The lady next door knocked on mine.
"I seem to have lost my key while I've been out and although I've got a combination code for the spare key that I leave on the wall by the door, I just can't seem to remember it. Do you have the Yellow Pages so I can call a locksmith?"
It was after six o'clock and I really didn't fancy her chances. I was also feeling resentful about this 'intrusion' especially because I was really rather afraid of her.
I should explain. I've had little occasion to interact with her (I somehow feel the choice has been mutually shared). However, I'd heard from another neighbor that she's a little mentally unpredictable, to put it gently. The fact is, I've discovered a couple of times, plastic bags with rubbish in them placed outside my door and my other neighbor, J's.
When I mentioned it to J, he told me that E was responsible for the unwelcome 'gifts' and that was mainly because she'd decided to go off her medication. Now, I could launch into a whole discussion about my opinion about how mental health is evaluated and treated but I won't. Suffice to say, I don't agree with much of it. Anyhow, as a result of this and other similarly oblique encounters with E, I have been pretty happy about the fact that our paths rarely coincide. But, here she was at my door.
I invited her in or should I say, I let her in. She has a somewhat superior manner about her, speaks much louder than necessary and with a sharpness to an already stretched local accent. The idea was that she'd look up the Yellow Pages and make some calls to see if she could get someone to come out.
She began her calls but the fact that she didn't have the money to pay the tradesmen in full for their 'out of hours' service although she attempted to assure them she'd pay within the next couple of weeks didn't seem to help.
Meanwhile, I went to see if I could get help from the 'head tenant', S. She would know who to call. S took a while getting to the door. I wasn't sure if she'd been asleep or making love. She did seem to be out of breath, something greatly assisted by her heavy smoking. She was remarkably composed though, and was quickly able to give me a number to call. I was grateful for two main reasons.
One, I was glad that S knew what was happening. You see, for some pathetic reason, I was afraid that E might lose it and I didn't think I'd be able to handle that too well. The other reason was that I was really, really dreading the possibility that I might have to put E up for the night.
Yes, I know, I can be dreadfully selfish and cowardly. And unduly pessimistic. However, as I was returning from S's, I thought to myself that I would be calm, confident and kind. So saying, I returned to my apartment to hear E persist in her assurances to someone on the phone that she has always paid tradesmen who've done any work for her and she was prepared to give them the name of the tradesman who'd most recently done a job for her.
There was some response from the other end and then,
"Oh...now that's terrible. So you really think that a 63 year old woman trying to live on a pension should have to spend the night in a park??
Her voice began to falter (and I couldn't help thinking it was put on), as she added, " ...and with arthritis".
"I'm not having much luck", she reported to me when she put the phone down. Tell me something I don't know, I thought.
"I've just been up to see S, " I said, "and she suggests that you call these people because they are the ones who service our units".
The long and short of it was that E did call them and they said they'd be forty minutes and they agreed to accept a part payment with the balance to be paid in two weeks.
I could have offered to lend E the money but it would have meant going to a cash machine for the cash, which in itself was hardly a bother. But I was secretly afraid that I might not have enough myself. I only get paid tomorrow, you see! In fact, I've been putting off paying a few bills for just that reason.
I did make E a cup of coffee, white with no sugar. I did invite her to sit down. And I did chat with her. She became very curious about me, probing to find out if I'd studied psychology (she saw a copy of Jung and the Lost Gospels on my coffee table). She also explored my much downsized collection of books on my makeshift bookshelf and picked out Tagore to read.
She was keen to talk and tell me that she'd gone to University many years ago and had a daughter in Canada, married with two kids and who was a medical doctor as was her husband. I did not feel obliged to say too much or even ask too much. I felt it would be best to let her talk as she felt inclined to.
She remarked that my apartment felt very peaceful and later that I was very peaceful. Oh yes, by this time, her voice had lowered considerably in volume. She was very appreciative of my help. I told her matter-of-factly that I would always try to help when I could and that when I couldn't, I wouldn't. I think she sensed the sincerity of my words. I think that the encounter might have given her cause to reconsider her somewhat superior attitude. Yeah, I know, how wishful and perhaps arrogant of me:)
But, more importantly, it's given me a little more confidence. I feel less afraid of her and sense that I'll be generally less afraid of people who seem to lose control of themselves. It's shown me that I can somehow get past my fear to being naturally kind and accommodating, even if at first I'm convinced that I can't and that I don't want to be!