You were hardly someone I knew, nor someone I wanted to know, either. We lived on the same floor, but I shied away from making friends with you. You were odd, I decided. A little off the rocker. I wondered why you drew those funny pictures that you did. I wondered what sense it made to you or to the myriads that found them beautiful, to the point of buying them for crazy amounts of money. You tried, though, to make friends with me. You baked me an unexpected cake, which i threw into the bin. You gave me sweets on some pleasant occasion in your life, I grabbed the box and ran off for work, forgetting the entire confection until i found a trail of ants leading into my bag. Even then, I cursed you.
You waited patiently outside my door that day, that fateful day when I last met you. I was chafed enough for the day with all the work I had, when you greeted me with a pleasant smile and a patient request for water.
I abhorred your kindness immediately, and threw the first full bottle of water I found in my fridge. Just when you began to thank me, I slammed the door shut on your face, hoping I was left alone for the rest of the night. I went back to what I wished to occupy myself with, by which time you were at my door again.
More water, you said. I gave you two bottles this time, cursing you under my breath so that you had issues with your bladder once you filled them. You patiently smiled, took the bottles and ran like lightning. I swung the door shut, cursing all through. Ten minutes would have lapsed when I heard knocking again. Much to my chagrin, it was your annoying self again. This time around, you were sweating, with soot black patches all over your hands and face. The neighbours were right, I thought. You were a crazy artist after all. Thank goodness I had never invited you over for tea. Thank god I stood you up for this evening's dinner- an invitation you hastily extended to me this morning. Oh I had to work till late, my excuse to avoid you.
More water, please, you asked. I don't have any bottles left for you, I said, not without an obvious show of hatred in my voice. Please, you said, in a bucket, in a vessel, in anything, you said. I dragged my tired feet to the tap and filled my biggest vessel with water so i could give it to you. You tugged it out of my hands and disappeared into the darkness. Ironically, this time, I cursed you for not being grateful.
Padding towards my desk, I felt something strange in my stomach. As though something was going to happen. Alas, I failed to heed premonition and dismissed it in favour of work. It wasn't until a full two minutes later, that I heard another knock. This time, I was armed. I had a bucket full, ready to splash on your face, with an equally barbed comment to match. I opened the door, but it wasn't you.
It was another neighbour who told me to come right away, and that a fire had broken out just now. I surged forwards, with the sick feeling in my stomach rising into my throat. I ran behind our neighbour blindly, straight into your house. Your house was a burnt mess. The stove was a petrifying inferno. The dinner you had put together and attempted to reheat, was charred beyond recognition, as was your shrunken corpse. Your last bucket of water went into saving the small strip of wall that separated my house from yours. You saved my life. You gave yours for mine. You ran the gauntlet for an ungrateful wretch like me, when i clearly did not deserve it.
Oddly enough, one of your paintings survived. It felt like my heart was wrapped in barbed wire when I saw it, for it carved out your pain from my bad behaviour so beautifully. A child with pain writ large over his face, was clutching a small heart in his hands, with one tear spilling down his tiny cheek. I ripped the picture off the wall. It would be mine, now.
An hour was all that it needed to put out the fire in your apartment, but I needed a lifetime or more to put out the fire burning me up.