In the city, it’s not unusual for one to have only the vaguest of acquaintance with one’s neighbors. My current next door neighbor is an excellent example. He moved in perhaps two years ago, three years ago? One loses track, and our paths cross maybe two… most certainly not more than four times a year.
His arrival had been hardly noticeable. One day the old resident’s name disappeared from the mailbox. Then, some weeks later, a new name appeared. And oddly, a smudge blossomed above his doorway, as if someone had held, for a time, a candle too close to the ceiling. Or had it always been there? When we finally met, I didn’t ask about it. It was hardly important, after all, and that it had anything to do with him was pure speculation.
Over time, he was always cordial but closed. “Working hard,” he would reply to “How are you?” “Going to work,” he would explain if we met on the landing: an older, quiet, always neatly dressed gentleman with a vague accent that somehow evokes the eastern Mediterranean.
Some months (how many?) after he moved in, the smudge became an X… or is it a cross? When did that happen? I hadn’t noticed, but the possibilities seemed amusing somehow. I entirely missed the appearance of a second ‘X’ some indeterminant months later. When a third ‘X’ appeared, I was a bit flummoxed. When did this happen, or had there always been three?
Oh, but it isn’t my imagination. A few weeks ago, there were suddenly four.
He’s keeping score.