One Way to Meet the Neighbors

My first day in our new Trinidad apartment. I promised myself to take it easy, lay low, just hang out and get acclimated. It has been six weeks since I’d left Jakarta, since I’d fully unpacked and been on my own.  I had no intention of meeting anyone, or even leaving the apartment…none.

Last night, Curtis picked me and my mound of luggage up at the airport in our new rental car. It was his first long drive on the wrong side of the road, in an unfamiliar city (and only got lost once.)

I turned on the music, opened the drapes and doors so I could look out at the ocean and enjoy the non-existent breeze. it was muggy and hot. And began puttering. A few hours later, a sudden tropical storm validated my decision to stay inside. So I pressed on with the unpacking and checking email.

An advantage to living higher up is I could see out, but no one could see in and I could feel easy about leaving the doors open. A disadvantage is not being able to step outside to shake a rug or, in my case, shake out my suitcase. Undaunted, I hoisted the bag over the balcony and began shaking.

I should have checked the bag better. Along with the crumbs and grit I tossed out the lock.  I heard it clink against the ground.

I considered just leaving the lock there. No one would know it was mine, would then? It could have been from any of the many stories above me, couldn’t it? Or fallen from someone’s pocket. After all, doesn’t everyone walk around with luggage locks in their pockets?

That lock glinted up at me like a guilty secret, niggling & nudging. I finally gave in, pulled on clothes, wet down my hair, found my shoes and the ring of keys Curtis had made a point of showing me last night and set out on my first foray into La Rivera.

I made my way down the hall, down the stairs and into the lobby. There was a woman at the front desk and a worker in the front hall, which smelled strongly of vinegar.  I skittered past them with my face averted, pretending I knew exactly where I was going and was in a big hurry to get there. I stepped out the front door and marched off. But  to where?

Our balcony, as do all the others, faces the water. The entry and parking lot faced the opposite direction. I walked a bit in one direction, then the other, hoping to find an entry to the water-side of the building. But there didn’t appear to be one. So I did an about face, returned to the entry and pulled the door…


I tried one key, then another, and the other. None fit.

Now what? Had Curtis forgotten to tell me how to get back into the building once the door clicked closed during his key lecture? Or had I forgotten to listen?

I could walk to the store and go shopping for a few hours—4 or 5 or however long it would be before Curtis came home…

However there were a few flaws in that plan: I didn’t have any money.

Or a phone.

I was dressed in scruffies (at least I’d thought twice about slipping downstairs in my nightgown)  and hadn’t even bothered to brush my teeth.

And the lock was still outside on the patio beneath ours.

So I took a deep breath and knocked. And knocked. And jiggled the door handle. And peered in through the glass like a homeless waif seeking shelter.

Finally a woman took pity on me and opened the door a crack. There was no way she was letting me in without an explanation. So I introduced myself and explained my situation. The woman gave me a tight-lipped smile and explained how the key pad worked, then pulled the door closed without letting me through.

She stood on the inside watching through the glass while I tried it myself. She as watching for that green “approved” light to come on. (I have no doubt she would have left me standing out there all day, all night, all tomorrow if that green “approved” light hadn’t come on.)

Fortunately, I passed the test and pushed open the door. Her smile widened and she introduced herself as “Marilyn” then graciously showed me through the foyer to the pool door and explained how those locks worked, too.

After that, all I had to do was make my way around to the back side of the building, counting balconies—which all looked the same—until I came to mine (I recognized it because the door was open).

The door to the apartment directly below ours was open, too. A man was hunched over pulling weeds in the yard—a few feet from the lock which was feet from the open door. I smiled, mumbled “hello” and skittered past him to scoop up the lock. Suitcase crumbs, like confetti, littered the patio around the lock.  It wouldn’t have been so noticeable if the rest of the patio hadn’t been conspicuously debris-free. Had the man been out here when I dumped the suitcase? Had he seen the crumbs rain down like Chicken Little’s sky falling?

I now know 2 people in the building: One who may forever refer to me as the loony lady in 2c with questionable breath, and the other who may never go through his door again without an umbrella to protect him from falling litter.

How's that for the 1st day.