The neighbour I never knew

commercial scrubbing machinesA motivational speaker from Melbourne came to our school once and gave us a piece of advice I’ll never forgotten. He said that you should never be rude or cold to a someone because that could be the last thing to tip them over the edge. Since then, I’ve made an effort to be kind to everyone I come into contact with… but recently I did slip up. I feel immensely guilty about it, but how could I have known? That a little indifference could lead to a lot of sadness.

I woke up early to the sound of car doors slamming and brisk male voices. I looked out the window at a van parked at the front of my neighbour’s house. People were strapping into hazmat suits and in the van I could see huge barrels of chemical disinfectants and floor scrubbing machinery. I squinted through the curtains sleepily, but when I realised what was going on a heavy feeling sank into my guts.

The woman who lived next door was named Mira. The only reason I know that is because I received some of her mail once by accident. Since the day I moved in, I always thought she was weird. I could smell her from miles away if I went to put the trash out and she was in the vicinity,  and glimpses into her house revealed a corridor crowded with stacks of junk mail, empty milk cartons and junk. I never overtly snubbed her, but I never spoke to her either, and her evasiveness made it easy for us to live separate lives. I learned too late that she’d suffered from serious debilitating issues.

No amount of industrial-grade disinfectant or floor scrubbing machine hire will remove the stains this experience has left on my mind. I should have gone out of my comfort zone to chat with her, get to know her. I could have made a difference in someone else’s fragile life. But as it is, I’d been too self-consumed to realise what was going on.