We walked tonight, us five. We left the house as the sun settled on the rooftops. The air, no longer warmed by the sun’s most intense heat, had cooled. I shivered slightly, and as I inhaled I caught the scent of a wood stove from a nearby house. I inhaled again, deeper this time, into my heart.
The boys rushed ahead on their bikes, pleased with the freedom that two wheels and a long footpath gave them. We followed behind, pushing the pram, our toddler enjoying the luxuries that come with short legs that tend to wander.
The evening hours are quiet here. We walk in hopes of seeing neighbors, of exchanging greetings — a conversation, even? But fences line the footpath, sheltering most of the houses from our hopeful glances. From behind one fence, music drifts. Indian, I guess, from its liveliness and the kind of instruments I’m able to pick out. A driveway ahead: friends greet each other and go inside. We turn the corner, another block. Across the street, I hear voices again, muffled, and I think they are probably not speaking in English. When we pass, they don’t look up or towards the street.
It’s noisy all of a sudden: birds are gathering overhead. Exchanging the evening’s news, they chirp and squawk and sing. I spot a rainbow lorikeet and a magpie; the others I don’t recognize. They remind me of the baby kookaburra who showed up on the fence outside our kitchen window that afternoon: a total surprise, the first time we’d seen one around our house. He only stayed a moment, just dropping by to let us know he had moved into the neighborhood.
The boys rush ahead, crossing the street into the car park next to the playground; they’ve assumed we will be stopping. We follow their lead, and our family joins two others who are playing there. We’ve been to this playground dozens of times, but this is the first time we’ve seen them. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember seeing anybody here more than once.
One of the families leaves as we unbuckle helmets and pram straps. The other two women — mother and daughter? — smile at our youngest’s exuberance. But smiles are all we exchange; they continue in their own conversation.
We don’t stay long. My mind is busy with thoughts of dinner to serve, the next day’s packed lunches to prepare, and the hope of an early bedtime for all. This time, the boys don’t complain about leaving: we promise them a game of Quirkle when we return.
On the home stretch we don’t see anyone else. It’s almost dark now, and birds and people settle into their places for the evening. I look at the gardens, the houses, that we pass by. They have become increasingly familiar to me over the past year, but I still see things I hadn’t noticed before. It feels strange, to know them this well, and yet to have the faces of their residents unknown. I could pass my neighbors at the grocery, in the library, at the post office, and we would not know each other.
We’ve given our eldest the keys to the house, so he rushes ahead to unlock the door, eager to be the first inside. We are not far behind. Our own fence stands out from our neighbors: wooden, chest-height, skinny slats wide enough for a toddler’s arm to reach through. Our garden, too, with the toys not completely picked up and the hammock out front and the overgrown vegetable patch.
It’s slow-going, this work of settling in. In some ways, we have yet to even begin.