SHORT STORY: Playing a good neighbour

Thursday May 19 2022

Drenched but victorious with salt in hand, Prisca tapped her foot impatiently as she stood in the lift heading back to her flat...The lift dinged as it arrived at her floor and the doors slid open. “Prisca! I was just looking for you!” it was her neighbour. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


It was her day off, and she was going to rest. She was going to put her feet up, watch a film she’d been saving for a rainy day, cook herself a good meal and do absolutely nothing. Prisca leaned her head back to stare at the sky, luxuriating in the pockets of sunshine that intermittently opened up each time there was a break in the clouds. There were plenty of clouds, low lying purple grey ones, each tinged with gold or silver, floating sluggishly to form a blanket that trapped what could have been a sickly humidity if it were not for a soft cold breeze carrying with it the fragrant scent of coming rain.

“I should move,” she murmured, finishing off a lukewarm coffee, swinging gently on a chair suspended on the balcony of her high-rise apartment.

Swinging lithely to her feet, Prisca had hardly taken a step when her doorbell pealed shrilly. As it resounded through her airy flat, each wave flooded her system with cortisol. She froze on the threshold of her balcony and living room, standing so still she was hardly breathing. Maybe whoever it was would just leave?

“Hello?” it was her neighbour from the apartment complex across from hers, “I’m here for the bread recipe we spoke about?” she called persistently, knocking again, “Hello!”

Prisca exhaled measuredly and rolled her eyes. The woman was nice, it was just, she was so wordy. A simple hello was to her an invitation to dive into lengthy conversations that were an ingratiating mix of neighbourhood gossip and small talk. Had she seen Prisca lolling about on her balcony? If so, then it would be rude not to answer… But just as Prisca took a silent step forward, she heard them mutter.

“Let me call instead.”


Prisca leaped forward, graceful as a gazelle, landing soundlessly on the balls of her feet, to grab her phone off the coffee table, quickly switching on flight mode. Then she stood still and contemplative, feeling guilty for her behaviour, but unwilling to surrender hours of her precious day off. Presently, she heard them retreat and with each footstep Prisca’s shoulders dropped as the anxiety fell of her.

Breathing easier, she padded softly into the kitchen, closed the door and started cooking. She wanted to treat herself to an unhurried lunch. She hadn’t had those in so long.

As a doctor on call, she found herself eating on her feet, running down a corridor or wolfing it down in her office between patients. Prisca swayed and hummed as she begun chopping onions and tomatoes into piles of bright red and washed out purple, dicing them with surgical precision, into nearly perfect cubes.

She’d been to the market the evening before, and so now she spread an assortment of fresh produce on the counter, mentally selecting ingredients for her stew. Carrots that glowed effervescent orange, eggplants the colour of the dark clouds outside, earth and ivory coloured mushrooms that were spongy to the touch, deep green lush leaves of spinach…

Outside, the clouds released their burdens in a sudden, powerful torrent that roared to life as abruptly as an engine starting.

Prisca started as the clamorous rain fell, then wandered happily to stare out at the downpour, relishing and romanticising the scene, the comforting mingling scents of stew and rain, the sounds that were now soothing as the heavy rain evened out and the dark sky lashed with flashes of bright lightning that rumbled with low resonant thunder. She stood watching for a while then jumped as she remembered her stew simmering on the stove.

It was only just starting to bubble out from under the lid, dribbling down the sides of the pot. She switched off the heat and scooped a large spoonful, blowing the steam that rose from the delicious smelling mixture, salivating expectantly. Prisca plopped the spoon into her mouth.

“Oh…” she exhaled, she’d forgotten salt. Mentally kicking herself for skipping such a simple yet essential ingredient, she rummaged through her spice cupboard, yanking the salt jar out and then cursing loudly as she stared at the empty container in her hand. Prisca debated her situation only a moment before donning a heavy raincoat, pulling the hood low over her head and running out to a kiosk that straddled her apartment complex’s external wall, much to the equal chagrin and convenience of the residents.

Drenched but victorious with salt in hand, Prisca tapped her foot impatiently as she stood in the lift heading back to her flat. Irritation had threatened her good mood, but now her relaxing evening was within reach, she could already feel it, the sensation of sinking into her couch, stew in hand, to watch a film she’d waited so long to see, cosy with the rain falling steadily outside… The lift dinged as it arrived at her floor and the doors slid open.

“Prisca! I was just looking for you!” it was her neighbour, returned, “I came by this morning but…what have you got there?” she didn’t wait for a reply, she rarely did, “Were you at the kiosk? I hear there are plans to demolish it but Sarah’s husband, you know, the one who…” she continued as Prisca choked back tears and plastered on a bland smile.