he works for the mafia.’
‘I think he may be really handsome underneath that mask and sunglasses!’
‘I don’t think so! I heard he has some disease or condition that makes his eyes and skin sensitive. That is why he always covers up. I think he might die soon and has come to live the rest of days in peace.’
‘We have to be careful, maybe he’s infectious.’
‘It could be a mental illness instead.’
‘You think he’s a runaway from a secret lab that conducted experiments on him?’
‘No way! My father heard him speak and said he had a beautiful, deep, baritone voice’.
It was confirmed the person was a man because he spoke to the electrician that lives in this same building one day about a complaint. The rumors and theories went on, but no one was too interested or cared about this mysterious figure. They had their own busy lives to lead. Although I listened to these rumors in passing, I never contributed or encouraged them. The security guard once asked me if I noticed anything strange and what I thought about this person, but I answered honestly that I didn’t know anything more about him at all. I didn’t hear much from him other than the violin music. I pretended to be indifferent but in truth I was the one who was the most interested about this mysterious person. My ears strained to hear more, and I kept a watchful eye out in case I caught a glimpse of him. At the same time, I was a bit scared and worried about what the truth might be about this person, so I actively avoided a direct confrontation. When someone goes out of their way to seem invisible, when they have so much to hide and are involved in so much secrecy, surely it cannot be a good idea to get involved in their affairs is what I thought.
But one full moon night when I missed the music far too much, I plucked up the courage to knock on his door. I received no answer. Looks like he is not home. I am not sure if I was disappointed or relieved. Life had been slightly more interesting since he arrived, and I didn’t want that to stop.
Another thing that changed since he arrived was that I started receiving visitors. Or he had visitors who accidently knocked my door thinking I was him. This happened often because our door numbers were written on the side of our doors and not actually on our doors in this building. This could be confusing to outsiders if they pay enough attention. He had visitors of all kind men, women, old and young. They were all generally well dressed and polite. They were a bit flustered once I pointed out their mistake. Maybe even embarrassed and worried or perhaps that was my imagination. They spoke in hushed tones and whispers as if they knew I was curious and listening, but I never heard a word they said. Whenever this happened my neighbor would leave me small gifts in front of my doorstep to apologize for the inconvenience his guests might have caused. These gifts would usually be some form of food like fruits or baked goods or smalls things that I needed around the house. The gifts made me think two things: one, that he was also listening in on me and was as aware of the rest of us as we were of him and two, the gifts also gave the sublet message to look away, to keep the visitors a secret, almost like a small bribe. I tried to knock on his door to thank him or try to return the gifts, but he never answered.
It’s not just me that he gave gifts to. He gave these mysteriously suitable gifts to many other people in the building with whom he had interacted with in one way or the other as they days passed. Maybe that’s why the rumors about him were so mixed. If he could not give them any gifts, he did them favors by helping them out. But throughout it all he barely spoke and had almost every inch of his skin covered. For instance, I heard him described as someone tall and strong who always wore long sleeves, gloves, sunglasses, a surgical mask, and a hat. He apparently gave a vague medical reason for this, but it looked like people were still suspicious of him. They let him be because he was kind and helpful to those he met and didn’t cause any trouble. Another strange thing about him was that no one would ever see him enter or leave this building or his apartment. We don’t know when he might be home and when he won’t. For someone that tried to live as quietly as possible, his presence and impact was felt loud and strong. People could not help but talk and wonder because although he tried to leave a positive impression wherever possible, everyone had a slight gut-feeling like something they could not put their finger on was off. The only times I ever saw him was when I take my midnight strolls, I sometimes saw him sitting on dangerously high places like on the roof or looking out his window dressed in a full black coat and hat so you could barely see his face. If I blinked or looked twice, he would be gone as if he could blend into the darkness of the night in an instant. If I saw it, it was likely that the other residents saw it too, causing the entire neighborhood to be encased in an excited, enigmatic energy and conspiracy.
It all came to an end one stormy night about six months later. The weather was especially harsh and unexpected. On that day, although it was dangerous, I opened my window and let the rain and wind blow against my face, it felt refreshing. My cell phone started to ring then so I went to answer it. It was my friend.
‘Hey! Happy Birthday! It too bad we couldn’t meet up because of this terrible storm. I had an amazing party planned out for you!’
‘Thank you! You didn’t have to do that!’
‘No way! We will definitely have the party another day. What are you up to at home?’
There was a sudden loud flash of thunder and lightning. I looked back to my window thinking I must close it when I saw a large black figure slipping through the open window. Before I could make a sound, the figure shot up and held me by the throat. I gasped.
‘Hello? Are you still there?’
The hand started to apply pressure. When I responded ‘Yes. I’m here. I need to close my window. I have an unexpected guest. I’ll call you later.’ I cut the call.
‘You’re bleeding. Let me help you’.
The figure seemed confused.
‘Do you know who I am?’
‘Of course. You are my neighbor from flat 403’.
He released me.
Knowing I was a clumsy person, I my sister had also gifted me a comprehensive first-aid kit along with the calendar. It might have saved both our lives that day, I must remember to thank her again. I wondered if she was psychic. I brought it out and started cleaning and stitching the wound on his shoulder. Maybe now I can finally have some answers about my mysterious neighbor.
‘What happened to you? Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?’
‘The less you know the better it will be for you. Can’t you see I’m involved in something dangerous?’
I said nothing.
‘Look, I’m sorry to have disturbed you. I thought this was my apartment. I also left my window open. Because of the weather and my condition, I failed to see properly and though you broke into my apartment, when I’m the one who broke into yours. Why is this building so damn confusing?’
‘I understand, you don’t have to explain yourself. Rest here for tonight. You can leave in the morning.’
He grabbed my arm. ‘Aren’t you going to call the police or tell anyone?’
‘You’re the one who told me not to get involved. I don’t know what you do but you don’t seem like a bad person.’
‘You realize I could have killed you.’
‘But you didn’t.’
He sighed, ‘You are one crazy person. Don’t ever do this again.’
And with that he lay down and fell asleep on the couch. Only then did I have a good look at his face for the first time. With the mask removed I could see a well-defined jaw line, a sharp nose, and thin lips. His eyes however were wrapped up in bandages that wound around his head. It made me wonder what sort of life this person has been through, and it made me sure that he will remain a mystery forever. I head back to my room lock the door and fell asleep after a very long time.
Then next day I woke up around noon. I slowly made my way to the living room to find that my neighbor has gone and on the coffee table there was a violin case with a note on top. It read: ‘Thank you for your help and belated happy birthday. Here is a gift for both. If we meet again, I will make sure to thank you properly. Till then, live a life you can be proud of.’
We never saw the mysterious man again. He moved out. I moved out soon after too. I started to learn how to play the violin and I practice every day. One day if I get good enough to play on a big stage, I believe we will meet again. The hope and anticipation of that alone makes everyday more interesting and colorful but, in the meantime, I also won’t take for granted the ordinary and safe life that I get to live.