WHEN FIRST IMPRESSIONS DON'T MATTER (by EMERALD MICHAEL)

     Moving to my own apartment wasn't exactly the memorable event I'd imagined it would be. For starters, it was so far away from home, and mum, that I was worried.
     When I learnt it was a predominantly Igbo-speaking neighbourhood, my worries blossomed into misgiving. Hold your guns. I have nothing against the Igbo brethren but I'd rather not live with the whole clan. They have a way of making a sister feel like an imposter. Maybe it's just me.

     But it was my money (and some of dad's, I admit) paying for the tidy, lovely space I now called "my house", so I was determined to be a big girl and take some of that comfort zone advice. However, when the first neighbour I met and extended my very jovial, not-at-all-forced 'Hello!' responded with a blank, not-at-all-friendly stare, I was 100% certain it was a bad omen.
     It didn't matter that the others trooped in later that evening to officially welcome me to the hood - warm smiles, bottle of wine and all.
     She' didn't come. And if you hadn't guessed it yet, I was bothered. I met her on my way to work the next morning.
"Good morning Ma!" I called, before a second thought could take form. Don't blame me. Her unwelcome face had kept me awake twenty-three minutes past my official bedtime.
     The reply was the same. Oh wait. This time, there was a slight lift of her brows as she paused and stared at me like she couldn't decide which one I was - octopus or talking tree. Then she continued on her way. I definitely hated her now.
     About a week after this, I came home with a colleague - to show off my new digs, of course. My Unfriendly Neighbour (yes, I'd nicknamed her) sat on her veranda shelling melons. I walked past, not bothering to try forced civility. My colleague, however, did. And (hallelujah church!) didn't fare any better than I had.
     "What was that about?" she asked as we approached my quarters, her tone a mixture of amusement and surprise. I recounted the sad tale of my encounters with The Unfriendly Neighbour.
"She even looks like a very troublesome person", I added resentfully.
     "These Igbo people sef" was my colleague's helpful contribution. I didn't bother to correct that harsh generalization. Or explain that, to my surprise, my other neighbours had been nothing but pleasant.
     Days and weeks passed while I settled into my new habitat.
To my increasing annoyance, I ran into The Unfriendly Neighbour more often than I'd wanted. Most times, I walked past, barely sparing her a glance. Other times, I let mother's reproachful voice of wisdom win and said a forced hello. Her replies were the same and my resentment for her grew by the day. I'd never professed my being liked by all but then, I'd also never met someone who obviously disliked me for no reason.
     One evening, while strolling with the landlord's wife, we met the unfriendly neighbour at the supermarket. I opened my mouth to try again but the look on her face stopped me. As we walked past, I could see her shaking her head, lips pursed. I'd just about had it with the witch.
"I don't know what I did to that woman" I muttered.
"How do you mean?" my companion asked, her eyes following my line of vision.
"Do you know that since I came here, she has never replied my greeting? Not once. She always looks at me like we're quarelling. Is that how she behaves?" I let my grievances out.
     Her chuckle was not the response I'd expected.
"Why are you laughing nau? It's true", I complained.
"My dear, it's not your fault. Or hers. She's not well", was the landlady's reply.
"What do you mean?"
"She has a mental problem. Her brother brought her home from the hospital some months ago. She's not roaming the streets anymore but she's still not completely sane. She also doesn't understand English. Maybe if you'd used Igbo, she may have replied somehow..."
     I wasn't listening anymore. Suddenly, it all made sense. The blank, semi-maniacal looks. The indecipherable gestures I'd interpreted as rude. Now that I thought of it, I'd never tried to communicate using the Igbo greetings I'd learnt.
     I'd been too preoccupied hating her from that first day. Letting my bias cloud my judgement. There were tears in my eyes as I walked home that night. This was one sin I didn't know how to atone for.
     Assumptions. Hasty conclusions. Single stories (?). Need I list the lessons I'd learnt?
     Disclaimer: The narration of events as written above are all fictional. Any similiarities to actual living persons or dead corpses is purely coincidental and... Y'all know the rest.

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