It all started with a frantic tapping on my bedroom window just as I was falling asleep after late-night bingeing on various TV channels. I initially subconsciously blocked the noise out, thinking it was noise from upstairs, where a new couple had moved in over a week ago. But the persistence was hard to ignore as I tried turning over in search of a warm spot while nestling under my duvet. A flash of light crossed the blinds, accompanied by continuous tapping. Scrambling out of bed in frustration, I peered through a slit in the blinds and saw a bearded face mouthing something indecipherable, forcing me to cautiously open my ground floor window.
“Sorry to disturb you, I am Dan, your new neighbour. I moved in with my wife last week. We haven’t had a chance to introduce ourselves. Unfortunately, I forgot my key and locked myself out. Please could you let me in?”
“How do I know who you are? Yes, I have heard someone moving furniture upstairs. Don’t you have a spare key? Or alternatively, why not contact the estate manager?”
“I don’t think they operate a 24-hour service. The spare key is with my wife across town. I thought I should try you first rather than phone anyone else. I’m sorry, I also don’t have anything to identify me by, apart from this parcel with my name on it, delivered today. It is too big for the post box, and the postman left it nearby.”
Putting on my dressing gown, I padded bleary-eyed to the front door and opened it.
“Thanks, mate. You saved me. Otherwise, I would have had to phone my wife for the keys. I am sorry to have disturbed you. Good night.”
As Dan made his way upstairs, I closed out the blast of cold wind coming through the front door and went back to bed in pursuit of my elusive sleep.
Early the following day, my cleaning lady Dina came as usual. She had been a regular since I inherited her services from my parents when they moved to the coast. I was one of those people who tidied up before her arrival. Sometimes I wondered why I needed her services since she was adept at shifting dust from place to place rather than keeping the home clean. Whenever I explained to her that I could look after myself, she would start the sob story about my cleaning contract putting food on her table. Having worked for me for so long, she felt she was part of the family.
“You started late today! You’re lucky you are self-employed!”
“Don’t you start, Dina. I had a rough night. First, my new neighbour woke me up, knocking on my windowpane, wanting to get into his flat. Then I couldn’t get back to sleep!”
“Oh, so you’ve met the husband, have you? I have not even had a glimpse of the couple. They are keeping themselves to themselves.”
“They’re still settling in, and the wife only comes during the daytime till they get themselves sorted.”
“What’s he like, the husband?”
“I was half asleep and didn’t take too much notice of him. Tall, dark hair and a scruffy beard. That sort of thing. I let him in, and he went upstairs.”
The day dragged on while trying to write the next chapter of my new short story. I had spent more time revising the plot in my head than putting anything worth keeping on paper. I was glad I was not paid by the hour. Then, a gentle knock interrupted my flow of thought.
“Yes, how can I help you?” I opened the door abruptly to find two unfamiliar faces staring at me.
“Sorry to disturb you. We were on our way upstairs and thought we should not put off introducing ourselves any longer. We are the Watungas, Dan and Vimbai. We moved in last week and had heard that there is a famous writer in the building. It is good to meet you. We hope we are not disturbing you.”
The couple were in their late 60s. The husband leaning on a walking stick, wore tartan carpet slippers, a grey tracksuit and large black-framed glasses on a clean-shaven face. His wife was slightly taller with sharp blue eyes, hair in a chignon, a calf-length tweed skirt and a blue pullover. They looked content in their skins.
I asked them in. The couple shared the sofa and started chatting as if we were old friends. They reminded me of my parents in their younger days as they finished each other’s sentences.
Dan, who was the more vocal of the two, said, “Apart from introducing ourselves, the reason we came to see you is that we thought you could help. We have not fully moved in, waiting for the utilities to be sorted. Our daughter said she would organise that side of things. But she’s always so busy. At this rate, we’ll have to delay moving in properly till the weekend.
“Dan, I’m sure our new writer friend doesn’t have all day! Have you forgotten what we came for?” said Vimbai jokingly.
“I get carried away sometimes. The oddest thing happened last night. I know we’re getting a bit forgetful, but I could swear that we locked the main door when we left after unpacking yesterday evening. However, when we arrived today, the lock had been picked. Overnight, someone broke in and scattered our belongings everywhere. My wife’s few valuable pieces of her family’s heirloom, including an emerald brooch and pearl earrings, are now missing. Otherwise, there’s nothing worth trashing the place for. We thought you might have heard a disturbance from upstairs last night.”
“You forget to mention your gold fountain pen,” said Vimbai.” We’ve searched high and low and can’t find it.”
“Yes, there’s that as well,” said Dan. “It has left us very unsettled. And we haven’t even slept in the flat! No-one warned us this was a neighbourhood prone to break-ins!”
“That’s most unfortunate! I wouldn’t say there are many burglaries reported around here. Have you already redirected mail to this place?” I said without sounding too inquisitive.
“Yes, my daughter did some online shopping for us and sent it to this address. It has probably already been delivered. Now you mention it, we haven’t checked whether there’s anything for us above the letterbox. Why do you ask?”
“I’m just curious. A while back, someone stole all the parcels left above letterboxes. But it is not something which has happened since.”
After that revelation, I changed the subject and advised Dan and Vimbai to call the police before ushering them out.
In my police statement, I had to admit I let someone in, who it was now clear, was not the new tenant. The resulting criminal investigation proved fruitless, and the file joined all the other unsolved cases.