This morning I took a cycle out to the post office to put in the mail redirection forms (which they wouldn’t let us fill in online, and – in fact – they rejected once I got to the post office because I’d used blue ink in one place on the form, rather than black… but that’s another story) in anticipation of the Earthlings‘ upcoming house move, and on my way out of the garage our neighbour came over.
“We’ll be sorry to see you go,” she said, gesturing at the “TO LET” sign at the end of the driveway.
“Hmm?” I responded. It took a while to sink in that she was talking to me: apart from an occasional “Hi” or “Bye” on the way in to or out of the house, we’ve never spoken to one another before.
“Oh yeah,” I said, after a pause, “We’re moving over to the other side of the city: we kind-of wanted a bigger place for the four of us.”
“Oh,” she continued, “I suppose it might be a little small in there for four. It’s a shame, though: you’re the best tenants we’ve ever had.”
Something in my head snapped, and unraveled, and it took a little time before I managed to re-assemble her sentence into something that made sense to me.
“You… own this building?” I asked, pointing back at our house. We’d never met our landlords (at least, I thought we hadn’t): everything had always been arranged through our letting agency.
There was another twang in my head as something else snapped. Then moments later, half way through my next thought, I realised how incredibly racist I was being. You see: our contract had stated that our landlord’s name was Mr. Patel, and that’s a name that in my mind had associated itself with a certain tone of skin colour. And it had, for a moment, seemed inconceivable that the plump white woman in front of me could possibly be part of the family of the imaginary Mr. Patel that had taken up residence in my head. As I worked to reprogram my brain with this new information (and perhaps a little less capacity for runaway assumptions), she continued:
“The previous tenants have all been awful,” she said, “The last lot broke all of the windows. The ones before that tried to burn the place down!”
This actually went some way to explaining the state of the building, with it’s various weakened and damaged parts.
“Well thank you,” I said, “I hope you get some more great tenants next time.”
“Yeah,” she replied, “I was going to say that to your dad this morning when I saw him leaving.”
“Yeah: he left here earlier; just a bit before your girlfriend left. Sorry: is he not your father?”
Every string that still remaining intact in my brain snapped simultaneously. This woman had just blown my poor little mind. I investigated:
“Dark-haired chap, with a beard?” I queries, miming the shape of a beard because for some reason that made sense to me – you know, in case she’d never seen a beard before.
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“Wow. No, that’s JTA. He’s… like four years younger than me.”
“Oh God!” she said, “You can’t tell him I said that…”
But it was too late: the blog post was already half-written in my mind, taking up the void that had been cleared during the earlier series of mental implosions. This one’s for you, pops.