The house was actually no different from any of the others on the street. The walls were the color of cream, the windows had flowers in them, and the door had a knocker with a bell design on it. It wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention at all, but for two things… the creeper vines that fell shabbily from the balcony, and the sign.
The sign was stuck into the wet earth of the garden one day, by the owner of the house.
It proclaimed ominously, “Do not enter.”
At first, no one paid heed to the sign. The sign had been put there on All Fools’ Day. They thought it was a joke, and they continued to enter the compound when needed. The milkman kept the bottles of milk the next morning, and the newspaper boy threw his rolled up newspaper there as well. It was only in the evening of April 2nd that the neighborhood realized that the sign wasn’t to be taken lightly.
Jonah Jones, the paper boy, hit a six while playing cricket on the street, a harmless action. The ball bounced slowly into the compound, and rolled to a stop near the front door. When Jonah went to pick up the ball, the door opened, and big hands grasped his collar. What he saw next, no one quite knows. All they saw was Jonah, coming out of the compound, shaking like a leaf.
No one had the courage to confront Ezequiel Everard. Jonah wouldn’t speak against him; in fact he wouldn’t speak anything at all for a while. Even the cops decided that he was best left to himself. Ezequiel wouldn’t come out, not in the day anyways. But the children knew he was still around. Every Friday night, they would peek out from between the curtains, and see him come out after dark, a muffler around the lower half of his face, and a cane in his hand. He’d limp to the next street, where there was a grocery story that stayed open till late. Then limp back. After that he wasn’t to be heard from. He’d go back to being invisible.
The neighbors took to addressing him as “that man”, but the children dubbed him with another name, one that stuck more easily. He became E3… the enigmatic Ezequiel Everard, of whom no one knew anything. Or even if they did, they pretended not to. The curious kids made stories as to why he was the way he was, why he had, on that fateful All Fools’ Day morning, decided to go recluse. Some said he was attacked, and from then on, he was scared to come out. Some said he was an attacker, waiting to prey on little kids like Jonah. The story was taken up by parents, using it to scare their little ones on Friday evenings, to go to bed earlier. It worked.
No one cared why. They just left E3 to himself.
Three years after that, a family moved into the neighborhood – a couple and their young son. The boy was ten years old, and very excited to make new friends. It was the first time he had moved to a new home. As his parents looked after the formalities with the moving company, he ran to the playground at the end of the street, where the kids were playing. He stood a little distance away, waiting for the other kids to notice him. When they did, he was called over.
“What’s your name, new kid?” asked one of them, a gangling boy with brown hair.
“Never mind, we’ll find that out later,” another said, before the reply could come.
“If you want to be friends with us, you must pass the test,” he continued, looking at the others. “Do you think you are ready for that now?”
Eager to impress his soon-to-be friends, the new boy nodded.
“Well then, do you see that house over there, at the corner of this street? The one with the vines? That’s where E3 lives. All you have to do is open the gate, go inside, knock on the door and say hello. Can you do that?”
The new boy didn’t know of E3. After all, he was just another neighbor. He nodded again, and went on his way; the other kids watching him eagerly. He saw the sign, but thought that was the test. He opened the gate, which creaked, and walked through the small pathway between the lawn which hadn’t been mowed. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he knocked on the door, and waited.
When the door opened, a heavyset man stared at the young boy, who stood as still as a statue, staring back at him, a muffler around the lower part of his face.
“Hello,” he greeted E3 cheerfully.
Ezequiel looked at him as if he had lost his mind.
“Can’t you read?” he asked the boy, pointing at the sign.
“I’m new here. Just wanted to say hello. Nothing to be afraid of,” the boy replied, still smiling.
Ezequiel was surprised.
“Nothing to be afraid of, eh? Well, this will scare you,” he said, pulling down his muffler.
The new boy gave a gasp, and looked at his face with a mixture of fear and awe.
“That’s cool, Mr. E3, where’d you get that? How’d you get that?” he asked, catching Ezequiel off-guard.
“You’re not scared of my scar?” he asked, pointing at a long jagged scar that ran from his cheeks, to below his jaw.
“No way! That’s really cool,” the boy replied back.
And in that instant, a spell seemed to break. The other boys, who were watching, teemed into the compound, asking why the new boy didn’t get the gruffness they were meted out. Then seeing the scar, they too asked for the story behind it. And refused to budge from the compound without hearing it.
“But… why… erm… why did Jonah come back… all shaking three years ago?” asked one of them.
“Was his name Jonah? Didn’t mean to scare him like that, but well, he saw the wound, saw it in the flesh. It was still bloody. Must have been something I did, because the stitches had come out somehow. I grabbed him in my plight and asked him not to tell his parents. Is he still around?”
“Nah. He left some months after that day. But… why the sign? Why put it there?”
“I didn’t… didn’t want this face… to be seen. Even my niece… she used to say how handsome I was… she ran away… telling me to stay away from her. I just… just wanted to hide myself… after that!”
Then, they understood, sort of. As their parents came back from work, they saw the boys sitting on that untended lawn, listening to a heavyset, scarred man who they knew as Ezequiel. But gone was the scary, fierce eyes they had seen over the previous three years. His eyes twinkled again, his voice had mellowed. It could be seen in the eyes of the boys too. The fear they had for E3 had diminished by a lot.
As they returned to their homes that evening, the gangling boy extended a hand to the new boy, welcoming him.
“Every kid in the street is your friend now. You got a miracle on your first day!”
The new boy smiled, as he ran toward his house.
“What’s your name, kid? We forgot to ask that!” the gangling boy called after him.
The new boy turned, and smiled at his new friends.
“I’m Jonah. Jonah Wilkinson.”
(5th April 2014)