Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mischievous Neighbors

By Camincha

The day dawned hot. It was only seven. Unusual in Miraflores, the coastal city where the early mornings were mostly foggy, cool. Alba wondered, was it the heat that had woken her up? Through her bedroom’s lattice windows she could see the sun was already shining. But that wasn’t it. No. It was the voices. She had heard voices. She listened. Not the usual ones, Mamacita’s, the servants, Aunt Matilda’s or any others familiar to her. No. These loud ones came from the street. From children. But it was mid-February, the height of summer vacation. Children up at that time of the morning? And out doing what on the street at that hour?

In her pajamas she ran to the front room. The shutters were wide open, Mamacita wanting to allow the ocean’s breeze to help them through the day. Alba jumped on the ample windowsill. A group of boys were standing right in front of the lattice through which she was gazing. Strangers. They all looked alike. Had an unusual skin color, too, not white, or brown. More the color of dark olives like those that Alba was used to seeing on the dinner table.

These children had the whitest teeth she had ever seen. And dark blue eyes. They were exotic, she thought––a word she liked the sound of. She had learned it in school and liked throwing it around. Exotic. The group outside her window ranged in ages from about thirteen down to maybe five, seven?

They were different from other boys. Alba was twelve and in her whole life she had never known anyone to behave like them. It delighted her, entertained her, amused her. All the more because the adults – to her surprise – were also amused. The newcomers were mischievous. Mischievous in an open, public way. The kids in the neighborhood welcomed them.

Alba developed a great interest, even a fascination, in Godofredo, the oldest, who was very tall for his age. She noticed the attraction was mutual; he always smiled in her direction and seemed to look for her approval when interacting with the other kids. The brothers spent the entire day out on the street, performed their pranks in a boisterous, carefree style, their smiles and mischievous eyes flashed around the neighborhood that became their accomplice.

All five brothers, from the oldest, Godofredo at thirteen, to the youngest, who was seven, were always together. Ran together. Moved as one. That alone intrigued everyone for usually kids grouped themselves according to their ages. But not the five brothers. When you turned a corner and heard a laugh, a voice, you knew the others where not far away. Of mutual accord they pulled flowers from neighbors' gardens, bunched them into bouquets, placed them in a dilapidated basket with most of the petals already gone and offered them for sale to the very people from whom they had stolen. At random, they placed FOR RENT or FOR SALE signs, colorful and hand made, on the doorways of businesses and houses up and down the neighborhood.

But when they hung a FOR RENT sign in the house next to Alba’s where the two shy sisters, retired school teachers, lived, everyone including Mamacita had disapproving, harsh words for them. These words were however immediately replaced by amused smiles when the brothers placed a FOR SALE sign on the front door of the guy’s house who had a perennial look of scorn, never answered anyone’s greeting and always chased away the soccer team if they played too close to his house.

Alba remembers it all very well. She watched the doings of the five brothers from her front windows. She saw they lived a block from her house with an elderly couple who never mixed with anyone. Full of curiosity, she listened to the stories that circulated about the boys. It was said they had come to live with relatives as a consequence of some dark event in their lives. There where several versions.

It was rumored they were orphans, their parents had died in an accident. No. Their parents had died, but not in an accident. No. Their parents had not died, they were revolutionaries and had been arrested by government agents and at that very moment agonized in the pest-ridden cell of a makeshift jail in a dangerous area of the jungle. No. That wasn’t it. Actually their parents were doing quite well. One version was, they had fled to Amsterdam after pulling off a successful robbery at Banco Nacional del PerĂº in the middle of the night; they were traveling all over Europe in great luxury. Adding to the mystery was the fact that when it was time to register them for the new school year no one took that responsibility. When classes started none of the five went to school.

As Alba walked home with her friends at the end of the day she could feel Godofredo watching her from the neighbor’s fence that he and his brothers climbed daily to watch them go by.

Then one day they were no more. One morning the house they had lived in was empty. No odds and ends were left behind to show it had ever been occupied. It had been thoroughly cleaned. Nothing. The curtain-less windows showed empty rooms. The gate to the side garden that had been hastily left opened, knocked and knocked in vain on windy nights. No one answered.

Alba, for many years afterwards, kept in the back of her desk drawer the large eraser on which she had carved, GODOFREDO.

Camincha is a writer based in Pacifica, California. A frequent contributor to MyStoryLives, she was born in Lima, Peru.

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