The children in the white mansion with closed circuit cameras in Abbottabad never came out to play.
Only now, after a stunning U.S. assault that killed Osama bin Laden in the small, tranquil Pakistani city and put it under an international spotlight, is it all starting to make sense.
The al Qaida leader, widely believed to be hiding in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, was actually one of the mysterious neighbors next door -- acutely aware that one false move could tip off U.S. intelligence agents hunting him.
"We used to play cricket near the house but their kids never joined us," said Nabeel, 12. "The kids did not go to school. We never saw them going to school."
Abbottabad will never be the same after U.S. special forces arrived by helicopter early Monday, entered the mansion set beneath soothing green hills and killed bin Laden, ending one of the most extensive, high-profile manhunts in history.
Dumbfounded residents are retracing the few activities they observed from the mansion, which towers above other houses in the area in size and value.
People had been scratching their heads for years in Abbottabad, a typical medium-sized Pakistani city, 50 km (31 miles) northwest of the capital Islamabad.
Residents had tried to come up with some answers. They must be a religious family so that's why the women were never seen, kept inside.
But that didn't explain why the men of the house never attended weddings or funerals -- unusual behavior in Pakistan's deeply traditional Muslim society.
Irritations over the odd behavior built up.
During religious holidays many of the people of Abbottabad gave each other sweets.
But those in the house where U.S. officials say America's public enemy number lived in comfort were so anti-social that others never bothered to knock on their doors during those special occasions.
"We distribute kheer (a sweet dish of milk and rice) to our neighbors, but my mother never asked me to go there," said Mohammad Kabir.
Government employee Tahir Mehmood recalled how the people in the mansion had a van and a jeep. Like others, he is likely to be gripped by disbelief for some time.
"From their appearance we never had suspicion that they could be such people," he said. "I cannot believe he was there. If he was there it is hard to understand that no one ever saw him."
It could be some time before life returns to normal in Abbottabad, where laborers work on construction sites and farmers tend to potato and pea fields without intrusive television cameras and reporters fixated on the city.
A heavy security cordon has been imposed around the mansion. The streets were all but empty Wednesday because a high-ranking military official was expected to visit the area, beside a Pakistani military academy.
Some vowed to put it all behind them, but were anxious. If the world's most wanted man can live beside you undetected, anything is possible.
"There will be no change in our lives. We will keep doing hard work. But I hope there will be no violence and our families and kids remain safe and secure," Mohammad Ramzan, a farm labor.
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