The back door was ajar. Fatima didn’t recall leaving it open in her early morning rush to get to work. In the corridor was a whiff of her bath salts mixed with the potpourri she had burnt the night before. Nothing else was out of place. After placing her bag on top of the footstool by the door, Fatima saw a worn pair of woman’s shoes in the passage. She approached them with their stale fishy odour becoming very distinct, and Fatima gingerly picked them up with a plastic bag and placed the battered pair near the back door. A trail of well-worn discarded clothes led Fatima to the bathroom. Fatima’s instincts urged her to call for help, fueled by watching too many detective stories about home invasions. But her adrenalin enticed her further into the two-bedroomed flat.
Fatima approached the bathroom armed with her phone and kitchen knife. She could hear water splashing in the tub behind the closed door. As Fatima was about to turn the door handle, it was flung open, enveloping her in a cloud of steam. Then, ready to strike, Fatima was taken aback as she came face to face with a figure wrapped in one of her bath towels.
The stranger looked alarmed,
“Hey! Hold on! Where are you going with that? You could have caused me some serious damage!”
Fatima drew back, staring at the stranger. The woman’s confidence was disconcerting as she sailed past Fatima and headed for the spare bedroom. Fatima followed her. The woman turned and said, “Susan, why are you following me? I need to get dressed. So please give me some privacy,” and closed the door in Fatima’s face.
Now in two minds, whether to barge in and accost the woman or pounce on her when she came out, Fatima waited with her ear to the door, still clutching her kitchen knife, her phone ready on autodial. Soon after, the woman came out in a flowing kaftan of earthy psychedelic colours. Her dreadlocked greying hair was full of multicoloured beads. She strode past, barefoot, taking no notice of Fatima and entered the kitchen, opening cupboards at random.
“There’s no food in this place. What do expect us to live on?” the woman said as she shut the doors in succession. “I’m starved.”
“I don’t know who you are and what you are doing in my house. If you don’t give me a satisfactory explanation, I’m going to call the police,” said Fatima.
“What good will that do you? But then, they’ll ask, what harm have I done? None. Have I damaged your property-eh no? After all, I live here. You are behaving very peculiarly today, Susan. You must be tired.”
The woman continued preparing a snack with the contents of the fridge. Fatima could not understand her self hesitation, as if riveted to the ground. Finally, the woman took her tray and placed herself in front of the TV.
“For someone who is in a house which isn’t hers, you are making yourself very comfortable,” said Fatima. “Unfortunately, I don’t know who you are. So, as soon as you’ve finished eating my food, please take your belongings and leave! You are overstaying your welcome.”
Fatima realised the woman had zoned out and had not heard a word being said. After completing her meal, the woman took the tray to the kitchen and started humming a tune as she washed the dishes, returning them to the shelves.
“I’m going to have a little nap, Susan. So please don’t disturb me.” The woman sailed past Fatima and closed the spare bedroom door, locking it from inside.
There was no movement from the other side of the closed door as Fatima auto dialled and waited. A police patrol car soon arrived with no sirens. Fatima came out and shut the main door quietly as she explained the situation in whispers to the two officers.
The female officer then said,
“Ma’am, are you saying you have been entertaining a total stranger in your house, and you didn’t phone us sooner?”
“I don’t know why, but she didn’t seem to be a threat. What is annoying me more is that she keeps calling me Susan.”
“Even when she was in the kitchen, with knives and weapons available, you were not alarmed?” the male officer joined in.
“Come in and talk to her, yourself. The woman seems harmless enough. She’s in her own world. Although I admit her behaviour is peculiar,” said Fatima as she led the officers to the spare bedroom.
The female officer knocked gently and called out,
"Ma’am, please open the door. We are the police and want to talk to you. You are not in any trouble.”
The doorknob turned slowly, and an eye peered out.
“I’m sleeping. I told Susan not to disturb me. I want some peace.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but this lady says she doesn’t know you, and we would all like an explanation.”
“What does Susan mean she doesn’t know me! I’m her mother in law. Let me get dressed and come out.”
As the woman turned back into the room, the male policeman whispered,
"From facial recognition, I think I know who it is.”
The three retreated into the lounge and sat down waiting.
The male officer got up and said,
“Mrs Shumba, it is your name, isn’t it?”
“How do you know my name?”
“Your children have been looking for you for the past few days. They said you told them you were going to the shops and you never came back. Do you know where you are?”
“What an odd question; I’m at home, of course, with Susan, my daughter in law.”
“I am sorry, but you are in this young lady’s house, and she’s not called Susan, but Fatima. She phoned us reporting that there was a stranger in her house. How did you get in, Mrs Shumba?”
“Through the backdoor, of course, as I always do. I can’t make sense of this conversation, young man; let me go back to sleep.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” said the male officer. “We had already rung Susan and told her we had found you. So let’s get back to the station so we can reunite you with your family and end their sleepless nights and worry. You left home three days ago.”
As Mrs Shuma was escorted into the patrol car, Fatima turned to the officers,
"I’m still in the dark. What has just happened?”
“Mrs Shumba went missing three days ago, something which unfortunately is on the increase among older persons. She probably just wandered off after becoming disorientated. Fortunately, in the majority of such cases, they are found unscathed.”
The female officer joined in,
“I’m no expert, but it sounds as if Mrs Shumba may be suffering from short term memory loss. So that’s how she landed up here.”
“But where does she live?”
“In this neighbourhood. Not far from here. Behind all these security walls and fences, you probably don’t know your neighbours,” said the male officer.
Fatima continued, “But why did she come to my house?”
The younger officer replied,
"She could have entered anybody’s place. She’s probably been sleeping rough and was hungry and cold when she entered your yard. With no dog and a backdoor that was unlocked, it’s tempting. You asked, why enter your property? Your estate’s houses are built from the same plan with minor variations. One place perhaps looks like another, in Mrs Shumba’s state of mind.”
Relieved, Fatima said, “I’ve learnt my lesson about leaving doors unlocked. But poor soul, she’s lucky she didn't come to any harm.”
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