The architects had designed Bellavista so that every home would have a view, even if it meant having to crane your neck out of a side window. Any blind spots had been reserved for commercial space, garages and service areas.
The natural beauty of this part of the world could best be appreciated from the verandahs of the south facing villas, like the one belonging to Carlos Schneider, owner of a successful building company, and President of the Proprietors Association. This morning he sat on a wicker chair sipping his coffee while his eyes wandered idly past the perimeter fence down to the glittering sea.
Then Johnny the Drunk came into sight, from the left.
Today he was wearing gold football boots, white pirate trousers, and a tight-fitting black T-shirt with a picture of something gothic on the chest. His matted hair was plastered down under a white golfing hat, and enormous sun glasses, probably meant for a woman, completed his disguise. Johnny was the resident vagabond, and as such had first pick of second hand clothes.
- Mr. President!
He gruffed, and stood to attention. Mr. Schneider didn't reply, hoping that if he ignored him he would go away.
- Good day to you! Good day for hunting, Mr. President, sir!
Johnny stood his ground; he would have an answer.
- Good morning Johnny. For hunting?
He started to laugh, then broke into a coughing fit.
- Scalp 'em. Scalp 'em before they carry off your daughters!
Carlos paid no heed to Johnny's drunken remarks, the man was a buffoon. If it were up to him he would have him ejected from the grounds at once, but the women would have none of that. They had adopted him as if he were some kind of stray cat. They fed and clothed him, and gave him odd jobs to do so that he would always have a little cash for his drink and cigarettes. Whenever Carlos brought the issue up at the meetings a number of lefty types, best not mention any names, whinged on about Humanity and Samaritans and the like. Compassion for the less fortunate, they preached. Nothing about social leeches, parasites, scroungers and good for nothings. So Johnny was allowed to sleep in an old tool shed just outside the walls of the development, and could come and go as he pleased – the guards would only stop him if he were drunk.
He thought of pointing out that it was the Indians that did the scalping, not the other way round, but was loathe to encourage him. The tramp hung around a little longer in the hope of a sign of generosity, but Carlos just sipped his coffee. Eventually he shuffled off, mumbling something to himself.
It was not until that afternoon that Mr. Schneider learnt about the immigrants.
There were three of them, two men and a woman, and they had moved into one of the empty properties at the back of the development. Michael Moretti had seen them that morning, and some of the children had been along to corroborate. They were Africans; sub Saharan Africans by all accounts. The police were called. No doubt the problem would soon be resolved.
The following day Carlos Schneider was aghast to discover that the immigrants had not been evicted, moved on or deported. He demanded an explanation, which he received in all its twisted detail. They were not illegal immigrants. They were rather alegal, having slipped into the country via an administrative loophole. They were now squatting, and until they were reported to the police by the owner of the property there was nothing to be done. But this is private property. Yes sir. They must have found a way past the guards and forced entry. Yes sir. He decided to call an emergency meeting.
The apartment taken over by the Africans had been empty for some time. Weeds grew from the most improbable positions on the terrace, and the windows were opaque with accumulated grime. It belonged to Cedric Gustafson, an ageing chess reporter based in Stockholm. All the bills were paid religiously, but Cedric himself had not been seen for a number of years. They would get in touch and demand that he report these intruders to the police. Then an eviction order could be obtained. All those in favour please raise their hands. Passed unanimously.
Cedric Gustafson, they discovered, was dead. He had died eighteen months earlier but nobody had been informed. His estate was now being disputed between a number of ex wives, children and step children. But President Schneider was not a man who gave in easily. He called another meeting.
It was agreed, by simple majority, that the intruders be approached by the Community as a whole. Perhaps they could thrash it out and come to some kind of amicable agreement? A little carrot and stick? Mr. Schneider would go, as President, accompanied by Ms. Mary De Klerk, vice- president, and Dr. Vasilis South, treasurer.
Johnny the Drunk sat on the kerb and drank warm beer as the welcoming committee tried to communicate with the newcomers. He watched as waves of civic pride crashed against the rugged rocks of necessity. They courteously declined the community's kind offer for them to abandon the premises forthwith or face the consequences. They preferred the consequences.
Unlike the apathetic gatherings of the past, the following meeting was a raucous affair, full of foul language and interruptions. Order, please! If we all speak at once...... The once homogeneous community had now fractured into small but vociferous groups that vied with each other for attention. Raising the volume and shouting down rivals appeared to be the commonly agreed manner to achieve this. Try as he may, Carlos Schneider was unable to control his neighbours and was fast becoming hoarse. He waved his arms, he personally approached especially distraught cliques, he tried sitting in silence, banging his hand on the table, feigning a walk out. But his fellow members would have their rant. He decided to suspend the event and was all but lynched.
Two days later, once everybody had let off steam, he was able to conduct a tense but relatively calm reunion where it was decided that two very different approaches be put to the test.
First, the stick. The squatters would be virtually imprisoned in their new found home. The guards would let them know that if they ever left the development, they would never make it back in again. They would also be warned that the property they had illegally invaded was being watched round the clock, and that the moment it was left empty, the community would change all the locks, brick off the doors and windows, and put a guard at the main entrance. Only if the gilded cage idea failed would they put into the practice the contingency plan.
Somehow they survived. It was difficult to know how, (sabotage was suspected), but the fact is that after a month they were still there. They seemed relaxed. They had barbecues in the long summer evenings, and put flowers in the window boxes. They chatted to the children, or shared a beer or two with Johnny on the front porch. Rumour had it that the elder man was a teacher and spoke fluent French. Rumour had it that Petra Idigoras was taking classes with him, and paying handsomely. Rumour had it that certain members of the Kitchen Club had secretly asked the woman for authentic African recipes.
Plan B was exactly what Carlos had hoped to avoid, but his hands were tied. The three were approached again. The elder one would be teaching French on an official basis, the second man would help out on the gardens, and the woman would become an honorary member of the Kitchen Club. They would get papers, they could come and go as they pleased, they would be offered alternative legal accommodation, with a fixed rent. Welcome to Bellavista.
At the following year's AGM the by now pregnant African woman sat amongst her drab neighbours dressed in her best colourful robes, like a pineapple on a plate of plums. All three had been invited to take part in the lively debates, though as non proprietors they would not be able to vote. Carlos Schneider suggested, in view of recent events, that security be tightened. The perimeter fence was full of holes and control at the main gate was lax. Are we all agreed on this point? The Africans nodded with their new colleagues. Yes indeed, unanimously.
It was a windy November morning as Carlos was about to climb into his car when he heard the news. The Gustafson place again. They had crow-barred open the security doors. Eastern Europeans by all accounts, a whole family, eight or more.
Call the police!