I don’t know my neighbours. I know them by the cars they drive. The women and men they bring home. I know them from how long they keep their beards and how low or high their dresses usually are.
I know some by their reverse parking skills (often shameful). But I don’t know their names. Or what they do. Or who they are. With a few, we exchange curt nods of hellos whenever we run into each disposing of the trash.
Most mind their own business —as I do. Life turned us into these people who don’t know each other. Who are not curious about each other. I come in when some are leaving. They come in when I’m leaving.
We come in at different times. Sometimes they don’t come in at all. We are not in a WhatsApp group like some neighbourhoods, which is a bad and good thing because some neighbours have insomnia and tend to send rubbish messages at off hours. We are bad neighbours.
But recently with this quarantine I have noticed some people I didn’t know lived in our block. For instance, I saw a guy smoking a cigarette from his balcony speaking like a Tanzanian. [To mean, eloquent Kiswahili, not English). I told the security guy, “there is a strange dodgy guy smoking in house 12.” He said, “Biko, that tenant has lived here longer than you have.”
The good thing that’s come out of all this fiasco is one day I knocked on the door of the guy who lives below me. He’s an older man, maybe in his 50s, lives alone, no children, no pets, drives a classic Mercedes, smokes a lot that I can sometimes smell him before I see him, and is constantly on the phone. We spoke to each other from a distance of two meters. We had a laugh. He then brought out a glass of whisky to toast to the new found friendship. “To Corona,” I said, raising our glasses without clinking.