Prisca Denton sat on her balcony. It was one of her pleasures when the day’s work was done and the evening hombre sky had swallowed up the sun.
It was mid-November so the sun shone bright and fierce during the day. It also meant the nights were mostly warm, sometimes even stifling hot. It was why she enjoyed her breeze-hour on the balcony.
Not that there was much breeze tonight but she had her hand-fan to help the process and that sufficed.
She could have stayed inside, at least the Power company was generous this evening. But despite the ceiling fan blowing at top speed inside the living room, she preferred the noiseless, solitude of her balcony.
The quiet peace was of course disturbed, every now and then, by a dissatisfied grunt or a yell of triumph from Esosa as he watched his football match but she wasn’t bothered by it. It was all part of the familiarity she welcomed in the quiet night.
Their neighbourhood, a little outskirt of the Benin ancient city, was quiet almost to the point of isolation. Again, she didn’t mind it. She had lived in various Nigerian cities in the course of Esosa’s working years as a federal civil servant and now retired, she considered it a long-earned pleasure to have some privacy.
They’d been blessed with only two children—a son and a daughter—both married with families of their own. She considered it even further blessing that her daughter got married to a man who lived in same city as they did.
She visited often, and that was company enough when she craved it. Of course there were a couple of neighbours in the estate. But she had never been much of the vibrantly social kind. Though now, it seemed a necessity owning the only provisions store in the small estate.
Prisca sighed with pleasure at the sudden, brisk breeze that wafted down on her, sending instant coolness over her entire body. She tilted her head upward, hoping to feel another rush of it.
An approaching ray of light caught her eye and she dropped her head, turning it to the left as the yellow bright ray increased and gained dominance over the poorly lit street.
The car soon came into view. It was an SUV, she wasn’t sure which make. She wasn’t a connoisseur of cars and it’d be hard to make out the name tag on the body in the shadowy night light.
So, she didn’t bother, she focused instead on the approaching vehicle. She couldn’t make out the interior either, so wasn’t sure how many passengers it was bearing. And since she didn’t feel any alarm at the sudden appearance of the vehicle, she didn’t bother to retreat inside.
She continued to watch as the SUV, which seemed to have a darkish colour, glided down the untarred street. It started to slow down as it drew closer and the left-side trafficator began to flash. Then it turned into the yard directly opposite their building.
Prisca’s brows came together in a contemplative frown. That was odd, she hadn’t heard any tale of anyone moving into the Ekhator’s residence.
The thing about small neighbourhoods was that you can count on their gossip mongering mill. But the last she’d heard about the somewhat abandoned three-bedroom bungalow was that all four children had travelled out and none had any use of the house. The last boy, the only she’d known, had suddenly disappeared seven months ago. The story that followed that puzzling disappearance was that he’d gone to join his older brother in Spain.
Or had it been an older sister in Greece? Prisca wasn’t sure, she usually listened half-heartedly to these tales.
The van-like, fronted slanted car had pulled up by the side of the house and the lights and engine switched off.
“Someone seems to be moving into the Ekhator residence.” She called out to her husband.
Even as Esosa only grunted in response, the frown on her forehead deepened. Why in heaven’s name would anyone choose to move into a new house at night?
She sat back in the rattan cushioned chair and decided to study the goings on.
A man came down from the driver’s side of the car. He looked tall, at least beside the lady who’d come out of the passenger seat and scuttled around to his side, he did look tall.
They both had on trousers, of darkish colours, and maybe T-shirts. Though the lady’s top wear had sleeves. The man must be speaking because the lady kept dipping her head in repeated nods.
She could try using words instead of jerking her head up and down like an agama lizard, Prisca mused.
They didn’t seem to have come with much. Just a few suitcases and some boxes, which they were bringing out of the now opened trunk.
What kind of people moved into a new house without furniture? Prisca wondered, pursing her lips. Well the Ekhator house was furnished. The children never removed any of the furniture after their parents’ death.
But didn’t they have anything of their own? she wondered. Or maybe they were a newlywed couple and just starting life together. She decided that would be a good explanation for their scanty belongings. She and Esosa had started out with practically nothing too.
The lady seemed to be struggling with something inside the trunk because her hands seemed to be making forward and backward pulling movements. She suddenly stumbled backward and the box slipped out of her hand and fell to the ground.
There was a bark from the man, who was coming out of the house. Prisca felt it had to be a bark since she’d heard the indistinct sound of it from that distance.
The lady jerked around with a visible startle. The man barked something else—again she heard the indistinct sound—and the woman scurried off into the house.
Prisca watched as the man stood staring after the woman before he turned and continued to unload the car and cart the things inside. A spate of goose bumps rose over her skin and she quickly robbed one hand across her skin.
Not liking the sudden feeling of unease, she folded together her hand-fan, got up and went through the open netted door into the living room.
“Taken enough breeze for the night?” Esosa asked, eyes glued to the television screen.
She slipped into the couch he was sitting. “There wasn’t much breeze anyway.” She murmured, then cast a glance towards the door. “It’s odd that they chose to move in at night, don’t you think?” She still could not shake off the feeling of uneasiness. “I mean who moves into a new place at…” She glanced at the wall clock hanging above the television, “… nine-thirty in the night?”
“People who don’t want nosy neighbours seeing them?”
She sniffed at his teasing remark but didn’t respond to it. She stared at the match still playing on the screen. It was the seventy-eight minute. The will soon draw to a close, Chelsea was leading. That explained Esosa’s humorous mood.
“She acted like she was afraid of him.” She murmured. She’d run off after he yelled at her… like a retreat in fear.
“Who?” Esosa tossed her a quick baffled glance.
“The wife—I suppose she must be his wife.” What else could she be, a girlfriend? “He shouted on her—at least I think he shouted—”
She stared crossly at him. “And what’s that for?”
Esosa lifted his singlet covered shoulders. “You think, you suppose… Prisca, they just moved in and you don’t know them. Can you wait till you meet them at least before you start making suppositions and jumping to conclusions?”
“I’m not jumping to anything.” Prisca grumbled, turning annoyed eyes back to the screen. “I’m just making an observation.”
“Okay o. Now, can you allow me to finish watching my match before making any more observations?”
“Fine, I’ll leave you to your match.” She replied with a sulky pout, rising from the couch. “But I know what I saw and more than that, I have this uneasy feeling.”
“You always have uneasy feelings.” Esosa muttered.
“And they are always for a reason.” She retorted, walking to the door to close and lock it before marching off in the direction of their bedroom.
Inside, she strolled straight to the double window and tilted aside the curtains. The compound was almost dark except from the ray of light creeping into it from their own security light. The doors were shut and so was still the living room window.
They hadn’t bothered to open the window. She found it odd that they’d just moved into a long uninhabited house and had not felt the constraint to open the windows and let in some air.
Telling herself that she was slowly acting like a nosy neighbour, she retreated to the family bed, pulled back the covers and slid into it.
She was still awake when Esosa crept into the room almost an hour later and she was still awake when he started snoring beside her some minutes after that.
She was finally starting to drift off when a sudden scream rent the quiet night air.
Her eyes flew open and shot to the window even as she held her breath and pricked her ears. But no sound came again. She felt the cool, rising of the goose bumps again and pulled the cotton coverlet to her chin as she snuggled close to her husband.
Muttering a short prayer, she shut her eyes and forced herself to sleep.
**REMINDER: Blovels is Tuesdays & Saturdays. Keziah’s Dairy still on Thursdays**