Friday, 28 April 2017

A shining window casts a light on our own existence

Two people struck me particularly when we first moved to our present house five years ago.

Right next door was the neighbour from hell. The young woman liked to organise occasional parties that lasted from about 8:00 till 11:00. That’s 8:00 in the evening until 11:00 the next morning. The parties had a well-honed internal pattern: a period of singing, laughing and general good humour; then some tears; next a row; finally, a fight with sounds of broken crockery. A brief period of silence would merely be the prelude to a repeat performance.

It made for – how shall I put this? – a certain level of unnecessary stress.

The young woman had a daughter. She was as angelic in appearance as any pretty eight-year old, and as devilish in behaviour as any inhabitant of a nightmare. Her mother was never keen on clearing up the mess after her parties, so her garden was a real treasure chest of discarded bottles, cigarette packets, to say nothing of stones and sticks.

One of the daughter’s preferred games was to collect such bits of rubbish and throw them over the fence at the back of their garden into the property behind theirs and ours. It was inhabited by a man in his eighties who took great joy in his flower beds, tending them with a care that cost him some pain: he had trouble bending down and making much in the way of serious physical effort. We would see him pottering sadly around his garden, picking up the rubbish and observing with sorrow the damage done to his flowers.

This was the second figure to strike me in our new neighbourhood. He lived behind us, but he would walk slowly around from his house and up our street, painful step by painful step, to the newsagent on the corner to buy his daily copy of the Sun newspaper. Anyone who knows the Sun, flagship of Murdoch’s British print holdings, will realise that I’m using the term ‘newspaper’ loosely. It tends to lead on stories such as the drug arrest of an anorexic fading model, the jailing of a stalker for the murder of his ex-girlfriend or any scandal or whiff of scandal that might embarrass the British Labour Party.

Still, it clearly gave our neighbour some pleasure, as did the walk to buy it, so it gave us pleasure to see him do it. We’d exchange a few words when we met him, but little more than “good morning” or “what a fine day”. But he was a fixture in our new lives and we appreciated him for that.

Eventually, by dint of constantly complaining about her to anyone we could get to listen, we were able to force the departure of our neighbour from hell. I don’t like to see anyone subject to eviction, but when it comes down to a choice between the protection of her right to behave insanely, and the need to take steps to protect our own sanity, I’m afraid I didn’t hesitate. So eventually she went.

Then one day the old man with the Sun stopped walking up our street in the morning. At first we didn’t think much of it, but when days lengthened into weeks, the suspicion began to grow that we might not be seeing him again. Ever.

A lighted window saying that people pass on
Indeed, the house fell quiet and dark, with no light showing at night. Until, one evening, I saw a window lit up again. It had fairy lights hanging above it, and it shone in blue. Not at all the taste of our old neighbour; more that of a girl growing into womanhood or possibly a young woman.

Memories flowed back of the two neighbours who had gone. And it came to me that some time we too would go, but the house would stay, as would those of both our neighbours. They’d have new inhabitants who would know little or nothing at all about those who had preceded them, and care still less. Just as little as we know or care about our own predecessors.

In time, the houses themselves would vanish. The street would remain, with new houses where ours now stand. New residents in new houses in the same street.

It takes a long time for streets to go and be replaced. But who knows what the future holds? Nothing lasts forever and eventually even the street, and the town itself, will go.

But we, like our neighbours, friendly or foul, will have disappeared far sooner, leaving no trace.

The lighted outline of a single window at night had evoked a powerful sense of the transience of our existence. We strive so hard, but in the end we’re just making a hole in the water. In no time, it seems, the water flows back in and all those things that once seemed to matter so much, matter no more.

Not a particularly sad thought, though perhaps a slightly sobering one.

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