For weeks, I’d been having the same racing semi-conscious thoughts. A gang is breaking into my flat. What do I need to do to make sure Rosie is safe from harm? One, make sure my mobile phone is by the bed. Two, have some warm clothes nearby, too. Three, keep the key to the window within reach so we can open it and escape onto the roof of the extension to the flat below us.
Over and over, I played these stages in my mind, refining them, re-ordering them, until I had the perfect exit plan.
When the “home invasion” finally happened, I had no such fall back. I had no list to pluck from my tired brain. Just my rage which, like that ever present destination “just ’round the corner”, is never far from reach.
Before I raise your expectations too high, I should say right now that no one physically broke into my home. No one has tried to assault us – not in the usual way, anyway.
You see, on Friday – which also happened to be my birthday – a new set of neighbours moved in to the flat downstairs. The flat had been empty for weeks. Before that, it had been occupied by a group of benign students whose worst habit was leaving the front door open from time to time. Annoying, but … well, not dreadful, I suppose.
My new neighbours might have been equally benign except for one thing. They’re smokers. Smokers who smoke inside.
Let me explain. We live in an old English 1930s building. There are gaps everywhere. And where there are gaps, there is smoke. So now, there is smoke pretty much all over the flat. Rosie and I are asthmatics. I’d put a sign outside for the estate agent to see – so he or she might think twice about renting the property to a smoker. No such luck.
It’s well below zero outside, but I am sitting here with the windows open. I’ve taped up the area beneath the bathtub to minimise smoke entering the bathroom. Ben spent the whole weekend meticulously sealing the living room and bedroom. But the stairwell is the worst – it needs industrial sealing – and Ben isn’t here to do it.
We’ve tried speaking to them – tried explaining the situation to them – but they are students who don’t speak any English. They don’t or won’t understand what we are saying.
I’ve been coughing since they arrived. Rosie is, too. My nose is leaking, my throat is itchy. It will only get worse. If I could sell this flat and leave tomorrow, I would. But it doesn’t work that way here. Selling and moving can take six months to a year. And there is the small problem of money – I’m about to lose my job.