July 11

World Population Day

 

Tricia made it a practice to lock the door whenever she stepped outside her apartment.  It didn’t matter if she was leaving for a full day at work, or simply walking down the hall to check her lobby mailbox.  The door needed to be locked, or somebody could get inside her home.

A couple times over the years, she slipped up.  Once, she’d made a third trip to the garage to bring groceries from her car, and when she got back to her door, the key moved easily in the lock, without the tell-tale click of unlatching.  In that brief unsupervised moment, she was sure, someone had seized the opportunity and snuck inside.

That person stayed hidden in her home, moving quickly from one room to the next to avoid discovery.  Sometimes she heard a stray footstep, a cough or sigh in the middle of the night.

Another time, a phone call prompted Tricia to admit a cable repairman into the building.  She’d hurried to meet him, neglecting the lock, which allowed a second opportunistic Guest to enter her apartment.

All told, she had at least three Guests — including the morning a torrential downpour surprised her, and she’d rushed back to her apartment to get an umbrella.  She’d actually left the apartment unlocked that entire workday:  though she only counted that mistake once, in the eight-hour span there was no telling how many Guests might have found their way into her home.

They were very good at keeping out of sight.  Tip-toeing just ahead of her, ducking around corners.  They hid behind chairs or in closets, lay under her bed or low in the bathtub.  They learned Tricia’s strict routines, which helped them to avoid her.

She never, ever, deliberately looked for them.  She feared how they might react if they were caught.

Noticing the occasional musky smell of sweat, she decided at least two of her Guests were grown men.  A waft of perfume convinced her another of them was female — a young girl, judging from the high-pitched laugh Tricia sometimes overheard.  One night in bed, Tricia got angry, shouted What’s so funny to her darkened apartment, and the laughs stopped for a short while.

Sometimes, Tricia thought about overpopulation in other countries — too many people, and not enough food to go around.  Or in larger cities nearer to her home, where poor families crowded together in a single room, sharing beds, sheets hanging from the ceiling to partition the limited space.

Everywhere was overcrowded:  too many cars on the roads, long lines at the grocery store, small cubicles at work and the coughs and sighs of coworkers interrupting her daily tasks.  At night, while hanging sheets flapped in the dark like whispers, and a young girl laughed, Tricia dreamed of horrible cataclysms that would empty the world.