Imagine witnessing your home being burgled and trashed and being powerless to stop it. In this story, in a suburb within a large, densely populated city, Eva, the sole spectator watches helplessly as an uninvited, late night visitor comes into her home.
“Are you nuts?” Eva’s neighbour barked.
“No, no, I can do this,” Eva retorted, standing in a carpet of snow on her neighbour’s balcony, “I’ll climb on this little shelf, reach across to my railing and haul my body over. Easy.”
“Your funeral,” he sniggered. “Me, I’m off out for a night on the tiles.” He stepped back into his apartment. His door clicked shut.
Hesitating, she contemplated her mission. Locked out of her apartment and tired of waiting for someone to come with a key, she’d hatched this plan. What could go wrong? Are you crazy? What could go wrong? Plenty. What if you don’t have the strength and you’re left dangling? she admonished herself, glancing over the side of the railing. She shivered, turned and banged on his door. He was no longer there.
Eva clambered onto the rickety shelf, cautiously placed one knee on the top of the railing and thrust her upper body forward. She firmly gripped the railing on her own balcony and heaved her torso forward. With her body balanced precariously on the railing, she did not look down. She swung one leg onto the railing and crashed in a twisted heap onto her snow encrusted balcony.
She’d done it! Those endless hours at the gym have paid off, she mused. Who’d have thought a fifty-seven-year-old soon to be a grandma, could accomplish such a feat? She scrambled to her feet and stumbled to her closed doors, yanking them. They didn’t budge. Her heart sank. ‘No! Don’t do this!’ Her cry hung in the still air.
Defeat is not an option, she remonstrated. Picking up her hiking boots, she bashed at the doors repeatedly. They didn’t crack. Her eyes alighted on the ceramic plant pot sitting in the corner. She stepped back against the railing, hoisted the heavy pot above her head and heaved. The pot shattered, spilling the plant and dirt over the layer of glistening snow. The door remained unscathed.
Through a gap in the curtain, she could see directly down the small passage to the front door. A splinter of light appeared. The boy, finally arriving with a key, opened the front door. Her shouts and banging on the door went unheard.
Eva scanned the quiet street three stories below, willing someone, anyone to walk by. She looked to the muffled lights of the apartment block across the street, praying for someone to step out onto their balcony. No one. Nothing. Ziltch. Deafening quietness. Snow drifted. The wise inhabitants of Kamiitibashi prefecture in the larger metropolis of Tokyo had hunkered down for the night. She clenched her hands under her arm pits and paced the balcony muttering, keep warm, keep moving, Eva considered her options. There were none.
A faint tingling sound came from inside her apartment, the tinkle of Skype. Her son calling her back from the other side of the world with news of the baby, her first grandchild.
‘Mum, the baby…’ he’d said when he rang earlier. The sound faded, crackled and the call dropped. Eva left her apartment and rushed to a friend’s in the hope their internet was working. It wasn’t. When she returned, she discovered she’d locked herself out. Her key was not in her pocket and her phone was inside the apartment. She rung the land-lord from her neighbours’ phone.
As she waited in the drafty hallway for the boy to arrive with the key, her thoughts wandered. All that mattered was getting inside her apartment. The balcony, I could get in through the sliding doors. At that moment, her neighbour appeared.
She sprang to her feet.
“Still waiting?” he chortled.
“I have to get into my apartment,” she cried. “I’m expecting an important call. Can I use your balcony?”
Eva sank to the floor, wrapped her coat around her and drew her legs into her chest. Her son’s words returned. ‘Mum, the baby…’ Imagined dialogue of her son’s unsaid words jumbled her thoughts. Was his tone joyful? A happy, healthy baby, or was it despairing? We lost him, he came out blue. They couldn’t resuscitate him.
Tiredness overcame her. Huddling in the corner, she drew her legs into her body and wrapped her coat tight around herself. She succumbed to an uneasy slumber.
A mournful miaow from the street below woke her. Her shoulders and torso ached as if trampled by a herd of wilder-beasts. Her legs were numb and a jackhammer hammered her head. Eva, shook loose the thick meringue of snow encasing her body and sat up. Dazed, she peered into the coal black gloom. Metal bars, a drooping plant, a smashed ceramic plant pot, a pair of tired tramping boots leaning against glass doors. Sulky, watery lights washed the gloom. Her watch read twelve-thirty.
