Adjusting his collar for the fifth time, he cleared his throat. He had moved to the neighbourhood months ago and had not really greeted his neighbours except for the occasional wave. He was not the sort to go up to a stranger and just introduce himself. It was weird and he disliked touching hands. Because germs. Mama had taught him that germs were bad and had given him all sorts of vaccines since he was young.
Although she had passed years ago, he kept going for the annual vaccine for influenza. He was proud that he had never taken any sick days with the vaccine. That day, it was his off day. He had taken a day off to rest and it was time to greet that neighbour of his properly.
Taking a deep breath, he pressed the doorbell. The echoes of the doorbell sounded throughout the house. He peeked through the window. It was dark. It didn’t look lived in. The sound of someone clearing his throat behind him made him turn around.
“You the new neighbour,” it was a statement. She continued, “There’s no one here.”
“I’ll come back when he returns then.”
“What? No. He ain’t coming back. The old man’s been dead for ten years now.” With that, the woman left hurriedly.
Callum had been contemplating about moving house. He had plans to quit the job and leave the city behind. His mother had been dead for five years and left him the house. It was too big for him. The house reminded him of how empty he felt. He had been in a few relationships but none worked out. Eventually, he decided that he was better off being alone than with someone.
He had found a couple who was interested in the house.
Technically, it was a large apartment. With too many rooms for him. It was perfect for the couple who had looked at it a few times. The negotiation had gone smoothly, to his relief. He was awkward at negotiations and when they had finalised the amount, he was satisfied with it. He saw no further need to make changes and just wanted to move to the suburbs soon. City life disagreed with him.
He had found a house with two bedrooms and had looked at it twice. It fitted his ideal home and had signed an agreement with the agent as soon as he could. Moving his things was easy. He only hired a taxi for two luggage.
He bought a new table and chair since the current house had none. The wardrobe needed fixing and he managed to fix it with some glue for now. He would buy a new one when he had the time. A knock on the door came as he was finishing arranging the table and chairs for the third time.
“Hi, I’m Dan, I live just a few houses away and saw you moving in,” the elderly man introduced himself. Callum gave him a smile and shook his hand out of politeness. Mama said one should always be polite even if the other was rude. He could always sanitise his hands later.
“I’m Callum. I’m sorry, I don’t have much furniture now.”
“Oh, that’s alright. I would like to welcome you to this neighbourhood. Just a gift. Have a good day,” Dan left after giving him a nod.
Callum unwrapped the gift and saw that it was a book. He wasn’t quite sure why a book was gifted. Dan was still a man after all. Not all men baked and none of the other neighbours had come out and he didn’t even know if there were any families. The street was quiet and that was why he had chosen the house in the first place. He placed the book on the table and forgot about it.
Dan would pop by once a week and Callum started to like him. He shared stories about his past and Callum listened to him politely at first. As time went by, he liked the stories and incorporated into his stories whenever he felt the connection. Eventually, he began reading the biography, the book that Dan had given to him during the first visit. It was fascinating how similar the stories that Dan shared was the same as written in the biography.
Then the visits stopped. Callum didn’t worry about it at first. Dan was old and he was having difficulties in walking as Callum noticed in recent visits. He started using a cane and often refused his help in returning home. Callum forgot about Dan and kept writing his latest book. His editor had been calling him on a daily basis for the book and he was late in handing in the manuscript.
The new book was tough. He had no idea why the ideas flowed for the previous books while this one took a long time. It was as if the stories flowed when Dan visited. He decided to stop writing and read the biography but the book was nowhere to be found. He was careful about his stuff and would keep them in specific places. Today, the book was gone. The table was empty. He searched the bedrooms and under everything or whatever furniture that he had. Nothing. The house was not hiding the book.
He tried to recall when he last saw the book. Probably during Dan’s last visit. He was upset that the book had disappeared. The house now looked like a tornado had run through it. He needed to find the book. He needed it for the last chapter of the book and decided to look for Dan.
Ten years. Who did he talk to during those months? Who was Dan? Callum went to the library. The library would contain some sort of record. After hours of looking at the history of the town, he found it. Dan Whitford was the town historian. He had kept up with the records until his death. There were other historians who took over but none as thorough as him.
How did he die? None of the records showed anything until he found a news article. Dan had died due to a fall. He was having mobility difficulties and had fallen down the stairs. Nobody knew about it until the stench of his decomposed body reached the nearest house next to his. He had lived alone ever since his wife died. They had no children.
Callum leaned back against the chair. Did he submit the books to his editor? Had he really talked to Dan or did he imagined him from the missing book?