Whatever happened to the days when we truly knew our neighbours? The days when we had friendly relationships with them and willingly helped each other out and borrowed a cup of sugar? When did people become so disinterested and detached? Today people can live in the same apartment building for years and not know anyone in their building by name.
I woke up this morning with the rain beating down on the roof, like a herd of elephants. My head was throbbing with a terrible migraine and I felt like I was 28 months pregnant, rather than seven. I hadn't slept a wink all night and my husband had gone away for the whole week. I was dreading the day and wondering how I was going to cope. Just as I slapped a cold compress to my forehead and poured myself a strong cup of coffee, I heard someone knocking on my back door.
"Hello, It's Jan. I was wondering if you had any little girls here who would like to come to my house for morning tea?"
Eva, my eldest daughter ran to my adorable, elderly, neighbour and embraced her legs with a big cuddle. She is a gentle, kind woman, who has raised two children and two grandchildren. She always seems to show her face at the perfect moment to help and provide me with some sound advice. Sometimes she calls in to take my girls for a walk when I am up to my elbows in hamburger mince whilst my toddler is hanging off my right leg in tears. Her timing is so perfect that I wonder if she has special psychic abilities. Rather than question how she knows, I simply appreciate her presence.
"I'm just doing what any good neighbour would do," seems to be her standard response each time I thank her.
She helps, without expecting anything in return. She goes beyond the duties of a good neighbour who shares a cup of sugar or collects your mail when you are on holidays. She has exceeded these duties and has become a close friend and confidant over our ten years living beside each other. She has taken on the role of another grandmother to my girls without trying. The role just evolved over time as the love and mutual companionship has grown; neither was ever forced.
Eva, my eldest, always draws her pictures and invites her to ‘Grandfriends Day' at school. Jan teaches her how to knit and do crossword puzzles. The girls ask to play with their "friend" Jan and when they visit, she attentively listens to them when they share their stories about their day at school. A beautiful relationship has developed over time between the old and the young.
After re-entering the workforce, I would arrive home every day to find all my children laughing and chatting on the back porch with Jan. She would also buy them fresh mangoes from the fruit market when they weren't in season for afternoon tea or surprise them at school and collect them with umbrellas and hot chips on a rainy day.
She surprises me with her kindness in many ways as well. I can recall finding birthday balloons on my car in the morning before work or a surprise champagne celebration for my 10-year wedding anniversary. When we went on holidays in the middle of winter, we arrived home to a warm house and fridge full of food, with a hot dinner in the oven. She has made me home-cooked roast dinners when my husband was away for work and brings me my favourite section of the newspaper on Sundays. Every time, we need a babysitter, she arrives from next door with her crossword puzzle book and little dog, refusing to accept any money.
I am going to bed tonight, not feeling naive, thinking that the world is perfect. I know it is unfriendly at times and full of many cynical people. Jan brings me hope that there are still people that give just out of kindness and love. It makes me feel like I have stepped back in time, where the children can still play safely outside in the local community and our neighbours still watch out for each other and truly care.