Even the closed bedroom door could not shield the shrill of the door bell. I woke up and switched on my mobile to check the time. It was very early. We had moved to a new place and the visits of the usual newspaper vendor or NEPA man or maid or the laundry guy had not yet been formalized.
Who could it be? I got up and trudged lazily to the door. Felt happy that my wife was still sleeping peacefully. I closed the bedroom door behind me, and as I did so the shrill of the door bell caught me squarely. That someone outside had to be an impatient customer.
I opened the main door and was surprised to find our landlord right in front. His short and thin figure was upright; his longish face with a hairline mustache showed unmistakable signs of agitation and his eyes, still puffy from sleep, were blazing.
“Good morning sah!… ” I began in the customary way.
He ignored it completely, “This has never ever happened in my house! How is this possible?”
“What happened… ?”
“Just cannot imagine! Preposterous… crazy… !” He paused for effect shaking his head in all possible directions.
“Sah, would you please tell me whatever may have happened and, which concerns us!” I could not hide my irritation at this unexpected disturbance at the dawn of the day.
“Okay, see for yourself! Please follow me… ”
I did so moving with him to the concrete passage outside running along the front side of the building. Out through the grilled entrance he stopped at the center of passage, looked down at the ground on both sides angrily. He motioned me to do the same.
Then only I realized the cause of his agitation. There were two big bags with sprawling white liquid on both sides of the concrete floor just behind the main gate. Instantly I identified these as Akpo, a cassava based meal also known as fufu. It had a terrible smell. But why was he telling me all this? How on earth could I be held responsible?
“Oh! Someone has made your compound smell by making Akpo. Such people always do it on the corridors… ”
He cut me short, “As I told you this has never happened at my house in my memory! You came in few days back, and since then a lot of people visited this house for the odd jobs and re-dos as you ordered. You see… !”
Yes, I saw it clearly now. As he claimed this had never happened earlier and so it had to be one of those new women that moved in with my neighbor from the Village in. He continued, “… Please ask them, quiz them… who must have done this obnoxious thing!
Don’t spare them! I’m certain that one of your people did this!” And now, I found this term of “your people” really obnoxious! Temper was slowly rising within me which I controlled… rather I had to chill, because we were new and this should never turn into a confrontation.
As I was searching for the ideal thing to say the caretaker joined us with a bucket of water and a broom, to my escape. He looked up ruefully at me,
“Finally I have to do the cleaning up… !” The landlord decided to stay on to supervise.
My wife was up and about when I entered and narrated the episode. She had a hearty laugh and welcomed the landlord’s zeal for cleanliness. I agreed. It had been a national campaign to make your surroundings spick and span. However, I couldn’t agree to the accusing tone in the landlord’s otherwise righteous agitation.
Over the next few days we did ask our neighbors with the expectation that nobody would confess doing it even if she did. We also warned newcomers never to do this type of thing. During this period we also noticed a significant decline in our visitors.
One day our temporary maid confirmed my fears. She confided to my wife that she was quizzed by the landlord’s wife if she or any of we two had been making Akpo. I decided to have a talk with the landlord.
The agitation was no longer in him that day and I was happy to see that. I came to the point straightaway.
“Look mister. It’s a very good thing that you are so concerned about cleanliness and we wholeheartedly support this. But we’re pained that you’re pointing the finger at us. Even if any of us has this habit why should you be suspicious about us? We’re responsible citizens and we’ll never litter our own surroundings.
You see, the lane outside your gate is a public place and any of the passers-by could be doing this, out of habit or for mischief. And, it is not possible for you or us to monitor them throughout the day. So please don’t scare your tenants. Most of us just moved in, harassment should never be a part of any good thing you do. Hope you understand!”
If he understood he didn’t show any sign. He only nodded his head several times uttering some monosyllables. I let it rest at that. If you rented a place then the landlord was your true boss, and as the saying goes the boss is always right. And, it was hardly the time to look for a new house.
So now, am I in trouble for the rest of the year? I really don’t know.