Love Thy Neighbour…

Two days ago, around ten in the evening, our door bell – which incidentally is less silvery chimes and more high security prison buzzer sound – made itself heard. Giving Mr. Baddie and me the usual mini-heart attack.

It was the elderly neighbour across the hallway, accompanied by the elderly neighbour from upstairs. “Excuse me for the late hour” I overheard her gushing to Mr. Baddie. “But you see, I am leaving tomorrow – for a few weeks… and my friend will be away too… “(gesturing to second lady) “so could I ask you to pick up my mail and newspaper? Here’s the key to my postbox. Or do you need the whole set of keys? errr…. well. You can keep the newspaper. And read it. But not the letters. Errr…”

It went on like this for about ten minutes, during which I strained my  ears to hear what was going on. It didn’t help that the ladies kept interrupting each other and both had heavy Eastern European accents. Or the fact that the utterances that came out were progressively more and more bizzare (who would think it’s ok to keep your neighbour’s letters? WHO?)

The most remarkable element of all this was not that it just dawned on her to do this at what most would see as an inappropriate hour. It was that we don’t even know this person. We might have said hello once but that is mainly it. We might have received a DHL parcel for her once, and she one for us, but not quite certain of her name, to be honest. And all in all I am pretty sure we are the newest “guys on the block.” We only moved here eight months ago. During which time…

We were asked by next-door neighbours if they can come and see our flat. More or less the next day after we moved in. As in “Oh hi folks, we’re your neighbours, and we have a favour to ask. We know your flat’s really nice inside – can we come have a look? It’s to get inspiration – you know, we’re going to renovate ours.” So because we are both very polite, we had two complete strangers visiting, oohing and aahhing about: the floor; the ceiling; the walls; the bits between ceiling and walls; the bathroom; the bathroom mirrors; the curtain rails… need I go on? Then they left. Que a month and a half of very loud drilling. From 8am to 8pm.

One joyful Saturday morning, there was a break in the drilling. “Buzzzz” went our doorbell in the eerie silence, making us jump ten feet high. My turn to open the door. It was the French wife (half of the renovating couple). “Bonjour” she greeted. “Could I borrow zom matchstix?”I stared at her, thoughts rushing at 100 miles per hour. (Gauloise emergency? arsonist tendencies? breakfast fondue?)

“Hmmm nooo….” I reply, watching her carefully. “Oh, zut. Anything small and sticky-like though? My workmen need to prop something up.” “I can offer you some toothpicks…?” “Oui, merci. I will leave them outside your door when I am finished.” (the pack? the used ones?) I retreat as hastily as humanly possible.

Not long after, around 4am (yes, as in 4 in the morning, or as some of us like to think, still at night) as we were sleeping happily and soundly, there is an ungodly BUZZ. Followed by a BUUUUUZZZZ. A never-ending one, since someone was frantically pressing the poor button. I get up, bleary eyed, and not a little afraid. (what could it be? someone dying? dead? fire? flood? the bubonic plague?) BUUUUUUUZZZZZ!

“Oh hello” I sigh, clapping yes on the male half of the Bob the Builder duo. He is in a state of terror / anxiety / exhilaration. He breathes heavily, looks happily in my eyes, grabs my hands in his, sweats, apologizes, and starts on his explanation, all more or less at the same time. “I am sooooo sorry” he frets “so sorry to disturb you, but I need to get to the airport asap, and I can’t leave the building because the front door is locked” (as it sometime is) “and I don’t have that key on me, and could I please just borrow yours for a second so I can get out?” Aarrrggghh. WHY don’t you have the key? And WHY can’t you freaking think of anyone else to bother? And frankly WHY can’t you take the easy way and jump from your balcony? (I am not 100% evil, it’s just 1st floor, and there’s a platform in-between and stairs, so no biggie). Anyway. Gave him the keys, problem solved, never seen him since.

Now you have to understand, even though we haven’t the foggiest about these people – starting from names and continuing with… well, everything else – at least we had seen their faces before they thought to ask us for something. But this, as it turns out, is not a prerequisite for such encroaching favour-seeking behaviour. Oh no.

One sunny afternoon, as I was fixing myself a cuppa, what sound unpleasantly pulses its way into my auditory cortex? You guessed it. BUZZZZ. My peephole reveals a non-threatening looking and completely unknown to me teenage girl. “Hello” I greet her while opening the door. “Hi” she goes, unsmilingly. “Do you happen to have a mixer I can borrow?”

Silence. So many questions, so little point. As in: who are you? and what do you need it for? is there any household that can survive without one? what happened to yours? are you baking something secret – potentially poisonous? (did the Matchbox* Madame give my name as a safe contact? And are we ok with the Russian agents across the hall?) I stare for half a second, and then came to a decision. “No.”** I reply curtly. “Goodbye”. And close the door in her face.

There are limits, people. And that’s where I drew the line.***

*Matchbox 20 is one of my favourite bands, by the way. Just saying.

** Honestly, though, I don’t really have a mixer I can lend. For one thing, it’s a professional one, and insanely expensive, and would not let it out of my eyesight for anything. Never mind giving it to someone I had never seen before in my life. And 14. For another, it has an English plug, and one needs an adaptor.

*** That is, I drew the line. Mr. Baddie is currently getting the Russian lady’s newspapers and holding her envelopes against the light.