It was a small town by all standards, but felt larger, I guess because it was a suburb of a fairly large metropolis. The recorded name of the town bears no significance to my story and therefore warrants no mention; more importantly, the town was known to its inhabitants simply as Transplant Village (ironically enough, the moniker had nothing to do with a resident’s liver surgery 6 years past).
Transplant Village was home to the hundreds of contractors and laborers (and their respective families) who came to the area to rebuild after the devastation brought about by the Earthquake of ’15.
Not a single indigent face was to be seen. Not one… those people had watched the annihilation and carnage disappear out their rear window as they literally, and symbolically, put it all behind them mere weeks after the horrific disaster. They had stayed just long enough to bury their families and gather their few salvageable belongings.
The influx of employment- and fortune-seeking residents resembled The Quake in its swiftness and totality; and even with all the town had suffered, it never knew the harsh reality of neglect. The new denizens were thankful for the opportunities the area presented and solemnly respectful of the events that led to those opportunities.
In one of the great dualities of life, a group of people can be drawn together by a long-shared history or conversely by a comprehensive lack of shared history. Transplant Village was a study in the latter.
I came to town later than most but was pulled into the fold immediately. The camaraderie was something, for which, I had searched my entire life. I came from a small family comprised of an angry drunk, a terminally-frightened and nitwitted mother and me. My school years were spent being treated as someone to be avoided, and if forced to interact with me, my classmates did so with sorrow and pity in their eyes.
I left my home 3 days after graduation. Those days granted me just enough time to thoroughly pack my belongings but, sadly, also too much time to effectively dodge my father’s last ditch effort at convincing me I was nothing. I felt a flutter of guilt at the thought of leaving my mother behind, but justified it by reminding myself she’d left me behind plenty to take the brunt of mental and physical abuse at the hand of the man she’d decided would make a great husband and father.
My rudimentary plan to leave was devised at an early age but it was in my junior year that I’d read an article about Transplant Village; how they’d formed a community on the idea of revitalizing that same community, and something made me vow to make that place my home.
A bus ticket was my sole gift for graduating third in my class. The ticket represented less responsibility to my father; for my mother's part, I cling to the image of her waving goodbye at the station, her eyes filled with the fear of her future and the hope of mine.
With no real talent to offer the world, other than cynicism and distrust, I took the first job I was offered - laborer to a brick layer - which came with the serendipitous offer of a room in his home. I helped build walls while the townspeople dismantled mine; each, one brick at a time. It has been nearly 4 years of trying to grow accustom to the fact: relationships are not supposed to cause pain.
I quickly made friends and after some time, bought a small but comfortable house. And slowly, my newfound happiness erased the discontent of my past, just as the sun takes care of fog on a spring morning. No period of time displaced the bad memories quite like the holidays, for they overwhelmed the Village with their twinkling lights and merriment.
A smidge of loneliness blanketed me much like a wide-weave blanket might as the villagers, never more keenly aware of their transplant status, took this time to travel back to their history. My friends spoke of “going home” and relished the idea of time spent in commonality.
I had no such desire.
And that is how I became the person who watched the houses. I can think of nary a household which didn’t, at some point, entrust me with their dog(s), cat(s), mail and/or plants. I had amassed an eclectic array of keys and organized them on the numerous keychains gifted to me for my service. I had keychains representing 7 bygone hometowns and each ring housed, at the very least, 6 keys.
Two holiday seasons had passed without a single complaint when, during the third, the burglaries started. It began the week of Thanksgiving, the same week I got the new tv. I’m sure the timing raised eyebrows, and rightfully so, but my standing in the community was solid and my reputation alone deflected all suspicion.
Four holiday vacancies, four robberies, and four broken windows later, a rationally-proportionate hysteria settled over town. Vacations weren’t canceled but more eyes were charged with the task of watching over the intermittently empty homes.
As a large group, we could not fathom a thief among us; we concluded that the stolen items were generic in nature, creating the perception that it was a common, petty thief. Left to groups of 3 or so, however, we indicted without abandon; no single person was free of accusation.
I, publicly and raucously, came to the conclusion that it must be a person not of Transplant Village, "We need only turn our neighbor's key to gain entry, yet each case of larceny is set in motion by a broken pane of glass." My thinking was met with uniform acceptance.
It became commonplace for families to call at random intervals throughout their time away, asking for updates on the status of their home and safety of their belongings. During each exchange I was able to issue a favorable report which led to the wide spread belief that the crime was occurring sometime in the early morning hours preceding the family's return.
The fifth vacationing family, heeding cautionary advice, asked me to stay in their home on the final day of their trip. It was 3:17 in the morning when I heard the window shattering and realized, as I pulled my hand back through the jagged glass, my father was right about me after all.