I am a bad neighbour…. I am an evasive neighbour. I am an untrustworthy neighbour.
I passed my neighbour in the street yesterday. He didn’t have a jacket on, and no shoes, even though the temperature was around zero. He looked confused, or agitated, or angry — I couldn’t quite make out what went though his head, but something had obviously happened, and the way he stared at he, this something obviously included me somehow.
What do you do, he said to me as I stopped in front of him, what do you do when you see someone krauinenæbohus?
What do you do, heh?
When you what?
See someone crawl into a neighbour’s house? Through the window!
I blushed and realised that my Danish still wasn’t quite as good as it should be, but I didn’t say that.
Instead, I just grunted. Hm. Perhaps ask them?
I did ask them, he replied, and they told me that they were fixing the windows.
Obviously it needs fixing, I should have replied. Instead, I just grunted again and suggested the neighbour should sit in the window and look at them. To see if something untoward happens.
And then I shrugged, I must have shrugged, because he just looked at me and shrugged seemingly involuntarily, the way you mirror someone else’s reaction when you don’t know what else to do. He went inside, I continued walking home.
I believe that neighbours should look after one another. I believe that when you live close to your neighbour, as we do here,
you should pay attention to what happens in your street, and if someone tries to do something they shouldn’t be doing, you take appropriate action. A couple of months ago, someone stole our old cargo bike, even though it was locked: they simply lifted up the locked wheel and wheeled the entire bike onto a truck in the middle of the night. I hope, and believe, that if anyone would have seen that happening, they would have done something. Called the police, if nothing else. And I hope, and sincerely believe, that I would have done the same thing had I seen my neighbours bike being carried away in the middle of the night.
That’s what you believe. You watch disaster films and just know that you would have done exactly like the hero, or even better. You know that you never would have freaked out, and of course you wouldn’t just walk away from taking responsibility. You see a film from Nazi Germany and you feel disgusted by how ordinary Germans didn’t fight the system. It should be every man’s obligation to fight a system like that. And when you watch a film about someone breaking into a home in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, with neighbours and passing strangers everywhere, you scoff and say that you would have stopped the thieves before they even got to the front door, everyone would, this plot just isn’t realistic.
And yet, there I was, going back in, taking off my jacket, sitting down with my laptop, ready to get some work done, oblivious to what might or might not happen in a neighbour’s house where someone has just crawled though the window.
I tried to focus on my work, I really did, I have to get things done. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t concentrate, and more importantly, I couldn’t come to terms with myself for being that kind of person. I didn’t want to live in a street where people just didn’t care about each other, and now I was the one not caring. No.
I put on my jacket and shoes (still too cold for going barefoot) and went out. I walked slowly past the house in question. Someone went out, got something from a van and went back in. I turned around and walked slowly back, pretending to be preoccupied with my telephone. Looking around as if waiting for someone. Accidentally stopping next to the van and memorisng the plate and a telephone number on the side. (Sometimes mnemotechnics are a great help.) The guy came out from the house again. I started humming, but couldn’t find a tune, it was just random notes.
I’m a bad spy.
He went into the van, got some window cleaning equipment and went back into the house. He left the house door open, I caught a glimpse of him and another guy in similar overalls.
I looked around. My concerned neighbour was nowhere to be seen. Slowly, and still preoccupied with the telephone, I walked back home.
Relieved. I had the plate number, the name of the company, they left the door open, they didn’t conceal anything, they seemed to be working. I had done my bit.
I believe that neighbours should be neighbours, not just strangers living next door. I feel that, and I want that to be that case. And yet I behaved as if I don’t have to do anything to make it happen: it’s all about what everyone else does. If someone had broken into our home in the middle of the day, and all the neighbours had ignored it, I would have felt… I think the term is betrayed. I would have felt stabbed in the back. I would have helped them, I would have looked after their home, so why can’t they look after mine?
I mean, I am always the hero in disaster films…
Let this be a lesson. You fool yourself when you think that you would always do something. It’s not as if the hero mode is your automatic response. No, your instinctive reaction is to hide and hope everything turns out alright if you only keep very quiet. And that’s not how it should be.
Believe you should help others. Feel that you should help others. And do it.
What I should do now, though, is buy a flower to the neighbour who really cared. If the men with the van really were stealing after all, it’s on me.