When I was a kid our family home sat on a hill slope overlooking my mother’s paddy fields. An unbroken stretch of jungle—where langsat, tarap, bambangan and sour sop trees flourished—surrounded the wooden house. Our nearest neighbours were not even within shouting distance. Those were the days when we kids could yell at the top of our voices and no one was near enough to be annoyed with our antics.
|Paddy fields in my kampung|
How times have changed! These days I live in the suburb in a little house standing in a tiny lot surrounded not by trees but by thousands of similar houses. They are so near to each other, these houses, that I’m sure the neighbours could hear me when I brush my teeth or drop a spoon. I’m also certain the neighbours in several houses around ours could hear Mr. Hubby when he sneezes because no one does it more passionately than him. I hear the next door neighbour when he flushes his toilet or when his cleaver goes chop-chop-chop on his chopping board.
The neighbour on the other side is a stressed stay-at-home mum with no help to take care of the kids or do the chores. I can imagine how tiring her day must be because she also seems to have mysophobia—an abnormal fear of dirt. She does loads of washing every single day; frequently spreads the kids’ pillows and bolsters and soft toys on the concrete floor under the hot sun; scrubs and then hangs to dry their school bags every weekend. And she once handed a huge garbage bag to Mr. Hubby, saying: “For your rubbish. You have a lot of rubbish.” The lady doesn’t mince her words!
Perhaps you remember, some blog posts ago, that I mentioned Mr. Hubby collects lots of stuff. They have, naturally, overflowed to the back porch where the cockroaches turn them into an amusement park. He has added two live chickens to his collection but you didn’t hear this from me! I’d be too embarrassed to show you a photo of our porch. And I’ve warned visitors to be careful when they go exploring in the back because they might just get lost.
We have interesting neighbours at the back, one sounds—we only hear him—like someone confined to his bed and he has to rely on a young boy to do things for him. Early in the morning, before the sun is up he’d yell for this boy: “Oopp! Oopp!” Dottie says that the gangnam style thing has come to our little corner.
|The neighbour's palm tree|
I’ve already mentioned about another neighbour in this blog, the one who chopped down that giant palm tree and ruined our fence. But she’s a good sort. She takes in stray cats and is very generous with her seeds and flowering creepers. The birds visit her forest of a garden and I’m conveniently provided with subjects to photograph.
|A pretty sunbird rests on the neighbour's hibiscus|
A house farther down our row used to be occupied by an interesting couple—they liked throwing pots and pans and plates when they were mad at each other. One night their screams and shouts were accompanied by sounds of breaking crockery and palms meeting flesh. I was sure they were trying to kill each other so I called 999 and pleaded for the police to ‘please come before somebody dies’! Three groups of mata-mata arrived almost at the same time. Apparently, there had been two other callers (besides me) asking the police to intervene before somebody was seriously injured! Had the police arrived a little later, our lorong would probably have been mentioned in the dailies and we, the neighbours, could have been accused of apathy.
One of the houses across the road is occupied by a couple who occasionally provide some relief to our humdrum, unenviable, boring days by indulging us with some form of diversion. Husband is fond of shouting at Wife and accusing her of not-nice things. Early one morning, at the time when normal people were just getting up, there was a short exchange of angry words coming from this particular house. Soon, thick, black smoke was snaking out from one upstairs window! Fire! My heart skipped a beat—the fire could spread to the other houses. Then the front door burst open and bare-footed Husband dressed in shorts and little else rushed out to the next house. A hurried blahblahblah took place and he ran back to his house hugging a fire extinguisher. He was lucky to be able to put out the fire. Several days later, a partly burnt queen-sized mattress lay forlornly outside his gate waiting to be carted away by the garbage men. If mattresses could talk, can you imagine what stories that mattress could tell?
We have other neighbours who provide the occasional cause for excitement: Mr. Busybody, the Baker, the Vegetable Seller etc. but I’d rather forgo the excitement for a tiny place of my own—something like my childhood home—surrounded by trees and bushes, a place where birds and animals come to visit. A small but comfortable tree house would be perfect!
O give me a home where the buffaloes roam…