I only saw him for a second, and I know he saw me. He snorted and spat a wad next to where he sat cross-legged in front of the closed gate at the end of the neighbor’s driveway.
I didn’t want him to think I was staring, so I looked away, which means I don’t know how long he kept looking at me. He could’ve watched my entire walk down the street and seen me turn to check that my gate had closed, maybe he sensed my desire to look again and see if he was still there.
Now I could be calmly reading my book while I wait for the train. I was looking forward to that. I’d double-checked everything before I left—all the windows were closed, I locked the door and pulled the knob a couple times to make sure, I’d packed my rolling bag with everything I need—plane ticket, changes of clothes for three days, toothbrush, swimsuit, towel, sunscreen—and I left early to avoid rushing, because this was all about calm and relaxation.
The guy wasn’t my neighbor; I’d never seen him before. His clothes were dirty, but I can’t remember if they were light stains of house paint and concrete (from the construction a few doors down) or dark stains, possibly from homelessness.
His hair was longish and tousled. Maybe his clothes weren’t dirty, but his messy hair makes me think I saw stains.
I wish I could remember his face, but he spent half of the moment I looked at him tilting his head to spit, so in my memory his hair sort of becomes his face.
He was wearing a green shirt with an orange-brown jacket. Or it could’ve been an orange shirt with a green jacket. All I remember is that they were baggy on his body. But sitting on the ground bunches up a person’s shape—I don’t know if his clothes fit, if he was tall or short, or even whether he was wearing jeans or pants.
This isn’t enough information to ask anyone at the train station if they’ve seen him around.
The next train is in a half-hour. I could walk the ten minutes back home to see if he’s still there—get a better look at him if he is—and still make my plane.
None of the men at the work site look like him—not even my vague, subconscious memory of him. I try not to look too long, to avoid their suspicion.
And past the bend of the street there’s the neighbor’s driveway. He’s not there.
I check the fence at the corner of my lot, the one open space between the bushes. Some of the branches are dry and broken, but I’d squeezed through here myself last week to test whether someone could jump this part of the fence. My test proved that someone could, and now I can’t tell if these branches were broken by him or me.
I open my gate, eyeing the length of the fence to make sure nobody hops it as I step through, listen for swishing leaves or crunching gravel. Close the gate behind me. Listen again. Check my watch. I can make one sweep and still make the train.
If I leave my suitcase here and he comes this way, he could snatch my passport and phone before he jumps the fence. But the roller bag is noisy on the gravel, so I might not hear him leave.
Ultimately, I decide I’d prefer to keep my things and chase him off.
I drag the bag over long grass threaded with thin young brambles, to the more overgrown side of the house—where he’s most likely hidden. I don’t see him there, but he could’ve slipped to the back yard, so I push through tall nettles that bite my arms and face, which makes me even more confident he went this way. He probably assumed I wouldn’t brave it myself.
The back yard is empty. If he was here, he could’ve hopped the fence to either neighbor’s yard, or continued to the other side of the house. I listen. The neighbor behind me has her window open, sounds like she’s on the phone.
I cross, pulling the bag as quietly as I can across the grass to the other side of the house, where the path to the front is empty. The other neighbor’s yard is silent except for wind and birds.
I pull the bag to the front yard. Still nobody here. I check my watch—I’ve missed the next train. The next-next one is in twenty-five minutes. Plenty of time to catch it, but I’ll have to rush at the airport.
A layer of clouds uncovers the sun, and it’s warm.
If he’s still here, he expects me to give up and leave now. I turn around and walk quickly down the path, circling the house the other way to catch him off-guard. I hear nothing but my own footsteps on dirt and then grass, the bag rumbling behind me, swishing back through the nettles and re-emerging in the front yard.
Now he’ll stay hidden, because he thinks I’ve seen something that proves he’s here. I take the opportunity to go up the front steps and check the front door. Still closed, still locked, no sign of damage. Continue around, the kitchen window is also intact. As are the living room and dining room windows. I successfully dodge the nettles this time.
In the front yard I crouch and look for feet under the bushes. Then I take the path around the house, doing the same whenever new bushes come into view. I drop and scan the bushes around the back perimeter, see some fleshy trunks that could be legs, but no feet or shoes. No body lying in the space between the nettles and the fence. No one perched in the willow tree in the front yard.
The train is in seven minutes. I can’t make it even if I run. I’ll miss the plane.
But this is good—he thought I’d leave. He’ll try to escape at some point.
The sun is hot. I watch light and shadow flicker between the leaves as I pull the sunscreen from my bag and apply it to my forehead. Then I walk to the side path and apply some to my nose. In the back yard I put it on my cheeks and chin. Among the nettles I cover my neck and chest.
I unlock the front door and put my bag—now covered with dirt, pollen, and patches of clinging seeds—inside and lock the door.
Without the bag I can move easier, make quicker circles.
I feint and switch back. He’s probably circling too, opposite me.
If only this goddamn house wasn’t blocking my view!