Back in 1990s, I was growing up in a nuclear family in Riyadh. The children in the area were from different nationalities, mostly Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, and they were students at my parents’ school there. Since we were the Principal’s kids, we weren’t allowed to join them for the street games usually. So it was just us, four siblings, who played together in our house or sometimes in the park under the careful watch of our parents. Although we were enough for each other and had an amazing time with all sorts of childhood games, we still loved to look out of the window and watch the other kids play outside in the scorching sun, mostly barefoot with sweat running down their bodies, and clothes stained from dirt and what not.
One day, we heard them discussing about exploring the ‘haunted’ house, the weird unkempt building at the end of our street. It was the only building with a courtyard in the locality. This was like the adventures we read about in our favorite ‘Secret Seven’, ‘Famous Five’ and ‘Nancy Drew’ series. We were so tempted to join them, that we sneaked out of our home when our parents were taking their afternoon nap. Oh, the thrill of doing that was no match to the one we experienced when we climbed over the boundary wall of that haunted house along with the other kids!
There was a small pool in the courtyard, with a single tree that spread its branches all over the place, casting irregular shadows everywhere. It was the pool that attracted our attention because that was not a common sight in the area where we lived. Based on the filthy water and dead leaves floating on it, the pool had not been cleaned for a long while. But to the eyes of seven excited children, it was a heavenly treat in the hot summer. We approached it excitedly and saw that there were tiny eggs floating near the edge of the pool. Now that I think about it, I am sure it was mosquito larvae. We decided to collect it in a broken bottle we found there and then take it home so that we could each have a pet frog when they hatched Don’t ask me for the logic here, we were just kids!
So while all of us were bent over the pool, watching our friend collect the eggs in the bottle, my sister who is easily spooked, caught hold of my hand and whispered that she saw someone at the window of the house. We looked up and saw nothing but a shabby old house with dirty windows. Brushing off her fear, we resumed our work until my sister startled us with a loud scream. She was pointing towards the door of the haunted house. An old man stood there, poking his head out from behind the door, scowling at us.
Within seconds, we all scrambled over the wall, jumped down and ran for our lives. Luckily we got back while our parents were still asleep. That was the last time we sneaked out of our house. And no, we didn’t get to breed mosquitoes in that broken glass bottle. And as for that old man, I guess he lived there all along and it was just a coincidence that we never saw him leave or enter that house.