When I first moved away from home, I had never thought my new
would have so much impact on my life. I had to move to the city when I
finished school. A future as a farmer was not something that ever appealed
to me and besides, my older brother was the one who was going to take over
the farm when dad retired. I had good grades and wanted to become an
I was lucky to get a very small, and cheap, apartment: a bedroom, a living
room that normally would have been categorised as a small chamber, a kitchen
hardly larger than a closet, and a bathroom the size of a phone booth.
Everything got wet when I showered. It was extremely crammed, especially as
I came from a big farm with plenty of space, but it was also great, because
it was my own place. I moved in on a Saturday. Dad had an old VW and I
didn't have more than it could take in one load. My brother was there, too,
Even though I didn't have much, what I had was heavy and was going up to the
third floor where my flat was. There were three flats on each floor: one
other the same size opposite mine, and one larger flat in the middle. It
didn't take long to find out who lived in the flat opposite to mine. On my
way up the stairs at one end of my sofa, an old lady appeared in the
"My god, you are pulling a heavy load. I can't offer you a beer, but how
about a cup of coffee when you've got that one up?" she said.
"Thanks. That sounds nice," I politely replied.
"Are you the young man moving in?" she asked.
"Yes," I gasped, pulling the sofa up and to the side to get it angled in
through the door.
"I'm your new neighbour, Mrs Larsen."
Then she realised that I was too heavily loaded to exchange courtesies.
"Oh, silly me! I'll go make the coffee, and you just come in when you're
She shuffled into her flat, and my brother and I finally managed to get the
sofa in through the door.
"Great!" my brother grinned, while trying to catch his breath. "You already
got a girlfriend."
"Come on! She's just being polite," I protested.
"Little brother, little brother. You're so easy. I was only teasing you."
Dad came in with a box.
"We've been invited for coffee by Eric's new girlfriend."
"Girlfriend?" dad said, looking very puzzled.
"My neighbour, not my girlfriend. He's just sooo funny."
We had coffee and cookies. It was a bit formal, mainly because my dad did
the best he could to convince everybody that he had very good manners, which
he had but he has always had a kind of hate/respect thing with city people.
My brother and dad had to get back early, so Mrs. Larsen invited me to
dinner as well. I was reluctant to accept, considering the generosity she
had already extended, but practical considerations intervened: I did have
food, but if I was going to cook anything myself, I would have to unpack
both my pots and pans, and the cookbook my mum had given me, before I could
start cooking. Back home, mum always cooked and what I knew about cooking
was what I had learned in the school kitchen, several years back. In short,
I accepted her invitation.
I was a bit nervous when I stood outside her door after a shower and in
clean clothes. My dad had made me promise to put on a tie. I hadn't worn
since granddad's funeral four years ago.
"My God, how stylish. Did I really scare you that much?" Mrs Larsen burst
out, when she opened the door and saw me standing there in my Sunday best.
"No. I mean, my dad, you know. He thought I should put it on," I said and
tugged the tie.
"I think you should take it off and relax. I'm not all that bad. And do come
Mrs Larsen was actually very easy to talk to. I've never been good at small
talk. I never know what to say and if I start talking about something that
interests me, I'm afraid I'll bore people to death within minutes. We had a
simple but very nice dinner. Mrs Larsen wanted to know about my family,
where I came from and why I had moved to the city. I told her I was going to
study to be an accountant.
"My late husband was an accountant."
She said it without any hint of sadness in her voice. I think she saw the
question in my eyes.
"No, he's been dead a long time. 29 years. His heart was weak and he didn't
listen to the warning signs. It took a while to get used to being alone, but
29 years is a long time, and time does heal the wound."
"Didn't you have any kids?"
"We had a son. He would have been 60 this year. He died in a car crash two
years after my husband's death. That was harder to get over," she sighed.
"But I got over that, too. I had to, didn't I? I had good friends that
I didn't feel like asking more about her family, but she apparently sensed
it and changed the subject.
"I moved to this place, because this was where I grew up," she said and
smiled. "It might not be the best neighbourhood, but I feel comfortable
here. And it's close to the city centre and the shops. Mind you, nowadays, I
would have chosen a flat on the ground floor. It's so heavy to carry
everything up here"
"You can just make a shopping list and I'll get it for you," I offered. I
was brought up to help whenever I could.
"No, you'll be much too busy and I don't want to be any trouble for anyone."
"No problem. I'll have to shop anyway."
It was pretty late before I got back, and I'd had a really pleasant evening.
I was too tired to bother making the bed, so I just slept on the mattress
with a blanket.
I spent all Sunday unpacking and didn't get out of the flat at all. Monday I
went shopping. After a bit of polite protesting, Mrs Larsen had given me a
shopping list with the heavy items she couldn't carry herself: six bottles
of red wine, quite expensive, potatoes and things like that. On my way up
again, I met my other neighbours in the centre flat: Mr and Mrs Petersen and
their daughter Sophie. Mr. Petersen - Arnold -- was a man around 40 with
short, grey hair, dressed in a grey business suit. Mrs Petersen - Amy -- was
very thin and she struck me as very fragile, even though I can't say why.
She looked as if she was much younger than her husband, but it was hard to
tell. Her hair was black, probably dyed, considering the way it shined.
Sophie was a skinny little girl, very fair, with hair that was almost white.
She was dressed in a light summer dress, which looked a lot like the ones
that the girls in my class wore ten years ago and her hair was set up in two
plaits. Dress the way she was, she didn't look like she was more than nine.
The Petersens were on their way into the flat and I was loaded with heavy
groceries, so we only just said hello.
When I first moved away from home, I had never thought my new