She struggled to stand and lent over the balcony rail, perusing the street below and the apartment block across the street. Nothing, no life, the night was dead. She paced, swung her arms, shouted, stomped and kicked at the smashed ceramic pot. She squinted longingly through a gap in the curtain at the splinter of light coming from the hallway and willed the light to get bigger. The splinter grew to splash the short hallway with a soft glow. Her heart raced, raced with hope. The door opened wide. Her prayers had been answered.
Within the door, a tall, anorak clad shape silhouetted against the light.
The shape looked around, spoke softly, then louder. “Hello? Anyone here? Hey!”
She didn’t know the voice and the shape was much too tall for her neighbour. Who’d be prowling around at this time of night? She wondered.
Unable to identify her late night visitor, Eva resisted the impulse to shout, to scream, to bash her door.
The stranger turned, entered the bedroom. Minutes later he emerged with Eva’s bulging school backpack. Her soft, silky, most- loved scarf snaked out of the bag.
Oh my God, I’m being robbed.’ With her hopes of being rescued dashed, Eva watched in horror and fear as the ripped, tatty denim legs, worn runners cover the short distance to the kitchen.
Not my saviour, more like a saboteur. The kitchen light flicked on. She crouched in the corner, watching the intruder. Her nose tickled, a sneeze threatened.
Stubby, dark facial hair sprouted from his square chin. Bulging eyes dominated his thin face. His hands bore crude tattoos.
He flung open the kitchen drawers, dumping utensils, cling wrap, paper towels and tea towels onto the floor. He knelt to the cupboards below the bench and swooped the contents – pots, pans, toaster and bowls – onto the floor. He stood. He threw open the doors on the small pantry and emptied bags of flour, sugar, rice and noodles onto the debris of pots and pans, tea towels and utensil. Reaching into the pantry, ‘Anorak’ grasped a large bottle of tomato sauce in one hand and Dijon Mustard in the other.
No, not the Dijon Mustard.
Squirt, dollop, splosh. Rivers of red and yellow flowed over the landscape of flour and sugar, pots and pans. It trickled into the cracks of the floor tiles, splashed the cupboard doors and walls. The crazed intruder sprang around the small kitchen space, squirting and sploshing. He had a real riot going on. Like a modern art installation, Eva thought as she watched. She envisioned her kitchen installation on show at Tate London. Why not? If Tracey Emin’s’ Unmade Bed could attract such acclaim, why not this kitchen inspired landscape? What would be a suitable title? Crazed Intruder? Cold Calling? Uninvited Visitor?
Her visitor threw the near-empty bottles at the balcony door curtains, alarming Eva. At least he wasn’t a quiet burglar, maybe the noise would alert a downstairs neighbour and finally, she’d be rescued.
He swung the fridge door open, cursed, slammed it shut. He opened the door of the freeze box. Eva held her breath. Would he find her stash hidden behind the chicken thighs and a carton of Miso soup? He tore the lid from a carton of metropolitan ice cream, gulped a scoop before dumping the contents on top of his art installation. The frozen peas and the half packet of prawns were sent to swim in the stream of ice cream. He rummaged once more in the freezer box. Out came his hand. Looking perplexed at his clenched fist he slowly opened his hand. Eva’s heart sank.
‘Anorak’ ripped open the ziplock bag, the tightly rubber-banded roll fell to the floor. He stooped, picked it up. Ping, he snapped the band. The Yen notes unravelled.
“What the hell? My lucky day,” he yelped, flicking the icy notes apart.
Eva emitted an anguished cry.
Rather than open a bank account, she kept her savings in the freezer.
“In case of a fire,” she told friends. “It’s safer in the freezer.”
‘It’s also the first place burglars look for money,’ friends told her, urging her to open a bank account.
Occasionally, she lent money to friends who were caught short in the weekends when the bank machines were not working, as often happened here.
“Can we borrow some of your cold hard cash?” they’d joke.
‘Anorak’ tucked the bundle into his jeans pocket, kicked the back-pack aside and danced down the hallway, slamming the door behind him. Silence returned. Eva stood, surveyed the mess on her kitchen floor, cursed, kicked the door in vexation and dug her hands deep into her coat pockets. She discovered a tiny tear in the lining of the left pocket. Her fingers ripped at the thin material. Her hand explored inside the coat lining. Something was caught in the corner, something metal. Her finger’s traced the sharp jutting edges and indentations of the object. Her door key.
Eva’s throttled scream hung in the cold air.