an apology to my neighbour
My husband and I had been living in our apartment for a few years before our new neighbours moved in. There was a knock on our door one evening and a couple our age stood on the other side. He worked for the military. She was bright, bubbly, and without reserve. They invited us to dinner at their place and were perfect hosts. In the following months, she looked after our dog, we exchanged spare keys, borrowed cups of sugar, and looked after each other's pot plants when we were away.
When they told us they were expecting a baby, I dutifully bought them a soft toy and a book and left it at that. Sometimes, I would see her, belly getting bigger, looking more wan as the months passed. The friendly drop-ins came to a stop until one day, I was coming back home and spotted her, her boyfriend and an older couple opening the gate to our apartment building. Every move she made looked like an effort. Her boyfriend was carrying a covered capsule in one hand. The baby had arrived.
Our front doors were mere metres away from each other. One day I came home and found her, sitting cross-legged on the ground in the shared hallway facing her open front door. "Are you okay?" I asked. She didn't say a word. I looked and saw her baby just inside her apartment, sitting upright, gurgling away. I bought her silence, walked into my house and shut the door.
I have different neighbours now. The old ones moved to another country when the baby was just under a year old. It took being a new mother to understand what I saw that day. I want to apologise to my neighbour. I want to turn back time and I want to have done everything differently. Instead of ignoring the palpable loneliness I witnessed, I should have stopped, sat down with her, offered to make her a cup of tea, or to hold the baby. I should have asked her if she'd eaten or whether she wanted me to do the dishes. I should have just asked her very simply how she was feeling. What I shouldn't have done was leave her alone.
When my baby cries inconsolably, it echoes off the brick walls, wooden floors and high ceilings. The apartments in our building are small. There is no getting away from the noise. On a good day when my mother or my husband looks after the baby and he is in between feeds, I can get out of the building alone for one glorious hour. Other than that, my baby and I are always together. I feel deep wells of tenderness, obsession and love for him. But I also feel deep wells of anger, irritation, and frustration. Some days are good, other days I can barely cope. I can find myself standing at the changing table or sitting next to his bassinet in a dark room, crying for many reasons - exhaustion, sleep deprivation, terror. As a mother, there is an inexorable pull towards my child but also an almost constant yearning to escape him. Sometimes, the farthest you can go is just outside your front door.