Neighbour

Niven Govinden

There’s a reason why they called you rather than someone else; to do with taking your bins in promptly after the dustmen have been, and keeping the front of the house well-maintained;  how you often clear litter from that part of the road, and are the first to say Hello to whoever passes. You are not one of the others who holds parties. You do not scream blue murder at a partner at three in the morning.  More importantly, you understand that they are relatively new, and have no one to ask.

This is not a road for chit-chat, only for muttered greeting, and an appraisal of the clothes that they wear, the job they might have. Only after the call do you realise that your appearance and mannerisms have been filed by others in the same way; courteous, always outdoors, unafraid of hard graft; and that your name, painted on your mailbox, has been noted too, enabling them to look up your number and ring you so late at night. 

You are clean, therefore you must be a good cleaner. Your garden is immaculate, so you must understand how to bring order to chaos. There is no other answer you can think of, why you are here, mopping piss from the floor after the neighbour’s boy has hung himself.  They are not looking to you for comfort. They have the policewoman for that, who holds them hard to her chest as if they were newborns. The boy has been taken away, as has his belt and shoes, but the chair still lies on the floor at the foot of the bed, above a beam studded with a single brass hook. Later you will marvel at the wonder of engineering, how metal of such small dimensions can take the weight of a child. For now, you run hot water and concentrate on the job.

You go to the cupboard under the sink and find the cleaning materials you need; the mop and bucket propped behind the kitchen door. Your turn your head as the mother rushes in and vomits in the sink, paying no mind to the splattered tea cups you have rinsed under the tap.  Upstairs, you study the saffron puddle staining the laminate flooring and realise that this is what is left of death.  It is in the quiet of your work as you shut your ears to the screaming coming from below. That the End is a series of aftershocks that come long after the big finish. You clean the mess and mop the floor twice over, so that chemical pine temporarily masks the scent of the boy. You change the bed clothes, putting what was found into the laundry basket. You dust his shelves, the skirting, and the top of the wardrobe. You straighten the things on his desk, after which, you sit for a long time, thinking of when you saw him being chased home from school, and wondering whether you should have said something.

 

Niven Govinden is the author of novels We Are The New Romatics, Graffiti My Soul, and Black Bread White Beer.

 

While government watches you, who watches the government?