A new family has moved into number 13, the house opposite. There are two children, a boy of about thirteen and a girl of eleven. They look just very much like their father, but they are both rather underdeveloped and the boy walks with a pronounced limp. In contrast, their mother is extremely large and matronly. Indeed, one of our neighbours wonders if she might be the children’s grandmother, but after much discussion we have decided that she is their mother. We hope they will enjoy living here.
Today, builders started working on an extension to the house opposite. It already has three bedrooms and now it will have at least five; all with en-suite bathrooms. For no particular reason, we now call the family ‘the Extensions’. The children no longer scurry alone up the road to school, but have a few friends who call for them in the morning.
A worrying sight this afternoon. The girl climbed up a builder’s ladder and started swinging from the unfinished rafters in the extension. We wondered if we should wander across and suggest that what she was doing could be dangerous. Just then, however, her father returned home from his work. ‘You’re in for trouble now’, I thought, as he stepped out of the car. To my surprise, he ran into the house and returned with a camera to record her antics. Perhaps, she is a budding gymnast? Anyway, he escorted her down the ladder and led her indoors. He looked rather sad.
From my study, I am often amused by the appearance of one of the girl’s school friends. She is quite noisy and makes her presence known as she comes up the hill. Sometimes, she has blonde hair, another time it will be jet black, and occasionally, it is as red as paint. The two girls lug enormous bags of school books slung over their shoulders as they walk to school and I wonder what effect these huge, overloaded bags will have on their spines.
The extension is finally finished and the builders have made quite a good job of matching the existing brickwork and roof tiles. Despite the house’s increased value, the lawns are full of weeds, both driveways are crumbling, and the path leading to the front door has all but disappeared. Each week, two Polish cleaners come to work inside the house and, afterwards, sit on the doorstep enjoying a cigarette. Whilst waiting for the bus, which stops outside the house, I jokingly suggested that they could tidy up what is left of the garden. They just laughed and said ‘No way!’ Today, they taught me to how to greet people in Polish: Dzień dobry.
The girl now has a boy friend who calls for her on the way to school. He is very smartly dressed, has neatly cropped hair and carries a briefcase but never offers to help with her large sack of schoolbooks. I wonder how her original friend, the one with multi-coloured hair, feels about the new relationship. Friendships can be so fickle at that age.
We can set our clocks by the Extensions. They are meticulous timekeepers and leave the house for work or school at ten minute intervals. Father is the first to return home and times his arrival to coincide with the return of his children from school. On Saturdays, he leaves the house promptly at ten o’clock to drive down to a local supermarket to get the week’s shopping. His wife never accompanies him, neither do the children. If any of their friends call by, they always leave ‘empty-handed’, for the children never leave the house. Even, during the school vacation, they remain at home the whole time. This probably account for their pale and pasty appearance; I sometimes wonder if they have rickets.
The other day, I pushed a note through the Extension’s door warning them about a gang of boys on bicycles who have been vandalising the neighborhood. They cycle up and down after dusk throwing apples through the windows of any house which appears to be occupied. The local community police know who they are but say that they can’t do much about it. They have suggested that the community gets together and removes any spare fruit from the trees in the area. What a bunch of doughnuts! Never met one I didn’t want to kick. The Extensions must have seen my note for they have switched off some of their lights.
I have suddenly realised that the boy friend who calls each morning at number 13 is actually the old girl friend trying out a whole new persona. She must be quite a character; she is certainly a master of disguise and had me fooled.
I suppose that anyone reading this would say that I have an unhealthy fascination for the members of this family. I would prefer to say that I find them absorbing for their behaviour is rather unusual. Take the parents, for instance, they never venture further from the front door than their cars. I have never seen them stand on the path or the road outside the house, nor have I ever seen them in the nearby town. They have no contact with any of the neighbours and any kind of eye contact with them is quite impossible. I’ve never even heard them speak. If you ask me, I would say that they are not very sociable and are engrossed in their own lives. Their stay here is probably a temporary one and they are reluctant to foster new relationships before moving on to another town. Father’s job is a complete mystery and mother does some translating for a government department.
Do you know that the other night I could swear that I saw someone prowling around number 13. Every now and then, I saw what appeared to be a flashlight against the ground floor windows. I was tempted to call the police, but that would have been a waste of time because by the time they have received a recorded message and got here, the prowlers or burglars would have long since fled the scene.
The Extensions have gone! One day, they were living opposite us, and the next they disappeared into thin air. We didn’t even see the removal van on the drive. I thought that they were just temporary residents, and I was right, but what was the point of the extension? They didn’t have any lodgers, though I suppose that someone could have been staying there and made their way to town using the lane at the back of the house. Well, wherever they’ve gone, I hope they’ll be happy.
We’ve got new neighbours again. They’ve moved into the house opposite and we’ve been round to welcome them to the district. They seem a very friendly couple and the house will be just the right size for their rather large family. They don’t know much about the Extensions or where they went to live, but said it had something to do with a court case and and Eastern European banking scandal. Oddly enough, he didn’t look anything like a banker to us and spent most of the time wandering about in scruffy jeans.
It’s been two years since the Extensions left and I’ve managed to track down a newspaper report of the case. There were some fairly unsavoury characters involved and quite a lot of violence, which probably explains why some witnesses were under protection and testified from behind large screens. I didn’t recognise any of the names of the defendants so our ex-neighbour must have been using a false name. Anyway, they’ve all been put away for a very long time. You see, you can never tell what your neighbours have been up to. And they seemed quite a nice family. Goodnight Diary.
Tony Crowley (c) 2011