Journeying Inwards with Naomi: The Communal Garden


I am not your typical friendly neighbour. Definitely not the kind of person that bakes a pie and rings your bell on Saturday morning to introduce themselves once moving into a new apartment or once new tenants break the seals of that spot next door that has been vacant for ages.

If you are blasting raspy music out of your father’s old boombox - depending on the sound – I won’t complain. If you yell at your wife, I might come bang on your door in hopes to stop the violence. Sure, my parents educated me on courtesy policies so I greet people with a smile in the hallway or when sharing the same elevator ride, but I rarely indulge in small talk, unless it’s the concierge. I love my building’s doorman. He sends me a Whatsapp text whenever I receive a package. Overall, though, I always mind my business and I require others to do as such with me. Don’t be noisy, don’t complain about my noise, don’t come at me with corny neighbour shenanigans.

I doubt I have ever formed a relationship with any of my neighbours - unlike my mother who has become best friends with each and every person we ever lived next to – and trust me, I have lived in many, too many apartments as my nomadic lifestyle took me on a few unexpected international relocations. Italy, Los Angeles, Italy, Germany, Dubai then back to Italy. Sometimes I wonder what I missed and if I missed anything by being so removed from the environment surrounding my humble abode, but I keep on with my life as it is without considering any changes.

It has now been two weeks since my last valid IRL human interaction.

Instead of introducing us to a lovely spring and filling the air with sweet whiffs of blossoming flowers, March ushered and locked us into our homes, the only scents in the air being laundry detergent or pungent incense for the most adventurous.

Luckily, I have a small patch of green backyard enclosed by a bunch of tall unidentified trees that allows me to contemplate the coming of this new, sunny season without too much fuss. I even ordered gardening tools to fill this newly found slow time.

Two days ago I had enough of commuting from my bathroom to the kitchen for change of scenery, so I grabbed an old edition of The New Yorker that had been left unread and adventured myself into the communal garden of my building, defiant of the strict policies issued by the government as a response to the deadly virus.

The shared backyard doesn’t offer much, if not more direct sunlight and a few white and yellow flowers sprouting here and there amongst the deep green, unmanicured clovers. There are a few plastic chairs rotten by the sun and a matching red table embellished by a discolored “Coca-Cola” logo. To my surprise, another tenant had felt the same compulsion towards open air and she was sitting feet up in the middle of the area, stroking the fluffy, red and white fur of her Pomenarian mix with one hand and holding a yellow soft cover book with the other. Her face adorned by a surgical mask lowered down, in the same fashion of a dental hygienist that just completed a job.

I greeted her from afar and proceeded to find a spot 10 meters away, abiding by proper social distancing policies. The sun was gleaming above us and the slightly burning heat felt good on my cheeks, negligence sparked in my mind “Dammit I forgot to lather my face in sunscreen the only time I actually needed it”.

The lockdown hasn’t stopped me from following my usual skincare routing morning or night, but that morning, somehow, I forgot to complete it by skipping the final step to protect my now very pallid skin from getting damaged.

Anyways, pardon the interlude. Back to the garden scene.

The pet promptly ran towards me, before his owner scolded him into not disturbing my peace. Little did she know, animals are the only disturbance I accept at any given time.

A familiar voice interrupted the moment, it was Alessandro, our phenomenal doorman. He approached the sunny patch with his usual amicable stance, politely covering his nose and mouth with a felt white mask, the type workers use on construction sites to prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes. The other dweller pulled up her mask to protect her nose and mouth. Alessandro smirked loudly “Oh thanks! Do I give out corona vibes?”, he shattered the tension of the moment, he asked me how I was doing and proceeded to engage into what seemed to be a very serious legal conversation with the other reader.

Few minutes later, a young couple joined the scene. He was holding a notebook and a wide mouth crystal glass of what seemed to be sparkling white wine, possibly prosecco. She was flaunting colorful arm tattoos and a flower print dress, covered by a grey cardigan. She grabbed a chair and sat under direct sunlight, leaving her left arm to fall graciously to the side.

Conversation struck up within the five of us. Each one keeping proper distance, breaking the rules of proper etiquette by not looking into the other’s eyes or facing back. The group turned out to be living on different floors of building C, my building. The only structure facing inwards in the complex. Of course the arguments weren’t ravishing, actually pretty monotonous, spanning from local news, to our jobs, names and hopes for the imminent future.

A sixth person joined. He was looking for an open air cigarette break while setting his black and white English bulldog free from hutch. For a second the context turned into a window of daily life at a public park, inflating a secure bubble over us, away from the panic happening just a few yards away, on the other side of our residence’s gates.

There, in the safe haven of our communal garden, amidst a global health crisis, a pandemic providing our country with a death toll comparable to a gruesome war, I learned to be a friendly neighbour.

Stay tuned for next week's Journeying Inwards with Simran Randhawa.


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