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 in the lift) but at least we have our track back – kids are happy and I am relieved. At the end of the day it was an inexpensive train set but the point of the matter was that I think we had our first experience of discrimination in a foreign land and we wanted to show that we cannot be intimidated and just get something back what is rightfully ours! We might be a quiet, respectful ethnic minority but definitely not submissive. To balance it out, I have extremely friendly neighbours and get along very well with quite a few in our building. ‘Love thy neighbours?’ Yes, just not all!