The Best Things Come in Small Packages

I have an unfortunate bedtime habit.

It takes me what feels like twelve thousand years to get to sleep, and I would rather have my skin peeled from me in strips than lie in the dark with my thoughts, so instead I have a habit of propping my phone on its side and scrolling mindlessly through r/politics or the Aliexpress app on my phone until I fall asleep, one fingertip still pressed to the screen.

(You might be able to guess where I’m going with this…)

On more than one occasion I have woken up having purchased some truly ridiculous items are not in any way necessary to my life: a stamped metal 3D puzzle of C3PO; ten identical tongue bars; a clockwork mouse; a set of enamel dinosaur pins; 30 whale-shaped bookmarks…

…And when I say ‘on more than one occasion,’ what I really mean is ‘regularly enough that I know to check my orders first thing in the morning in case I need to cancel anything.’

If you’ve ever used Aliexpress then you know that this is not the end of the world. Most items cost under $3, and truthfully the worst that can happen is that they unexpectedly arrive two months later, like badly-packaged surprise presents to myself. They arrive wrapped in what look like black bin bags that have been hurriedly repurposed, with curiously vague, Google-translated descriptions on the custom notes such as “needle beauty” (tweezers), “claws” (hair clips), and “stationery cat” (cat stickers).

The postman who delivers these questionable acquisitions to my door is an energetic man who bounds in and out of each building with superfluous energy, cheerfully swinging his crossbody satchel like a young, fit, baby-faced Santa Claus. Instead of ringing my doorbell, he often just hollers, “HELLOOOOO!” and waits for me to appear before whipping out some small lumpy package and handing it to me. It’s a loud and interesting interaction that often breaks up my day.

So, here I must rewind and explain that about two months ago I ordered a space hopper. That part is a long story so to shorten it I will just say two things:

  • This was only a half-asleep purchase; I did in fact sort of kind of maybe mean to buy a space hopper. I probably wouldn’t have bought it while wide awake but the fact remains that I made no move to cancel this order.
  • It was not for actual space hopping, it was for a craft project*.

By the time it arrived I had forgotten I had ever ordered it.

Last week, the postman bellowed his usual greeting and I popped my head out the door only to see him pull an irregularly shaped, flat, floppy package from his satchel. He handed it to me and, in an attempt to remember what it might possibly be, I flipped it over and read the description aloud:

“Toy balls.”

Except that even as I started reading it, my eyes had already jumped ahead to the next word. I could tell it was going to sound wrong. I suddenly remembered the space hopper, but I had already started reading and didn’t feel like I could really stop mid-word. My reluctance to finish the phrase slowed my speech down considerably, and so it wound up sounding more like:

“Toyyy….. baaaaaaallllllls……”

Followed by an awkward silence that stretched between us the way the Sahara desert stretches between the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

I looked up and locked eyes with the postman over this limp black bin bag. He slowly nodded in amused sympathy.

“We were wondering down at the post office what that could possibly be, alright!” He said, eventually, when the awkward moment had stretched for so long that time had lost all meaning and we had simply become two blushing inanimate objects in an uncomfortable still life.

My mind flashed through a series of possibilities as to how this might play out. Should I open the package so he could see it wasn’t anything questionable? I could, but then I would have to unfold and reveal a lurid pink space hopper. And then I would have to explain the space hopper, which honestly almost makes me sound more insane than if I’d ordered something vague but kinky all the way from China. Or worse, he might think the space hopper itself was for vague but kinky purposes…

At this point we had been staring at each other for so long I was starting to feel like we had unwittingly entered into a relationship, so I just squeaked, “Thanks!” and dashed back inside with my “toy balls”.

I am now avoiding the postman, and I am also avoiding Aliexpress at night because clearly I cannot be trusted with late-night purchases or people.

Such is life.

Happy Friday, guys.

*The space hopper was too small for my craft project, and so was gifted to a small child who can actually use it for hopping.

 

There Goes The Neighbourhood…

Traveling in London (1)

I am not always comfortable around people.

I enjoy being with people, don’t get me wrong. I like spending time with people. People are great! I have a lovely time whether I’m out with friends or at home chatting over tea.

It drains me though, and it drains me fast. Fast like my Samsung S7 battery that runs down after a few hours of intense usage, not like ye olde Nokia 3210 battery that lasted five days if you played Snake on it constantly, and twenty-three days if you barely touched it at all. When I spend time with people, afterwards I need to retreat, relax, and recharge, and usually my recharging station is my home, where I work or study at the dining table next to the window.

This is how I first became aware of my neighbours.

My window overlooks their balcony, and every day out of the corner of my eye I would see a man and his dog – who we will call Frank for the purposes of this post – coming and going on their walks together.

I can’t fully explain my obsession with Frank. It started out as a pretty benign distraction from my day; I would see Frank (an English Bulldog) and Frankman (the name I gave his owner) exit the building, and then I would watch, amused, as Frank lay stubbornly down on the grass and refused to go anywhere.

Frankman would sigh, exasperated, and half-heartedly tug on the lead.

Frank would dig his barrel chest into the grass.

Frankman would grumble and pull with all his might.

Frank would duck his head and hunch his stocky shoulders, as immovable as a rock formation.

Frankman’s pleas would go from an exasperated, “Come on, Frank” to an increasingly desperate “FRANK! FRANK! COME ON! FRANK!”

Frank would stare implacably at his owner.

Frankman would yank on the lead in a sort of daily exercise in futility.

Frank would lie on the grass stoically refusing to go anywhere before he was ready. Then, as if he hadn’t just been making a scene for the past five minutes, he would calmly get up and trot off with a flustered Frankman in tow.

