Here’s a story for you, one I’m sure you can relate to at some level, especially if you live in a apartment like I do. Its a petty story, but then again, all stories relating to people living in buildings are petty.
There are seven other families who share our four-storey space, two apartments at every level, and being on the ground floor we often have stuff left in the hallway. By ‘stuff’ I mean prams, bikes, toys, trash bins. One day I remember seeing a heap of plastic bags stuffed with old clothes lying at the foot of the stairs. For us, and our relaxed, kindly neighbors across in number 1, this is never a problem. We understand that those upstairs have to use the groundfloor hall as a place to temporarily leave things. This is normal. There even used to be a pram blocking the back door, and if I’m honest, it was annoying, especially when the owner didn’t live in our building, but life’s too short to be pissing on people’s shoes about such matters, so whenever I saw it, I’d shrug and use the front door instead.
Live and let live, right?
Well you’d think that. Spend enough time in Poland and you’ll learn that a lot of the time you are required to live on other people’s terms. You learn that there is no moral law, only the rules written down and enforced by the organs of Authority and Control and tough titty on any naive chump who believes otherwise.
Tough-titty for believing in neighborliness and understanding. Tough-titty for believing that baking a cake and giving a slice to each apartment when we first arrived meant anything. The taste of cake nothing like the taste of old-school Soviet diplomacy recently served up to me, a strain of which still runs very strong here.
I have a habit of leaving my bike against the wall in our hall. It’s our wall, it’s not impeding anyone, apart maybe from my family as the back wheel partially blocks our front door. Technically, I’m wrong to do this, the rules of our building state that the hall should be kept clear. But the naive, silly Irishman thought that in light of the pram occupying the space there for over a year, it wouldn’t be problem. It’s rare for my bike to be left in the hall anyway, except for the few times when I’m preoccupied with my daughters or popping inside to get something.
And God-forbid, if my bike is somehow causing a threat, if it supernaturally becomes possessed by a dybbuk and begins attacking the good folk of our building, then I’ll sort it out. I’m a very approachable guy and most people know they just have to knock at the door.
But last week there was no door-knocking. There was no communication. Yet, as with a lot of things connected to Poland lately, there was an absence of normality. Someone dragged my bike away from the wall and across the foot of the stairs, blocking the access to the higher apartments. Another family knocked on my door, terribly upset at what they thought were my actions.
The message I got from this Soviet diplomacy was, “you broke the rules and now a little covert action will break you…’’
Just a little intimidation to keep you on your toes Irish, we wouldn’t want you getting too relaxed about your life here.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a nothing story, not something anyone should be getting their knickers in a twist about. Yet within the micro lives the macro, and I wonder what type of fun and games I can expect when I leave my bike outside the apartment again? Maybe our friends across the hallway could tell me. They, like some of you reading this no doubt, had a more sinister example when they found a shard of broken glass lodged in one of the croc shoes kept outside their door. But I steadfastly cling to my naivety and wholeheartedly believe it must have been delinquents from the outside who did this, a nasty, mentally unbalanced thug no doubt and definitely not anyone in our building.