It happened slowly. It wasn’t an overnight change in perspective. But I started noticing how different things are when I turned sixteen.
I would ask friends if they noticed that there are peculiarities that we’ve never bothered to notice. The rusted cars, the spaced out looks I see from people from some areas. They brushed off my questions like I asked them a derp question. But I became suspicious of everything around me.
Was it normal?
I remember very clearly how it started. I woke up from my usual sleep and everything was slowly refocusing. My family was on the bus, travelling to some place that I didn’t hear about (maybe I wasn’t listening). I noticed the upper deck of the bus was completely rusted and no one dared to sit on the rusting twisted metal it has become. On the lower deck, babies were seated on the semi-rusted seats that were covered in cloth. The bus driver seat was exposed on his side and he drove like it was just another regular day.
I can feel the panic swell in me slowly and I ball both my fists to maintain control. I have to look calm and told myself ‘it’s nothing – it’s nothing’ like a mantra. It felt as if I just got my eyesight back at that very moment and seeing everything around me for the very first time.
I checked the ‘bus extension’ which most of the passengers were standing on, including my family and I. It was slightly new, metallic and must be strong to be able to hold these people up without coming off from the sides. I felt a bit disturb at that thought and went up to where my father is seated.
‘Papa, where are we going?’ I ask, trying not to lose my cool.
‘To our new home,’ he answered, not looking at me.
‘When did you and mom decide that we were moving?’
He sighed and said, ‘Today.’
I didn’t protest, nor did I ask any questions. The day just started and it felt too much for me to take in. An argument with my parents will definitely make me want to jump off that bus extension.
We stood there staring at the rusted gates of an estate. I can’t be clear on how many building towers were there but I am sure that most of them were to the point of crumbling to nothingness – except one building which Uncle was pointing to.
Just to be clear, Uncle is not my uncle. We just call him that and even my parents call him Uncle – so maybe, it is his name. I was never bothered to ask.
Uncle opened the gates and we entered the estate. We walked for a couple of minutes and arrived at the entrance of the building. My parents, Uncle and my two siblings took the old fashioned mechanical elevator which was built at the side of the building. I didn’t feel good about the elevator so I took the stairs instead. The staircase was empty but clean and I noticed there weren’t any lights. But the darkness was far from my worries – for now.
The flat was not how I expected.
When I saw the front door, it was a quite smaller than the two other doors from the hallway leading to it. The flat had about five rooms in total. The living room was large for a typical flat in the city. My mother pointed to what would be my room and I was shocked at the large room. It was at least four times bigger than my room back in the old flat.
‘Where are we, Uncle?’ I asked, feeling inwardly happy about the new room but still suspicious of all this.
Uncle gestured for me to look out of the window and what I saw surprised me. I felt like I only climbed two floors but clearly we were at least twenty floors up!
From the window, a large canal in the middle separated the blocks of houses from below. There were cars and barges going upstream. The wooden barges with the metallic feet were the ones that always fascinated me. From up above here, they resembled those large Amazonian cockroaches.
‘Where are we, Uncle?’ I repeated.
‘We are in Owng. Its spelled O-W-‘N-G and guaranteed, you’ll be safe here. ’ he answered. ‘The nearest city is twenty minutes away but if you travel by bus, it takes at least two hours because they are not connected.’
By the way, all your things should arrive in a few hours,’ he informs my father. My father nodded in reply and looked out of the other window.
‘I am going out. For a walk.’ I said to one in particular. That day, it felt as if everyone was speaking to me in a foreign language.
I went out of the estate gates and into the quiet streets of Owng. It’s not actually abandoned, just sparsely populated. Very few shops were open and it looked like no one had a good thing to say to each other. I checked my watch and it was 3pm but it looked like dusk.
I walked down the roads, looking back frequently, making sure I know how to find my way back. I came upon a large marketplace. It was completely run down, and it’s as if folks left in a hurry. There were only two shops open. One shop sold small dresses, the biggest size, according to the shopkeeper, was the size of an 8 year old. The only other shop sold large dresses and the smallest size they have was at least five times my size.
And the only available cloth in Owng was denim – nothing else.
Both shopkeepers eyed my clothes with interest because they weren’t denim like most of the customers that came in.
‘You know you have to choose,’ someone said.
I wasn’t sure if I was the one that person was talking to so I kept on walking.
‘You’re almost there, at that age.’
I turned around and there was this stocky built guy of my age. He seemed nervous but I’ve seen boys like that in my school. They can’t be trusted, sometimes.
‘Okay…,’ I replied and walked away. It seemed rude not to say anything.
‘I just wanted to let you know.’
‘Thanks. I don’t feel like talking to you so bye.’ I replied, not looking back. He may be harmless but I wasn’t sure of him. Maybe I might apologize – if I ever see him again.
I decided to walk back to the flat when I realized that it was getting much darker. I ran up the stairs in a hurry, knowing that I may not see the steps soon. I arrive at the front door and realize that the door doesn’t have a proper lock. I looked at the keypad outside the door and it sprang out onto my hand.
‘We don’t have a lock on the front door?’ I asked exasperated.
‘Don’t worry; the newspaper rack is above the front door. No one will be able to come in without it dropping on his head first,’ my father replied calmly.
I looked up at the newspaper holder and prayed that the intruder was not a ninja.