I recently tried to play Cupid to a friend of mine, but of course this venture ended in a terrible situation. The Dutch gentleman in question – the one catching my friend’s eye – just so happened to be my new neighbour. I haven’t really had so much luck with neighbours in the past and the past should have served as a lesson to me for the future. Of course, it did not.
I recall a time when I first moved into my old flat in England. It was the top floor apartment in a building of 20 flats and there were 2 floors below me. After my first night’s sleep in my new pad, I woke early and with
hearty misguided enthusiasm, I decided to take some rubbish out to the bins. Writing this now, I can’t even think how I could have accumulated enough rubbish after just one night to justify a trip to the bin but anyway, off I went. I thought that as it was early, I could stay in my pyjamas and slippers and make a quick glory dash down the stairs, out of the front door and then launch the bag into the wheely bin, totally unseen. All was successful. Rubbish in bin. Me, running up the stairs and into my new flat….which looked quite different to the flat I had left just a moment ago. Nevertheless, I continued to walk through the hall way, through the dining room and into the lounge to realise that indeed, this did look quite different. So different actually, that it wasn’t even my flat.
Oh god. I turned to leave and got as far as the front door only to be greeted by the flat’s real (and very elderly) resident. He looked at me. “Good morning,” I realised I was shouting, no doubt to compensate for the situation. I was desperately searching for the words that could possibly explain my presence in his flat at 7.30 on a Sunday morning, wearing only my sky-blue penguin pyjamas. He stared at me. Waiting. “Your flat looks a lot bigger than mine, must be the colour, great use of space….” I drifted off. I could have said, “sorry, I was running out with the bins and ran into what I thought was my flat – you see, I live directly above you.” Oh no, now I had made it seem like I had I meant to be there. Neither of us spoke one word for what seemed like a lifetime. I didn’t know what to do next, so I muttered something about being late for a meeting (who doesn’t have meetings on a Sunday at 7.30am) and darted out of his door. The last thing I saw of him was him quickly shutting the door on my face. The embarrassing episode with this neighbour (turns out his name was Geoff) was not to be the only one.
Not only was Geoff extremely elderly, Geoff was also a heavy smoker and I knew this because the smell would rise up into my flat from his every single day. It was a constant and lurid smell. At first, I couldn’t stand the smell but after a couple of months, I got used to it. Like when you had to sit next to the hygiene-challenged kid in school (you know who you are), after a while, you didn’t notice the smell. This is why, when the fresh smell of cigarettes went away and was replaced by something more stale, I felt that something was wrong. For days there was no smell of smoke, no comforting sound of Geoff hacking up part of his lungs – just nothing. After day 7, I began to imagine all sorts of conspiracy theories – remember, no reality is ever as bad as my imagination.
I decided to share my theories and imagination with another neighbour (Bob – overtly camp and doing nothing for the gay stereotype) and we began to discuss the potential crime scene that was Geoff’s flat. We were like Sherlock and Watson, Cagney and Lacey…you get it. Unfortunately, Bob’s mind was wilder and more colourful than mine and, coupled with the fact that I am weak and easily-led, the conversation ended with us drawing the only answer that we had rationalised to be possible – Geoff was dead.
You can imagine the shock, when 2 weeks later, Bob and I saw Geoff emerging from a taxi on the driveway, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sporting a deep mahogany tan and accompanied by an equally leathery skinned companion. “Geoff?!” Bob exclaimed guiltily, “where have you been?” I wasn’t sure how we were going to explain Geoff’s sudden return from the (apparently very sunny) grave to the other residents – word had travelled fast especially when Bob had told the other residents. “There’s something you should know I think, it’s just that we didn’t see you for such a long time and so we made some assumptions that we shouldn’t have and the problem is, well…we didn’t know where you had gone, and we couldn’t smell the smoke anymore…” I couldn’t get the words out. I had no idea how to tell someone that we had told everyone he was dead. Sorry Geoff, you’re meant to be dead! Please sod off back to the grave!
He was looking at me with suspicion, still obviously raw from the dawn raid I had made six months ago. “I’ve been on a cruise in the Caribbean and met Violet,” he announced as he proudly presented Violet like a trophy. I guess with Geoff at 94 years old and her at approx 80, she was some sort of trophy to Geoff. Violet didn’t have a lot of hair left, and the hair she did have, she had bleached it so much that all that was left were small tufts, like a newly hatched baby bird. She was also sporting a matching Hawaiian shirt. Not an easy look to pull off, especially for a pensioner.
Bob and I exchanged a quick glance and in that moment I knew that we had decided not to confess. I was concerned that Geoff was on the verge of phoning the police anyway about the previous incident and confessing to the fact that we had announced his death at the AGM might make him reach out to the authorities. Silence was the best option here and we prayed this tangerine-tinted octoganarian would keep Geoff indoors (ugh) for the rest of his life (which realistically couldn’t be so long) and we would never have to explain ourselves to the remaining 17 residents.
Back to the present day and match making. So, my friend had asked me to find out the full name of my next door neighbour (so that we could stalk him on the internet of course) as we only had his first name. I thought this would be no difficult task – I knew where his mail was so I could just take a quick peek when I knew he was out. This I did. Although, he wasn’t out at all. He was there, standing above me as I had my hands in the metaphorical cookie jar. There I was, clutching his mail, looking up at him like a naughty dog who had just gone to the toilet in a slipper. “Oh, hi, I was looking for my post, actually, something for my friend…she wanted to know something…my friend…” This was worse than I thought. “Did you find what you were looking for, for your friend in my mail box?” He asked with a wry smile. Oh great. This was one of those ‘my friend has a rash’ type moments. There was no point in protesting. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I dropped his post and ran up the stairs to my flat to the security of the solitude, hoping that I might be able to give him the same fictitious fate as I had Geoff.