This would happen before almost every single walk. I would watch these scenes, and over time I grew fond of both Frank and Frankman. There was something really endearing about Frank, who made it clear that if he went anywhere at all it was only because he was allowing it, and there was also something endearing about Frankman, because he always looked so buttoned-up and serious but would lose all and any air of authority around Frank.

Frankman also has a wife (Frankwoman) and together the three of them were the Frankfamily. They brightened up my days considerably with their Frank-related antics. Even on his own, Frank would bring a smile to your face. Like a creep I would sometimes take photos of Frank’s more memorable moments. I have, for example, a video of Frank falling off a chair and quickly getting back up to look around and check if anybody witnessed it. He was a character.

And then one day, Frank was gone.

One week he was being his usual obstinate self, and the next there was no Frank, no walk, no tug-of-war happening in the garden. I barely saw Frankman or Frankwoman. Where was Frank? Considering I had never spoken to Frankfamily, there was nothing I could do but wonder. I rationalised it to myself coming up with a variety of reasons he wouldn’t be at home, but in three years Frank had never to my knowledge been apart from the Frankparents. If they were at home, so was Frank. The whole thing was worrying.

The following weekend, I watched as Frankman arrived home with a tiny bulldog puppy in his arms.

Frank was gone.

Since I never spoke to Frankman and Frankman never spoke to me, the mystery was unresolved until one day when my father dropped over for a visit. As I walked in with him, we met Frankman and the new addition walking out. Unaware of the delicate neighbourhood ecosystem in which nobody directly addressed anybody else, and instead only ever communicated through comments directed at each others’ pets, my father asked Frankman what had happened to “the big dog”. Frankman looked down at the ground and explained that Frank had had a heart attack while they were out for a walk. A congenital heart defect, undetectable until it was too late. He said it casually, scuffing the toe of his shoe into the grass as he spoke, but his voice was gruff with emotion.

The new addition was called (let’s just say) Ariadne.

Ariadne was adorable, but she wasn’t Frank. She was too small, too cute. She bounded out for her walks with great enthusiasm. She didn’t know Frank’s trick of standing up on the chair and placing both paws on the balcony railing to survey his domain. She didn’t bark as often. Her best moments came when she attacked Frankman’s shoes and when she waddled off with a leaf or a stick she’d found, proud as punch.

We switched Frankwoman’s name to Ariadnewoman, but Frankman remained Frankman.

You know, in memory of Frank.

A year on, Ariadne is almost Frank-size. Oscar and Maya are fascinated by the way her stocky little body romps around the garden. She’s a fan favourite. She still doesn’t know the trick of standing up on the chair to look out over the garden, but she has been starting to show sure signs of stubbornness. The other day I had to retreat to the back of the apartment laughing because she wriggled under a bush, sat down, and no amount of begging, shouting, pleading, threats, offers of treats or cajoling would coax her out. Ariadnewoman eventually sat, defeated, on a bench to wait out this episode of hard-headedness.

And now, Frankfamily are moving away.

Naturally, I didn’t get this information from the source – I still have never had an actual conversation with the couple – but the information is legitimate. They are leaving. When I first heard this, I was more upset than anybody should be about strangers moving house.

“They should have warned us,” I muttered darkly to Scrubs.

“Don’t be weird.” He said.

“Do you think we could start a petition for them to change their minds?”

“Definitely not.”

“We should be able to lodge an objection. Do they not know Ariadne is essential to neighbourhood morale?*”

Scrubs sighed and eyed me with considerable alarm. “Please hide your obsession with their dog for just a little while longer.”

Of course, I couldn’t do that. How could I let Frankfam move without letting them know they would be missed? I decided to buy a card. I went into town and bought a card that said, “Sorry You’re Leaving” on the front and, “Wishing you all the best” on the inside. Perfect, I thought… But then the overthinking started.

 Ariadne can’t read, I reasoned. A card won’t make her happy. I bought a dog toy – a white, fluffy alpaca – and a gift bag to put it in. I nodded, satisfied with myself.

Maybe I should add a dog treat, I thought.

I grabbed a pack of chicken twists from the shelf.

Maybe two, just to be sure she’ll like one of them.

I grabbed a Jumbone.

I turned towards the till, but it was too late.

I had lost the run of myself.

I can’t just address the whole thing to Ariadne… My brow furrowed. What about the humans? What about Frankman and Ariadnewoman? Is it rude to exclude them?

A couple of lollipops, a bag of fizzy sweets, a couple of chewy bars and a box of maltesers got swept into the basket.

When I got home, I wrote the card to Ariadne and her humans. I thanked Ariadne for brightening up the block, told them we (the humans and the cats) would miss seeing them around and good luck with the move. I threw everything into the gift bag, took the maltesers back out because they seemed like overkill, and left it on their balcony.

Then I went home, sat down, and realised that:

  1. Having never had a conversation with them ever in my life, it might not have been the most reasonable thing to go so overboard with the goodbye present.
  2. They probably wonder a) who I am and b) how on earth I even know they are moving.
  3. I now have no choice but to avoid them until they leave because I am so embarrassed.

When I told Scrubs he groaned and asked why – WHY – I would have done such a thing without consulting with him first. He is naturally mortified by association, but at least he can claim ignorance since I am obviously the nutter who wrote the card.

So.

I am still sad that they’re leaving our neighbourhood. They just seem so lovely and I like to think in another life they would have stayed another four years and eventually we might have worked up to greeting each other with actual words and eye contact. Who knows. Dream big!

On the other hand, at least once they leave I can stop feeling myself turn red with embarrassment every time I see them, now that they know without a shadow of a doubt that I am their number one fan.

Swings and roundabouts.

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Maya and Oscar watching Ariadne; people’s heads have been cropped out to protect the innocent (Frankman)

*Not complete hyperbole; for about a year somebody in our apartment block named their wifi ‘CAN WE PLAY WITH ARIADNE PLS”