Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

Started this last Monday…

I’m knackered and zombie like this morning because… in the middle of the night at like 2am I was woken up by massively loud incessant banging on the door of the apartment below ours. I was all wide awake and panicky straight away – Mr OC was his usual “just go back to sleep”. Which in itself was a bit difficult as whoever was doing the banging (so to speak) really wanted the person to answer the door. I heard womens’ voices and more banging and then because I was sort of coming to my senses by this point I began to notice a really bad smell – I was all (to Mr OC) “OK, get up, I can smell burning”.

And so I got up and opened our bedroom door and the smell was real strong out in the hallway, like burnt food and pots etc. so I turned back in the bedroom and Mr OC was beginning to get out of bed now too (which in itself says something because normally in these kind of scenarios we’ve established by now that I’m being paranoid and nothing is happening!!). I was rambling on along the lines of “get warm clothes on… we should maybe be ready to leave”. And then there is a hammering at our door  – it was the girl who lives opposite us. She said she had noticed the smoke smells herself, and they were coming from the apartment below ours and that she had been banging on the door with her housemate, and had eventually rung the firies (read fire department if you don’t like full on Strine). Well gawd bless her for being a light sleeper or whether she or her housemate went to the bathroom in the middle of the night… who knows. Either way she saved all eleven of our apartments because the flat immediately below ours was full of smoke and it was billowing out the windows and doors. Bizarrely she probably lives furthest away from the perpetrator of the trouble!

Anyway, a couple of minutes later after obligatory toilet stops and donning of a couple of layers over our jimjams (Sydney’s winter has been pretty cold to 6 degrees overnight this year) we were all congregated downstairs and the fire brigade were all doing their job.

We’re guessing our smoke infested neighbours (tenants in the below apartment who only moved into the apartment the day before) had maybe had a few drinkies and then come home and started cooking up some food… before promptly falling asleep passing out. If the hammering on the door could wake us (and everyone else), but not them, then goodness knows what that was about. Solid sleeper?

Thankfully there were no big flames or anything like that. Just a heck of a lot of smoke. Fortunately we didn’t inhale and the ambo (hehehe – ambulance) was there if needed but we all declined bar the dude who lives in the flat. They put the fire out and fanned the smoke out of the flat in question, and asked us if we wanted ours done. Although there wasn’t much visible smoke our apartment stank for a few days and it did make me cough a bit. We opened up the windows (brrrr), rugged up and tried to get back to sleep – however, my mind was racing and all I could smell was the smokey pong. You know how smells are extremely evocative – and so it just kept me thinking there was still danger. Was pleased to leave to go to work in the morning -which is a novelty on a Monday morning!

Ten days later and things are all good – we’ve checked our smoke detector (as clearly we cannot rely on everyone else being responsible over theirs!) and some of our cupboards (where the gas pipes run through from unit to unit) still smell so we’ve been trying to fumigate. On Saturday I baked muffins and took them round to our neighbours opposite and thanked them for waking up/waking us all up. Scary to think of the what-ifs if they hadn’t woken…

Our block is a pretty friendly one – there are just two apartments we don’t speak to regularly/in passing  – and one of them just sold up and moved out… so no loss there. However we found out something pretty crazy off the back of the fire. The guy who previously lived in the apartment below ours (the one with the fire) was a lovely guy in his 60s, living on his own and always really friendly – we saw that the apartment was cleared out a few weeks back when Mr OC’s family were visiting, and that he’d obviously moved on. Well, it turns out that there was a reason behind the apartment getting such a huge clean-out between tenants this time – the poor guy hung himself in there. How awful is that? We felt terrible when we heard and had the usual regrets – you know, we wished we’d spent more time chatting to him, invited him for a coffee/beer… whatever. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference but it might have done, and at least we would have known we did SOMETHING.

Suicide really is perhaps the saddest truth that exists in this world. Whether someone commits it over a period of time – harming themselves directly or through addiction – or in an immediate and everlasting act. Consequently, what stuck with me for the last few days is how this saying is so true:  Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. So true, and so very poignant. It got me thinking about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Toofrom there the amazing observation from a young boy, experiencing the cycle of intense grief:

I looked at everyone and wondered where they came from, and who they missed, and what they were sorry for.

It made me think about how we can be so wrapped up in our own little dramas that it is so easy to forget or overlook what is going on with other people. It’s partly why I made muffins to say thanks to our neighbour! Just a token to say, ‘Hey, we noticed what you did – and we’re REALLY grateful.” And sometimes, we don’t even get the insight – what is behind the eyes, behind the closed doors of our neighbours? Maybe if we were kinder today we might help someone feel just a tiny bit better. Isn’t that worth something?


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