After the first round of armed robberies on our street, I make sure to lock every door before the night comes. It’s evening, the sun has surrendered, falling into the ocean. I look through the window and see a press of people wandering about, in the grey dusk. I close the window and turn away from it.
Yesterday, our neighbour, Grace, told us about the robberies. She sat in the living room with my mother. As I brushed past her, I noticed that her face was as creased as the clothes I was about to iron. I remember how her eyes lit up like street lamps as she told the story.
“You know I think we need tea for this,” she said. “We need good, strong tea.”
“Make two cups of tea,” my mother told me, “and don’t take the whole day.”
I went to the kitchen and switched on the kettle. I latched on to every word said as I served them.
“They climbed in through the bathroom window,” she said, with her eyes swimming with tearful glints. “They took everything!”
“God forbid!” my mother exclaimed, rising from her chair.
“That’s not all,” Grace carried on.
My heart jumped inside my chest as I listened on, but I carried on ironing the clothes before me. I said nothing. Nobody had spoken to me so I stayed out of it. There was an urgency to the way Grace spoke, as if revealing a prophecy.
Later that night, my mother told me to make sure that I locked every door and that is what I’m doing right now. I walk around to check that every door is locked and that every window is closed. As I get inside my room, I hear a loud noise. I open the window and peer out. The night has chased everyone away. I close the window and draw the curtains closed. The noise comes again from the ceiling. I rush to wake my mother up. We listen and the room is as silent as sleep.
“I don’t like this game you are playing,” my mother says, walking back to her bedroom.
I fall into a troubled sleep. The morning comes with news of another robbery. I pass some people collected around a house across the road as I walk to the shop. They say the robbers entered through the roof, or through the front window. It depends on whose story you want to believe. The sun sears. It is like an irritating person, who won’t let you go.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon when I get home. I switch on the TV and sink into the living-room sofa. I sigh as my mother calls me, cutting through the TV programme. We eat quietly across the dining room table. The hours pour into one another. I decide to stay awake through the night. As I count the stars skating on my window, the clutches of sleep grasp me.
As I turn for the third time on the mattress, I hear a loud noise coming from the ceiling. It comes without warning, as if a ghost. I rise from my bed and edge along the wall, going to my door. I don’t think twice before I blindly run to my mother’s bedroom. I stagger and bump into things like a headless chicken. I wake my mother up and as she wakes, there’s another pounding on the ceiling board.
“There’s a saying about unfinished business,” I say.
“That’s something for another day. Come in!” My mother says, locking the door behind me.
She calls the police, but panic fills her mouth as she tries to speak so she gives me the phone. I stay silent, then I tell the policeman on the other end of the line of the robbery that’s about to happen in our house.
The police arrive in our yard a few minutes’ shy of our call. They enter my bedroom to investigate and a flutter of movement draws our attention. We wait outside the house until the policemen return with defeated frowns on their faces.
“Miss Phoswa, there was a pigeon stuck in your ceiling,” one of the men says, annoyed. “We let it out.”
“Thabo, this is all your fault,” my mother says. “You should apologise.”
I nod and wonder if the policemen know that my mother and I were consumed by the same fear, a few minutes ago.