"تحمل لي الهدايا صباحاً وتطلب لي الشرطة مساءً" ... قصتي مع جارتي الألمانية
Living across from my house is a German neighbor in her late 80s, usually all by herself except during her son’s rare visits.
On the very first day I moved into my house, Erica – or Heidi as she likes to be called — rang my doorbell while carrying a basket, pots, and some household necessities. “These are things you will definitely need,” she said. I smiled and replied, “That’s very kind of you.” She then said, “Give me seven euros in return.”
I was shy and flustered, and didn’t know how to tell her that I do not need these things. But I nevertheless accepted them so that my neighbor wouldn’t have to go back to her house carrying her things. Then she interrupted my shocked daze with the words, “Give me five euros.” So I gave her what she asked and closed the door.
Erica did not miss a single opportunity to come visit me, asking that I close the main gate, or that I come down and open it because her hair had not been styled the way she liked, otherwise she would call the police to file a complaint against me, she said. I was irritated by her and all her endless talking. I did not understand how she used to scold me in the morning and then go to the market and buy chocolate and toys for my daughter. Then she’d ring the bell again to scold me over something, and later would bring me crates of apples and oranges.
She’d stay up during the evenings to make winter hats and warm shawls for my girls, and even bought them a Christmas tree. When she sees me with tears in my eyes and a closed up throat, she opens her arms to hug me and says in German, “It’s alright, all men are swine (Alle Männer sind Schweine).” I cry on her shoulder and we each close our doors and go to sleep.
My German neighbor scolds me in the morning and later buys chocolate and toys for my daughter. She would call the police on me over something, and later would bring me crates of apples and oranges.
Erica, whose house I have memorized like the palm of my own hand, I’ve also memorized the times she eats, when she waters her flowers, and when I should hear her footsteps. She and I are like cat and mouse. We quarrel and then she comes to me to draw her eyebrows and we’d laugh, and every time I start looking for another house, I hear her voice in my head saying to my daughter: “My little mouse, I am your grandmother who lives for you here.”
Every time she gets angry because one of us left the basement door open or because my guests laughed too loudly, I curse neighborliness, and then I’d hug her and she would hug me and we’d apologize.
It took me a long time to understand how Erica thinks, how she has this love and affection for me, and then would call the police to file a complaint against me and at the same time would come out of her apartment to translate something for me that I did not understand.
She smiles and walks in as if she didn’t do anything.
She separates situations from her personal relationships, something that I cannot yet do, but I’m practicing and working on it. I like the idea that I have a right and that this right stands above all considerations, labels, and relationships.
With time, I understood that she separates things from one another and does not see that her complaints have anything to do with personal relationships. She also acts this way with me, because she was raised on the idea that a person’s resting time, for instance, is a sacred right that no one has any right to mess with, even if this person is a neighbor or a friend.
She separates situations from her personal relationships and this is something that I cannot do, but I’m practicing and working on it. I liked the idea that I have a right and that this right stands above all considerations, labels, and relationships.
Yesterday, at half past eight in the morning, I heard men calling out for her in very loud voices. I opened the door and found members of the civil defense, paramedics, and policemen standing at the door. I ran out like a lunatic, without a mask on, and began shivering as if someone had thrown me in an ice box. I asked them what was going on, but they did not answer. They requested that I call her son and her son wasn’t answering.
They pushed me to go back into my house, closed the door, and told me not to come out. I sat down on my knees waiting for their damn saw to open her door. When the door was finally opened, the firefighter grabbed the door handle of my house from the outside so that I could not open it. They entered Erica’s house, and when I heard her voice yelling, I felt like my soul was restored. I got out of my house, ran to her, and began hugging her and crying. As I kissed her hands and head, she laughed and said, “You love me this much?”
In her house, Erica has a device that she must press every day at eight in the morning, twelve at noon, three in the afternoon. and seven in the evening. She has to press it and say, “I am still okay. I am alive. Hello, I’m Erica.” Together, we kicked out the civil defense members after she made them fix the door, running after them and saying, “It costs 80 euros.”
On that day, Erica was half an hour late to wake up, and found half of her country at her door to save her. Oh God, here we do not need to wait for the neighbors to discover our body, it’s enough to not press a button.
I was happy and laughed as we took a lot of pictures. As I was leaving, she called out to me and said, “You think I would die this easily. Who else will file complaints and call the police on you?”
I left, but every ten minutes I would visit her and put my ear to the door to check on her.
Today, Erica knocked on my door and gave me the key to her house. She told me that she got rid of the device. She no longer wanted it in her house. She told them that she had a neighbor and a daughter and would not need it any longer.
My heart grew twice as large and I got a new wool bag from her. Two hours later, she filed a complaint against me to the rental company, claiming that I had obstructed the work of the Civil Defense because I had a shoe cabinet at my door.