I just want to get to my flat up the road, hoping I don’t bump into any of my neighbours, but they’re all loitering out front, sweat trickling into their eyes, swaying slightly in the raging sunshine. The road is long and straight with oak trees lining the pavement, creating circles of hot shade. Birds perch on branches and shit on BMW’s. Everyone wants the trees cut down.
I see the first obstacle, Mr Groben. He’s always a problem because he likes to skulk outside his house with no shirt on, letting his hard belly droop over his semi-unbuttoned corduroys. He’s seventy, has a silver beard and unkempt sticky hair.
Sometimes you’ll be lucky and he’s decided you’re scum and not worth talking to. He’ll just give you a dismissive nod and then ignore you. This is success. But if he’s in a talkative mood things can get tricky. For example, during one of our chats he became irate when I waved hello to Mrs Dean – a doddery old neighbour from a few doors down. He grabbed hold of my arm, hauled me into his house, sat me down in front of a warm beer and a pair of dirty boxer shorts and proceeded to lecture me on how she was plotting to have his house condemned. And that she wanted to kill his cat.
Today he smiles at me and asks how the hell I’ve been, how’s my writing, how’s uni. You know, he can be quite nice; maybe he’s not all bad. He’s friendly and amusing and, ok, I’d rather not talk to him because he’s a violent alcoholic and he looks at my mum funny, but you can’t have everything. So, we’re laughing about our other neighbours. Jeez that John’s an arsehole. Yeah, I chuckle. And those nutters at 57. That’s right I say, completely nuts.
But, I say, laughing, “Remember that time you were drunk and you said to my lodger ‘You fucking Irish scum’ and he said ‘You fucking drunk’ and you chased him up our front drive and he couldn’t quite shut the front door in time and you were pushing against it, putting your arm in trying to grab him, you know like in The Shining, and screaming ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ and my lodger was nearly crying. Remember that?”
He’s not laughing. “Remember?” I say. He’s staring at me, mouth open, fists clenched. He’s going to smash me in the face and stamp on my head.
“Ok,” I say breezily, and point up the road “gotta go.”
I walk ten yards and see next up is Johnny the Dog. He’s dying from cancer of the something. I never like to say hello to him. He seems quite needy, and the cancer has only made this worse so I always try to avoid eye contact. Every time I pass him, I can feel his heart break that little bit more. The last thing I want to do is destroy his faith in humanity at such a terrible time for him but it can’t hurt to be realistic, can it?
Johnny owns twenty smelly dogs that he walks at the same time. The dogs see me and start running from fifty yards gathering speed, barking as loud as they can, gnashing their teeth. They are in a massive pack, squished together in a tangle of racing legs. Johnny shouts to me cheerily, as he does every time, “Don’t be afraid, they won’t hurt you!”
But they’re near and running at top speed, so I lift my leg up and shield my face with my hands. I feel them barge past me. They hurtle towards Groben behind me, who’s unable to move, paralysed with fear. At the last minute Groben jumps into his rusty Ford Mondeo and locks the doors. I cross the road to avoid Johnny, eyes glued to the ground. My chest throbs in shame as I catch him waving at me.
Then I come to the white people, milling around in their front drive. They’re a religious group of women who dress in only white, wake up at four in the morning and pray in the park, come rain or shine. Usually, they keep to themselves and never want to talk, but for once a woman approaches me, gliding in her robes that trail along the ground. She smiles and holds out a hand.
“I notice you,” she says. “I think you need help, some direction.”
“Oh, yeah? Like what?”
“Did you know the world is full of love?”
“I didn’t actually.”
“Well, it is. Absolutely bursting with love.”
“Then why is there so much hate.”
“It’s hidden, within us, within all of us.”
I lean in towards her and point behind me, “Even this bunch of wackos?”
“Yes,” she says, with a forgiving smile.
“No offence, right, but I really need a glass of water.”
“Only God can quench your thirst.”
