I have this neighbour who has a really hot bike. I wish I was sharp enough to say it has XYZ horsepower, carries ABC cc and has a carburator distributor thingamawhatsit, but all I know is it’s hot, and it’s black.
I’m so enamoured with that bike that every time he rolls it by, I give a compliment. To the bike, not the guy. He parks it outside my door, so I’ve seen him move it a dozen times, but I have not once looked at his face. And no, it’s not the helmet. One time, I was so jazzed that I made an extremely inappropriate comment about cows. I’m not sure if he heard me, and no, he didn’t laugh.
Yesterday, I heard my baby in conversation with the Biker Guy. They were actually talking, and I realised that if I met the guy in the corridor, I’d have no idea who he was. For me, all he is is a random guy with a hot bike.
I’ve lived in my house for almost a year now. It’s a pretty block of flats with 24 houses, so that’s at least 30 tenants, assuming a third of us have roommates. And I don’t know any of my neighbours.
Well, I do know one neighbour, but that’s because we’re the only two people in the building with kids. They play in each other’s houses, so we couldn’t help getting acquainted.
It doesn’t bother me so much that I don’t know my neighbours, because I’m an extreme introvert. Besides, my brothers live five minutes away, so I can always run there if I need to borrow sugar.
But I couldn’t help thinking how westernized society has become. There’s no camaraderie, no sense of community. I share a space with 30 or 40 people and none of us is aware of it. It’s a little bit frightening.
Some time back, a carjacked couple knocked on my door at midnight and asked for help. I couldn’t drive them to the station because I didn’t have a car. The guy asked, ‘Couldn’t you ask one of your neighbours?’ I could have explained how I didn’t know or talk to any of them, but I just said, ‘We’re new here,’ and loaned them a phone and an umbrella.
After tea and some phone calls, they managed to get a friend of a friend of a cop to come tow their car to the station. The umbrella and phone never came back.
The next day, I considered walking to the top of the building, knocking on each door, and introducing myself, just so I knew who was who. The notion didn’t last very long.
The only people I talk to in my neighbourhood are those related to food or my baby – the kiosks, Mama Mboga, the hairdresser, the chips guy, and the samosa guy. Everyone else just sees my purple hair as I walk distractedly by. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m saying that’s the way it is.
I’m lucky that I’ve lived here all my life, so I can navigate with my eyes closed. It makes me feel safe, even though I don’t know who my neighbours are. I grew up here, so every five minutes I’ll bump into someone from my childhood. It makes me feel less like a stranger. But it’s still interesting to note that the only reason adults talk to each other at home is because of their kids.
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Crystal Ading' is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through threeceebee.com.