Her Name Is Karen SmithAugust 2, 2010
As many of you know, I live at Pie Palace, which is one of four flats in a very small block within a row of houses and flats created in a mock Georgian style. It’s complete with a pretty circus where the children hang out in the day and the skank hang out at night. The people on the ground floor have their own entrance, but within my block we have Riz and Afiz Palace, Shanaj Palace and Karen Palace. Karen lives below me – well she did live below me before she was taken out in a body bag last night. Shocked? You should be, because I certainly was. So what happened? We don’t yet know, but I can take you through the events that threw my Sunday evening totally off its axis.
I was at home watching TV when the doorbell rang. It was Riz asking if I knew what the police were here for and why they were at Karen’s home. I heard nothing below me. I didn’t even know they were there. The only thing I could think of was that perhaps she was receiving bad news. We went back to our respective homes and thought no more of it. An hour later, as I was writing something for this blog, the doorbell went again. It was Riz. She mouthed something I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t the bird just say it? I thought. I stepped out and glanced to my left through the railings and down the stairs just as the body was being taken out. My eyes became saucers and I clapped my hand to my mouth. I couldn’t believe what I just saw. What Riz was trying to tell me was that Karen had died, but I had just copped an eyeful, which left me in no doubt. The rest of her family then came out. We went down just as the police were leaving her flat. They told us one of the neighbours on the ground floor called, because they hadn’t seen her for a couple of days and noticed her balcony door was open. Normally, in a situation like this, the police would bust the front door to get in, but because the back was open, they went through to the garden of the ground floor flat and climbed up. They then found her. Apparently there’s nothing that leads them to think it’s anything other than natural causes, but they won’t know the true cause until the post mortem. She was 38. We gave them as much information as we could about her, which was very little as she kept herself to herself. After a while we all went back into our homes, but I was deeply unsettled by the fact that she was probably dead below me for a few days and I didn’t know. Could I have been a better neighbour? Could I have prevented it? Who knows? Needless to say I didn’t finish my blog post and I sent a text message to as many friends and family as I could. I needed to make some kind of connection.
I slept surprisingly well when I really didn’t think I would. However, I felt I was walking on her grave as I moved around this morning, doing my usual routine before I went to work and I still feel unnerved as I write this. Speaking to Riz and Afiz tonight they said they couldn’t stop thinking about her and couldn’t sleep. They were thinking about her lonely death, as was I. We don’t know if she has family and in the seven years I’ve been living here and the three years Riz and her family have lived here, we’ve never known anyone to visit her home. All of this makes me feel sad, but I don’t think she was a sad person. She was friendly enough, kind and totally uncomplicated, but not very sociable. I think she was a little afraid of people. I remember when I first moved in. I’d hear this spontaneous, almost manic laughter coming through her door, as I walked up and down the stairs. Sometimes I’d hear it through my floor. It was the kind laughter that left you wondering if she had mental health issues. One day I decided to knock on her door to make sure she was OK. She was fine and maybe a little odd, but from that day on, I looked forward to her laughing. If I didn’t hear her laugh, I’d miss it. Well she’s laughing no more. There are so many people around us that act as anchors. Some you don’t realise until they’ve gone. In due course, someone new will move in and it’ll be an adjustment for everyone in the block. I hope they’ll be a good fit. In the meantime, I will mourn the anchor that has just left me. I feel a little adrift.
Her name is Karen Smith and she was my neighbour.