The woman glides away. Her words seem to have some kind of soothing effect on me. A world full of love. A future of endless harmony and understanding. Rainbows in the sky at night, fruit lining the streets smelling sweet and fresh. And yet my skin is itchy and drenched in sweat. I look to the sun for hope. It is wrapped in a yellowy-brown fog, slowly killing us all.
Cynthia is next. She is chain-smoking in her front yard wearing her beret and plastic Mac, seemingly oblivious to the weather. She’s not completely heinous, but she has the habit of draining your soul like a nurse taking blood; slowly, painfully. One time I had a decent chat with her about Superman. The conversation ended badly though when she gave me a slap on the cheek. Despite us both liking the movie, we disagreed on its meaning.
She saw it as a message of hope; a saviour will come and change the world. I thought it showed how terrible things were that we have to rely on a man who can fly and see through walls.
I give her a strained smile, quicken my pace and look down. Cigarette smoke plumes around her.
‘Asshole,’ she mutters, and then looks past me, squinting into the slowly sinking sun.
I am near my flat and the back of my throat is scratchy and sore. I’m feeling tired. I’m going to need six glasses of fluoride laced water and I should be fine. I’m almost feeling positive.
Then I see Simon Kosic.
Everyone talks about each other up and down my street; backbiting and pointing fingers, but what everyone agrees on, over fences, in cars, behind trees, on the phone, is Simon Kosic is disturbed. This is probably due to his father who is genuinely evil – a man who has threatened his young daughters with broken beer bottles and tried to mix rat poison into his baby’s milk formula.
Simon is busy kicking broken bits of concrete into the street. I cross the road to avoid him, but just as I reach the other side he shouts to me, “Walk in the middle.”
“What?” I say, genuinely afraid.
He stands and points his arm at me, “Walk in the middle.”
I try to think quickly and walk into the centre of the pavement.
“The street,” he shouts. Again, I pause. Then I rush into the middle of the street, and walk slowly, looking at him to see if this is right. He nods professionally, fully satisfied, and sits back on his wall. There are no cars coming.
After walking a little way, I look back and see he’s forgotten me.
I wonder how someone could love Simon Kosic. I bet even the white people would struggle, especially if he’s scooping out their eyeballs.
And so, I’ve made it to my family’s basement flat, shielded from both sunlight and prying eyes. But as I stroll through the gate that doesn’t swing, and up the path that regularly catapults me into the brambles, Raj Kumaran comes out the front door. He is staring seriously at the ground, clutching his tennis racket. He’s a tennis coach with fat little thighs, turned in feet and a high forehead.
Humanity is doomed, most people are scum, and we should try our best to avoid each other. This is undeniably true. But there is always an exception, and this time it’s Raj Kumaran. Raj is part of the vanguard army, the type of man who could save this planet with a few good allies. He is a truly good bloke. I give Raj my most genuine smile, trying to communicate my respect and admiration for him. I wait for a response but he barges past me. He doesn’t look up or acknowledge my existence; he just gives a giant snort and then spits on the pavement, narrowly missing my foot. He gets in his Nissan Micra and guns it, catching air off the speed bumps.
I can’t believe it. I’m devastated and I feel like lashing out. I want to tell every rotten neighbour exactly what I think of them, without mincing my words this time. So, I clamber onto the car bonnet of a midnight blue Mercedes Benz and jump up and down – flexing the metal, cracking the paintwork. A crowd soon gather and they engage in all sorts of nattering until one of the mob, a fresh-faced lawyer wearing a waistcoat and a neatly pressed pink shirt, steps forward and says “What is it that you want? Tell us your demands.”
“I just want you all to be civilised!” I yell, “We’re supposed to be part of society. All I ask is for a little respect and if that’s not possible can’t you all just, please, leave me the fuck alone.”
My words seem to make an impression because the crowd fall into a thoughtful silence.
Then there is a guttural war cry and I turn to face the sound. Eugene, the owner of the Benz I am standing on, bounds towards me with flailing arms and wild eyes. He tackles me to the ground. I feel his hot breath against my face, smelling like fermented cabbage. I let my head fall back, cracking against the asphalt in defeat.
I have no more advice left to give.
Image. google images