London. The building where I live has sixteen flats, and there are at least ninety-eight flashpoints of contention. War is only ever a bag of rubbish left in the wrong place away.
I have a neighbour, let’s call him Tim, who is a sprightly seventy nine and seems to have taken a shine to me. He laughs too enthusiastically at my jokes and rests his hand on my back for too long. He always tries to look like he’s listening; he cocks his head and says yes again and again, but I know from his answers that he hasn’t heard a word. I’m told he has black satin sheets on his bed, but I don’t want to think about that. He has sent poison pen letters to Sue, who is lovely, and are a factor in why she and Graham want to sell. They are my best friends in the block, and if I weren’t moving in a few weeks I would miss them a lot. I’ll miss them anyway, I suppose.
Tim’s neighbours below, Anya and Michael, of Indian background, are as beautiful and charming as any two people you’ve ever met. Their English is clearer than my North London mumble. They have a baby who cries, makes noises that Tim doesn’t like, at least. One day, while Anya was in her garden, Tim, infuriated by the sounds of a mother playing with her baby, who wouldn’t be, poured a glass of water onto them from his balcony. Anya knocked angrily on Tim’s door to complain. He screwed his face up in incomprehension and said, very slowly, I’m sorry, dear, I don’t understand you, I only speak English. They put their flat up for sale the next morning.
The four lowest flats in the building are duplexes and have small gardens and most of the people who live there think of themselves as a cut above the hot polloi in the higher floors. The least-liked people in the block, the Azurs, live on the ground floor and are Israeli, and, for some reason, people are nervous around them. They don’t seem especially pleasant, and I hope they’re a bad illustration of what Israelis are like. At least, they seem untypical of those I’ve met.
Last year The Azurs objected to Sue and Graham bringing their dog here. He is a sweet, old spaniel called, of course, Daniel. He is never a problem, never makes any noise. But our Israeli neighbours didn’t like him, sued the dog, and lost. They took this badly and were seen leaving rat poison in the spaces around the building. No one believed this was for rats. Hosepipe bans or not, their small garden is watered by sprinklers every evening for an hour, which must count as confirmation of their evil.
Soon after I moved in they began an argument with me over a parking space. Every time I apologised and promised it wouldn’t happen again they became more enraged. They haven’t spoken to me since, for over five years, which suits us all.
I suppose Sue and Graham, who talk to them only because they have to, told them I’m thinking of moving to Tel Aviv. I haven’t yet told anyone else here. Normally the Israelis and I pass each other in the hallway without even a nod, let alone a hello. This changed today. This morning they spoke, and smiled at me as they did so. You only get one life, they said, in a way that meant why would I waste mine in Israel? It’s your life, you should do what you want. Their smiles were sour, but at least it means I won’t bump into them on Rothschild.
Today’s word: sovlanoot – tolerance – סובלנות