In the Niger River region, there is a town whose name is the stuff of dreams: the mysterious Timbuktu. They say that, a very long time ago, the nomads entrusted the care of a well there to an old... [+]
There was a man on the doorstep, all leatherette shoes and easy iron trousers. When I say doorstep I mean the pavement between the threshold and the hazard lines of a busy junction.
His head, too big for his body, was tilted slightly and he was staring expectantly at the handle in much the same way a dog does when wanting to be let out, or in. Indeed, his greying hair gave the impression of a scruffy terrier and he moved with irritating bounciness.
The man on the doorstep wore the black and grey anorak of officialdom but in the absence of a folder, clipboard or meter reading gadget, I wondered what his business might be. The house had already been ruined with ghastly UPVC double glazing and he didn't look like a Jehovah's Witness. Besides, they always travel in packs and arm themselves with impressive briefcases, to go with their smart suits.
It didn't look like a social visit either, not from where I was sitting which, was in the car waiting for my husband in the bank. I watched with interest as the gentleman caller rang the doorbell several times, idly toed the aluminium strip at the bottom of the door, stuffed his hands deep into his pockets and rocked a bit on his feet, sometimes stepping away and turning a little. At one point during this unlikely dance he looked directly at me. I looked away and pretended to use my phone and when I looked up again my view had been obscured by a horse lorry.
The lights changed, the traffic moved on and the man was still there, now stooping and looking through the letter box. I wondered what it must be like to live in one of those terraced rabbit hutches so perilously close to the thundering traffic. For some reason I imagined that the occupant must be an old lady and he was the bailiffs come to take her telly away. Surely no one would allow children to live in such a hideous place, what with the constant threat of being mown down every time one left the house.
As I pondered the impracticalities of keeping a cat in such a location the man moved away from the letterbox and peered through the nets of what I assumed was the sitting room or what my Grandmother would have called the front room.
It was getting dark and the bank was lit up and glowing from within. What the hell was my husband doing in there? The man on the doorstep made a call on his mobile and stepped back to look at the upstairs windows. Still talking, he peered again through the sitting room window and with renewed enthusiasm knocked with alacrity on the double glazing.He stepped sideways, crab-like and then strode purposefully away, up the road and out of sight.
My husband emerged from the bank. I looked back at the house. The familiar blue light of a TV flickered through the net curtains.