I don’t think I am a very strict parent since I give in quite easily to the charms and innocent smiles of my mischievous little boys. But when it comes to keeping my home neat and tidy I do like things being kept back in place after use. I feel like I am constantly tidying up things around the house – slippers that have magically popped out of the shoe cabinet, clothes lying on the floor, magazines, bags, towels all lying somewhere BUT in their rightful place, so I manage to wave my magic wand fairly calmly most of the times. But when it comes to toys my wand seems to lose its magical power as no matter how many times I pick up cars, trains, ben 10 aliens, blocks, puzzles, lego pieces and keep them back in their place, they just keep sprouting out again! In fact if I ask for assistance I am very seriously told that the bus is ”parked” at the bus stop, which happens to be right near my bed, and that it can’t move out as the driver is tired and taking a break! The power rangers and Ben 10 aliens have to rest on various shelves of the wardrobe as they are in the process of having a fight, in different groups, and can’t rest together in the toy rack specially bought for THEM! So anyway one such day when I had just tidied up the kids bedroom with all their toys tucked back neatly inside, one train track seemed to magically come out again at bed time! I asked my younger son to help me tidy up the train tracks but he just stood there and refused to budge. So I did what I don’t normally do, I picked up one of the tracks and held it outside the window threatening him that I will throw it down if he doesn’t get his act together soon. Not that he tidied up instantly but as I was getting my hand back inside, the track hit the window grill and fell down! Oops!
It was 8 pm and we couldn’t see much from our balcony, so my shocked son and a very meek me went downstairs to look for it. After a quick search since we did not find it, I realised that the track could have fallen onto our neighbour’s balcony. I pacified my son or was it the other way round since I was feeling so guilty and we both promised each other that we would do something about it the next day. True enough in the morning we did see the track lying on one of the planted pots in our neighbour’s balcony. We quickly went down to get it, but since no one opened the door after we rang the bell we went down to the reception to explain our dilemma to the security guard. Sometimes it is easier to talk to our neighbours via security as not everyone understands English here. Now something like this would have ended in minutes back home in Mumbai, where you would go to your neighbour’s house, request for the toy, apologise for your carelessness and come back home probably after having been offered a samosa or some cookies. Out here however it was the start of a long drawn drama. So first we carried a sample track to show to our security and explain more in action than in words what we need her help for. I wrote down both our flat numbers on a piece of paper drawing arrows to explain what happened and what help we need. Task accomplished! She understood that we wanted her to go to our neighbour’s house and get our track. But after a few hours when the security guard came to our house she gesticulated wildly saying “She so angry, so angry”. We finally managed to understand that our neighbour who is apparently an old lady refused to give the track back, saying point blank that it is not there and that the kids should be careful and better behaved!” I couldn’t believe my ears and took the guard to my balcony to show her the track which was still resting in its place. The guard kept saying “She so angry, she banged door,” to tell me that the lady had banged the door in her face asking her not to come back! I was livid, frothing and fuming, how can someone refuse to give a child’s toy, what does that say about the person?? but honestly, I am no good when it comes to getting into emotional arguments. I can either be extremely patient and calm on one side and uncontrollably emotional and vociferous at the other which can sometimes spoil situations. Since this particular one was tilting towards the latter, I thought I’d best wait for my husband to handle the matter. But my sons were quite upset and wondered why mummy wasn’t marching down to get matters straight. They have seen me argue with bus drivers, cabbies, vendors, so what’s a neighbour? I did muster up courage, calming myself down so there is no outburst and stepped out but thankfully I was saved the altercation since the security guard told me that the lady had just left the building. I had a fretful night but I am not sure what upset me more – the fact that the lady refused to give us back the toy or my hesitation to confront her? Next morning I ran out to my balcony to see if the track was still there, half-hoping that the lady would have thrown it down on the road so that it would be easier for me to get it back, but it was still there right where it was…in the potted plant! Later that day, my husband happened to spot the neighbour watering the plants on the balcony, he called out to her and pointed out at the track gesticulating that it was ours and we wanted it back. Without a word or a smile, the neighbour picked up the train track and by the time my husband could go down to get it, the track was left outside her door which was tight shut!
I still don’t know what my neighbour looks like (just in case I bump into her) but at least we have our toy back – kids are happy and I am relieved. At the end of the day it was an inexpensive train set but it did give us our very first experience of ‘culture’ and ‘building etiquette’ in this foreign land. Sadly it just isn’t what we are used to. Thankfully to balance it out, we do have other friendly neighbours and hope to rent a flat above theirs next time! ‘Love thy neighbours?’ Yes, just NOT Love them ALL!