The Old Woman with the dogs

There’s this woman I’ve been hearing about lately. I’m new and I’ve noticed that the people here love to gossip so I shamelessly perch myself somewhere around them and wait for them to call me. That’s when I heard about this woman.
She is apparently “one of those silent types”. She lives in a four bedroom apartment all by herself. No man in the house. Only dogs to fill up that vacuum. I want to ask why the absence of a male figure is considered a vacuum but I don’t want to be isolated like that old woman. At least not till I’ve found some comfortable company for myself. I don’t even have dogs.
So this woman, she has four dogs. “Some brown colour ugly looking creatures they are. I’m telling you, stay away from them.”, Mrs. Mehta tells me.
My questioning attitude cannot hold back and is eager to know why.
“You know. Like owner, like dog.”
“No that’s incorrect. And it doesn’t apply to dogs.” I chime quite nonchalantly.
I haven’t realised what I’ve done. I’ve unmasked a group of middle-aged Indian aunties
who are glaring at me like I just asked each one of them to donate me a liver of theirs.
I murmur an apology and look down.

*

Over the next few days I keep hearing more of the story. None of the information really helps me join the dots.
They say she keeps dogs so she can control them. She never had any husband or children to be aggressive with so she channels all that frustration on the dogs. They also say her house is always dark and murky with the curtains drawn closed at all times.
Why would she want to keep them open with people like you on the hunt anyway?
They say she doesn’t interact with anyone and always carries around an umbrella. Even when it’s not raining. She doesn’t step out of the house during the day and has only spoken to the boy who visits her every other day with the groceries that she has ordered.
I found most of the stuff normal. An old woman who likes her own company and dogs and despises her neighbours and everybody else living in the colony for the way they gossip about her – pretty normal, don’t you think?
I wasn’t worried. Until the day she moved into the apartment next to mine.
Apparently all the gossiping got to the landlord and he asked her to leave at two week’s notice.
Honestly, I felt bad for her. She didn’t deserve this. Why should she have to pay for the jobless ladies who sat downstairs and spun stories of hate to pass their time?
I decided to leave her a post-it. But it seemed too informal.
Maybe I’ll just leave her a postcard. I had one from Shimla that was still left. It was currently stuck on the fridge with a magnet for my the lack of close friends.
I wrote her a little note:

Hey!
I hear you’ve just moved in. So have I. Would you like to meet tomorrow sometime this week?

Your new neighbour
Jenny

After thinking about what I was going to do for an entire evening, I slipped it under her door next morning at 7 am.

*

The next day went by quite slowly. My unemployment wasn’t the only reason for it. Normally when I sent invitations, I would get anxious while waiting for a reply. That’s exactly what was happening today.
I kept thinking about going and ringing the doorbell and just asking her upfront. I’d never had a problem with things like that. But I think the ladies’ gossip got to me because despite my better judgement, I just hid in the protection of the walls of my own apartment. The enclosure felt warmer than usual, the kind of feeling you get after having watched a horror movie in the theatre. Like the walls are the only protection you have in order to survive the night.
So I just stayed home. Took several naps and sat on the couch near the door in hope of hearing the doorbell.
I did hear it.
Two days after having sent the invitation. It was her doorbell. I opened my door and managed to catch a glimpse of the grocery boy entering her apartment.

Damn it!

*

Three days later, by which time I had completely given up on any hope of a response and actually considered going down and narrating this little incident to the middle-aged posse downstairs, I found a green post-it shoved under my doormat.

Sure.

That’s all it said. But it was written in a funny way. The ‘su’ and ‘re’ had a little space in between them. Almost like she had stopped midway to reconsider her offer. The latter half also appeared darker than the ‘su’. There had been a variation in the pressure, undoubtedly. And that was enough to give birth to the feeling of dread inside me.
The note had no mention of a date or time and this left me even more bewildered. Was she playing some game with me? Didn’t she know that I was the only one nice enough in the entire colony to actually think about her.
But was I really bothered about her or was it just my curious ego at play here?
I needed to stop asking so many questions.

*

Two weeks later, I’ve found myself a couple of freelance assignments in the city so that I have enough time on my hands to explore it before I launch myself into an all-consuming job, I come home to find a post-it on her door. It’s pink this time.

D come.

It says.
I’m not really sure anymore. This woman has been keeping me on the hinge for more than two weeks now. I have never seen what she looks like. She communicates in one word. Has no courtesy whatsoever. And  only ever speaks to her grocery boy.
Maybe I could catch the grocery boy next time and have a little word with him. But then it would be too late by then. And what if this woman has trust issues? I could make it worse for her, right?
I realised that my scope of overthinking was discovering new boundaries. But I decided to ignore that.
I went inside my apartment, kept my bag, picked up my keys and went to meet her. I’m sure she is a normal human being and only needs someone to understand her. I will do that for her.
The saviour in me was treating this like any other case of miscommunication between human beings. Oh how I was going to be proved wrong.

*

What happened that night is now a legend that runs smoothly on the tongues of the middle-aged Indian posse. They’ve added it to their collection of short stories that allows them to elaborate on what is wrong with the old woman, they continue to gang up and scare newcomers, just like they did to me, they’ll tell them it’s for their own good that they find out about what goes on in that apartment. They have, however, forgotten the stories of the old apartment – the ones I was welcomed with. These new stories are my creation but I had nothing to do with them. All I did was move out of the apartment to a different city three months later without uttering a word of it to another person.

Nobody knows where I am. Sometimes even I don’t.

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3 thoughts on “The Old Woman with the dogs

  1. Pingback: November : Wrapups, Hauls And Reads – Books And Strips

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