We are the only non-french family in our building. There are about 20 or so apartments in our 3 storied house but because of its sprawling T-Shape, we rarely come in contact with any except our immediate neighbours. This was a private clinic once upon a time but it has moved away leaving only the ground floor to private doctors chambers: ENT, Dentist, Neurologist, Opthalmologist, gynaecologist, Psychiatrist. I don’t have to go very far should I fall ill! Infact our entire road is filled with doctor’s chambers and our Hosptial is at the end of this long road! The whole atmosphere on the ground floor is one of a well appointed doctors chambers. Large potted plants, squeaky clean golden plaques of the doctors. The residential upper two floors too are very clean and quiet. One wouldn’t think there are 20 families living here.
We are on the 2nd floor at one end of the ‘T’, with a great view of our neighbours sprawling gardens. The other part of the ‘T’ is just opposite us. Enclosed in between is the parking space and three ground floor flats opposite our side of the apartments. Above them is the terrace of one of the lucky occupants – a very nice elderly couple.
Our immediate neighbours were a young couple with a new born baby. The grand parents kept visiting them and were the first people I spoke to here. The grandmother was very surprised to see me here. She said that she has never seen anyone in our flat. First time in four years it turned out!! They whole family were nice. The young lady first met A coming up in the elevator and spoke to him at length while all he could manage (back then) was to nod his head. She must have assumed that both of us knew no French and thereafter whenever we chanced to meet in the corridors, she would always beam a bonjour at me. No more! Pity. I knew some french but didn’t have enough courage to initiate a conversation on my own. Soon after, they moved away. The flat however did not remain empty for long. It was soon occupied by a couple, an elderly one this time. Their grandchild, an energetic toddler, often comes to visit them. The flat at the far end of our corridor belongs to another couple with another child. By now we have come to know them well enough to merit a “from the waist” bow, when we went to their recently opened Italian deli!!
In between is the apartment of a beautiful young lady, who A claims is always smiling at him and funnily enough, her burly, shaven headed boy friend seems to be smiling at me, when he bumps into me now and then!!
Opposite ofcourse are the elderly couple. Come summer, they set up a table and chairs on the terrace and enjoy their dinners on particularly sultry summer nights. In winter, they wrap the chairs in plastic and the table is turned upside down and weighted by a large pot. The rest of the house is not visible to us. Occasionally, we get to see some of the occupants with attic windows, popping their heads out of the windows to enjoy a smoke or just sniff the fresh air. They get to see directly into our apartment but never do.
Our apartment came with a parking space. Although we don’t have a car and therefore don’t need the parking, we have to pay a chunk for it every month. Our house agent, the amiable F suggested that we could find someone who needs a parking within our building itself and come to some unofficial agreement. That sounded good. But there is some car in our parking space already. Has been, since the first time came with F to see the flat. It belonged to a tall thin lady, a very trendy dresser, with two daughters. Perhaps she didn’t know it was ours. After all, this flat was empty for four years. N helped us to draft a note saying that this parking was available for hire and our telephone number. A put it on Thin lady’s windshield. She completely ignored us for couple of days and then she went and parked onto another empty space. That was where the occupant of the third ground floor apartment, a couple of men (it was their office). They had an argument with the lady who was not budging. So they parked in our space. Out went A with his note. But they kept on juggling between our space and the other one. In fact at first most residents had no idea that we had moved in and that space was ours and they would use it to park a second car or a friend’s. A made quite a habit of dashing out with notes. Finally everyone got the message except Thin lady and the office-men who chose to ignore us and our chits.
A got so angry at their blatant disregard ( this had continued for two months or so), that he took me along to speak to the office people – two men – a curly headed fast talker and a quiet older man. At first Curly was quite nice and said thin lady wants their place. But when we told them we had moved in and had a contract to show that it was ours, he started getting a bit nasty. He said what am I going to do about my car then? Not our problem. The Quiet Man stepped into say they were infact moving away soon, in two weeks time and till then could they keep their car in our space? We agreed. And the matter should have ended there but it didn’t. Even after two weeks, their car was still parked there. Then Thin Lady’s. A went to speak to the Thin Lady who calmly told him that she spoke no English and downed her shutters. Next morning, A went and got F to help sort out matters. I hated all of this and refused to go down with him. They knew that A knew practically no French and started telling F all sorts of lies. A it seems chased after them screaming Money Money. A knocked on Thin Lady’s door at midnight when her husband was away (?!) and that they has just kept their car once or twice. By the time I decided to go down, it was too late. The conversation was over. F was telling A that I have explained to them but really this is your problem and you should try and adjust with your neighbours. That made me very angry. It seemed F was believing them. It was then that I opened my mouth and came out with a beauty: Come on A, no point discussing anything with them…all of them are mad”. F looked really pissed off and walked away. A was very upset with me and so was I…but words once spoken cannot be withdrawn.
Thin Lady and office-men removed their cars soon after. But Thin Lady did her bit. She told the nice old man (who day and night, summer and winter potters around in his garden) her version of the affair, causing him to sarcastically tell A to “Bien Gardez”(Guard it well). A ofcourse had no idea what that meant, smiled and waved at the old man.
It left a very very unpleasant feeling in me. At the same time, there was another unpleasant lady at the only cyber café at our end of the town who would always looks so displeased with us if ever we asked her for some help with the PCs or some other problem. She would bark out “What is the matter, Now?”, while beaming and smiling at other surfers. The two taken together made me very miserable for quit sometime. I kept imagining that the entire building would turn up and vote us out of the house or something. Of course it was not so. The others still smiled and said bonjour. Only the thin lady avoided us like plague!!
I really liked to see our old man neighbour pottering around his garden and the first time he met me in the road, he looked sort of smilingly at me. I thought that one day I would screw up enough courage to tell him that I loved his garden. I don’t think he would talk to me after this episode.
Time is a great healer though. Slowly over time, I can now think about it all without getting depressed. 5 months ago, a young couple moved in with their baby in the ground floor apartment which had been an office. They have hired the parking space from us. And so there is a car parked there. The grumpy lady's cyber cafe shut down. Couldn’t take the competition from another one which opened up with more reasonable prices. And the Thin Lady? Well she got her just deserts. Somedays ago, I heard a commotion. I leaned out to see that the suave doctor with the BMW had come in to find the Thin Lady’s car blocking his parking space. It being Sunday, she probably didn’t think he’d turn up and she had being doing this for quite some time. The doctor spared her no words and spewed long strings of French loudly and thin lady stammering and stuttering her excuses, drove her car away! Ah! Sweet victory!!