It all started innocently. Christopher, a struggling young man, had gone to the backyard of the compound to bring in the clothes he had washed that morning. It was a public compound, with houses as old as the ancient times, with no hope of improvement. The lines were directly behind his neighbour’s flat.
The sharp smell of urine hit his nostrils as he walked towards the line, a result of the kids who preferred to pee outside than miss any play time. As he bent to pick a shirt that had fallen from his hands, he raised his head and that’s when he saw it, a sliver of light coming from a small crack in the window of a bedroom. The window was made of wood, the rains had washed away the brown rich colour of the wood, the years had left many cracks and tears. It wasn’t the crack that caught his attention however. It was the image behind it.
He could clearly see Ronke, his neighbour’s quiet fifteen year old daughter who was rarely seen except when she went on errands. She was standing and gazing at her reflection in the mirror as she tried out different poses in quick succession, wearing a short flighty nightwear. Perplexed, he stayed there, stooped on the floor, watching her until she left the mirror and out of his sight.
Her image stayed with him all through that night into the next morning. Ronke was not exceptionally pretty, he had never really paid any attention to her. The only times he bumped into her was in the mornings when she left early for school and even then, she would offer a mousy greeting his way with her head down, never actually looking at him.
That morning he delayed in his room till he saw her open the door in her school uniform. Not wasting any time, he grabbed his bag and headed out, catching up with her at the gate. He noticed there was something different about her. He couldn’t place it. She offered her greeting and walked past him.
It wasn’t until he got to his office that it hit him. For the first time, Ronke had not bowed her head to greet him. She had looked directly at him, her dark brown eyes filled with confidence. Her skirt had been shorter too, her shirt tighter. A smile spread accross his face. He recognised the signs.
On getting home that evening, he hurried through his evening ablutions, waiting patiently till it got dark. He picked up some clothes, making a pretext of going to spread them on the line. Nobody used the line in the evenings so he knew he would be alone. Peeping through the crack, he didn’t see anybody at first. He adjusted his neck painfully until he could make her out, lying on the bed and going through a phone. She had a wrapper tied on her chest which got to her knees. He continued to watch as her legs danced on the bed excitedly until she put the phone aside and stood up. She grabbed a hair net drying on the mirror stand and covered her hair. She retied the wrapper that was slipping from her waist as she removed a short night wear from the bag lying close to the bed and spread it out on the bed. She put a short towel on her shoulders and went out the room.
She had gone to take a bath. Excitedly, he sat down and began scratching his mosquito feasted legs. The bathroom window was on the front side of the house. He couldn’t go there without being seen. The creaking of the door brought him scrambling to his knees, his greedy eyes making their way to the crack.
She had cleaned her body and was spreading the towel out on a thin iron hanger, her wrapper still tied to her chest. She put her long smooth legs on the bed and applied lotion. Then she removed her wrapper and slid into her thin night wear. He grinned excitedly, his mind running wild as he went back to his room.
He could barely sleep that night, her image stayed in his minds eye.
So began the ritual. Every evening, he would wait anxiously until darkness fell before proceeding to his spot beside her window. He barely glanced at her when their paths crossed in the mornings. He was sure she would see the lust written all over him. He began to depend on seeing her image every night before sleeping. He would spend hours lying on his bed, dreaming.
One evening, two weeks later, he went to the crack but nobody was in the room. He waited for about an hour before giving up. He couldn’t sleep that night. He kept wondering where she had gone to. She wasn’t at the gate the next morning either. After waiting till he was sure he was going to be too late for work, he left. Her room and her parents’ seemed deserted. That evening, he paid a courtesy visit to the other tenants. He learned that Ronke had travelled with her parents and would be back at the end of the weekend. As Sunday approached, he got more anxious, more restless. He couldn’t wait for his Ronke to be back.
In the evening, he saw her. She was carrying a little travelling bag in her arms, her hair was slightly wet from the light drizzles, wearing a brown skirt under a white shirt. She greeted the other neighbours sitting in their varendah before going to her door. He looked around. Her parents were not in sight. He casually strolled to her as she struggled with the padlock on the door.
“Good evening Mr Christopher” she greeted as he approached.
He smiled what he hoped was an easy smile. “Welcome oh. Where are your parents na? I heard you people travelled this weekend.”
“They’ll be back tomorrow sir. I came back for school tomorrow.” she replied.
“Oh, Ok then…let me help you with that.”
He took the key from her, making sure their fingers touched as he did. He looked sideways at her. She hadn’t noticed.
Suddenly he felt angry. She was looking at her phone, paying no attention to him. Couldn’t she see that he loved her? What was so important that she couldn’t take a moment to talk with him? He banged the padlock as it opened, making sure he startled her before walking away.
He was in a rage. She didn’t really see him or notice him as a person. Every morning, he would risk being late to work just so he would see her in the mornings. He swallowed numerous malaria drugs to appease his legs which were covered in mosquito bites and despite all this, all his sacrifice, she gave him no more attention than she would give a passing fly. He was only fifteen years older than her, why couldn’t she just notice him? Even if for one time?
His anger only increased as darkness fell. Strapping a knife to the back of his trouser, he stomped furiously to her window, not caring if anyone saw him. He peeped through the crack, she was sitting on the bed, her bag open in front of her as she folded her clothes. He waited till she left the room, then he tested the window. It wasn’t locked. He removed his trouser and spread it on the line, securing the knife to his boxers. He slipped into the room and stood next to the shoe rack behind the door.
She came in a few minutes later, humming a song. As she went to the bed and bent forward, he pounced on her, covering her mouth with his hands immediately to stiffle her scream. She struggled until he pushed her violently to the floor and brought out the knife, holding a finger to his mouth. She covered her mouth with her hand as tears filled her eyes. He smiled as he used the knife to cut her skirt open. She covered her legs and moved backwards towards the door, pleading with her eyes. It only added to his excitement.
He knelt in front of her and started to unbutton her shirt, ignoring the tears that dripped to his hands. She was moving backwards slowly, he dropped the knife by the side and dragged her forward, going back to work on her buttons. His hands were shaking so much it was taking too long. He didn’t see her hands creep downwards. He didn’t see her hands reach the silver glinting knife. He was raising his head to grab her hair when the hard thin steel struck. The knife went three inches deep inside his left eye.