Our apartment complex has a gathering area on the balcony. At the end of a second floor catwalk, there’s a BBQ and two picnic tables. When we moved in, I envisioned BBQ lunches and dinner parties. The area is meant for revelry. It’s used for littering.
After dark, the cherry red glow of cigarettes floats over the bannister up there. The next morning, evidence of burgers and drinks are scattered all over the pavement below. Jim Beam and coke cans, brown paper bags overstuffed with cheese encrusted containers and scores of cigarette butts are the filthy marks of selfish people.
The number of butts is staggering. Are they throwing them down like confetti? We want to say something, but then will one of us find ourselves walking to the car one evening only to stop and scream when a carefully discarded cigarette bites into the back of our neck?
We fear the burn of reprisal.
We walk through the apartment block in the middle of the day. We’re scared of being caught acting as concerned members of our little community.
We slip an A4 sheet of paper in each letterbox, skipping ours. Looking like it’s a normal, natural thing, but with sidelong glances to check for watchers. We talk quietly, wondering whether our letters will stop the vandalism.
Out the back, into the car-park, one of us stands watch nearby. The other tucks a piece of paper into a plastic pocket, then tapes it down on a small metal box that holds the security gate’s motor. There’s a hole in the box big enough to fit two hands. Cables are visible through the gap.
“Look at that. They must’ve left a hole so maintenance can reach in. Fuck, anyone could come and rip out whatever. Shit. That’s not a safety box. It’s a joke. Jesus.”
A car arrives, they look at us inquiringly. Maybe they broke the gate last time. One of us explains we’re letting everyone know how to open the security gate, and who they can call if they don’t have the PIN or a remote. We don’t tell them we did the letter drop.
We stay outside for an hour as the sun sets, hidden up the back of the car-park, sitting on the boot of our car, just in case someone tries to break the gate despite our sign and letters.
Two days later, the security gate is broken. The torn cables hang out of the box. This is the second time in two weeks.
I park my scooter in three different spots over the week.
One at the front of our car space, leaving our car’s rear sticking out. This space works well enough, but the boot sits three feet over the line. I worry we might block people in.
I try another one out on the road. I’m worried the scooter will get knocked down. I sit indoors watching the news, turning down riots in Cairo to listen for the bang and shatter of my bike hitting bitumen.
I try a third spot next to the entranceway, between a car space and the walkway into the centre of the apartment block. This feels safe. It feels out of the way. Who could possibly object?
The next morning, one of the rearview mirrors has been twisted all the way around. It faces forward, instead of to the rear.
Was this an accident? Did someone bump it? How could they knock it in a way that twists it 180°?
Was it deliberate? Was it a warning that this isn’t a good place to park my scooter? I look all around me, trying to spot the spying neighbour. No one. I consider myself warned.
Apartment living can be a terrifying series of subtle signals and hesitant interpretations. This is our space as much as it’s everyone else’s. None of us has any idea what the other is capable of. In a world of suicide bombings, anthrax envelopes and flash floods, it’s only natural to assume the worst.
Afraid to risk it, I park my scooter at the front of our space that night and forever after.