“We are going to become your neighbours,” my friend declared.
I did not know if he expected me to jump with joy or hug him like my life’s wish had finally come true, but still I had to show some emotion. So I laughed out loud.
He looked at me strangely. “You okay?” he asked. “What’s funny about us becoming your neighbours?”
He and his wife are very close friends, but the prospect of them being in close vicinity, where they could see me trot about in my crumpled home-wear, with my unkempt hair and worn out footwear as I went to the grocery or walked over to the neighbourhood cafeteria had me a bit apprehensive.
“I will have to get a new set of home clothes,” I blurted out.
He seemed totally lost. “What’s the matter man?” he asked.
Frankly my discomfiture had nothing to do with them but with me. You see I am never a sociable kind of a fellow and I feared this invasion of ‘my’ building would mean me trying to be sociable every time we meet up near the lift, the stairs, the passageway, the neighbourhood laundry … you get the drift.
I mean we are great friends, but I feared too much familiarity would one day breed contempt (not from my side, but definitely from their side towards me, when they see how ‘uncool’, clumsy and messy I was in my natural environ).
Such thoughts occupied my mind as they said their goodbyes.
The next day I was down at the grocery near our building when I suddenly bumped into a girl whom I knew from a couple of parties at a common friend’s place. At those parties I am usually dressed in decent clothes, my hair is combed and I looked human, but today I was standing in front of her in all my natural ‘glory’, crumpled T-shirt and shorts, worn out slippers and unkempt hair. I guess I must have looked like something out of a scary movie, because she gave a suspicious smile and made a dash for the door as if she had seen a ghost (I guess I must have looked like one that day).
It is exactly this side of mine I feared showing to my friends-turned-neighbours.
After they moved in over the weekend, I was invited to see how they had set up their house. Theirs was a studio just like mine, but they had somehow managed to cram in their huge furniture cache into the small space in such a way that their house looked ‘liveable’. I could not fathom how they had done it and said so.
“Arre, it was easy,” my friend’s wife said. “You see, baboo (her way of addressing her husband) has a fantastic sense of space and he could arrange the furniture according to the house shape. He’s such a genius,” she declared proudly.
I nodded appreciatively at baboo 'the genius’ and got up to take a look around. As I was making my way around, I accidentally tipped over a glass and it came crashing down with a thud.
The wife screamed. As I sheepishly began collecting the glass pieces with my hand, she rushed over and brusquely told me to move away as she set about cleaning the mess. As she moved to get the mop, she suddenly gave out a yelp of pain. A glass shard had pierced her foot and she was hopping around comically on one leg.
I will never know why, but an involuntary guffaw escaped my mouth on seeing her doing the strange-looking dance. As she slumped on the couch and her husband rushed to extract the glass shard, I realised staying here one moment more would be like inviting my end. I murmured a quiet ‘see you again’ before slipping out of the door.
Since that fateful day my ‘new neighbours’ are no longer that friendly. And, as for that party girl, whenever I bumped into her at the grocery, she always seemed to be making a dash for the door.
So much for ‘neighbour pains’.