Neighbours, we all need good ones; someone to wave a cheery hello, to sign for your Amazon parcel or if you’re my neighbours in Kingston, to throw a rocket propelled shoe at as they fix their pile of crap car to a Kylie mix tape at 2am. Our neighbours are rather unique in that they are squatters, camped out in the sprawling mansion house next door.
Hello comrades, I’d shout to them each morning over the sound of one of the other squatter’s decrepit mini-van backfiring. Our guards would quickly take me to one side and tell me to not make eye contact as the squatters are from the ghetto and not used to ‘society people’. It’s fine, I’d reply neither am I as I leaned over and shook Dwaine and Latoya’s fingers through the chainlink fence. On reflection, something about Dwaine wasn’t quite right. The way he would wear his wife-beater tied up to reveal his bulging stomach on which rested a gold plated dollar chain and jeans slung so low, he revealed more crack than Harlem. It did make me think he needed fashion guidance from the trinity of Gok Wan and Trinnie and Susannah.
Once Dwaine realised I was unable to further his or his friends visa application, he seemed less interested in making pleasantries. He became distant and seemed to relish chucking discarded chicken wings into our garden when he thought no one was looking. He wasn’t to know the CCTV cameras on our property recorded every single thing he did. Like the time he climbed over the razor-wire fence at midnight to borrow all the electric tools from our shed. As he highlighted to the police, it would have been rude to wake us up when he knew we’d gone to bed several hours earlier. I liked that about Dwaine, he wasn’t just a neighbour, he was a neighbour who cared. When I caught him checking my car door handles late one evening, he looked distraught. He’d lost his beloved rasta-cat and thought she might have hidden inside my locked brand new car. Something changed in Dwaine after the disappearance of rasta-cat. Perhaps it was grief, perhaps he was suffering a hopeless denial that one day rasta-cat would return safe into his arms, who can say, but the following week Dwaine and I came to heated blows.
Dwaine had crossed a line and beaten his dog. Numerous threats were exchanged between us. I threatened to beat him with my kettle-bell if he didn’t stop attacking his dog and he threatened to call the police if I didn’t stop throwing rocks at him. After that we rarely saw each other. Gone were the hellos and waves, the chicken wings became whole bags of rotten garbage and music would be played from dusk until dawn. From Ramsey Street we had taken a left turn onto Elm street but instead of a striped red woolly jumper, we had a wife-beater vest.
On returning home one evening, the guards ushered my husband and I secretively to one side and began a narrative of gang warfare in the Kingston suburbs. Dwaine and his girlfriend had both been injured in a shoot-out. He had gone into hiding, and she was in hospital. They had carried out an armed robbery and shot someone from a rival gang, revenge was imminent. The whole house of squatters was at risk in the search for Bonnie and Clyde; Jamaican gangs will simply show up and shower the entire house with bullets. We remained on high alert (actually we sort of forgot and went about business as usual).
We were informed a week later that Dwaine had been murdered as he left the hospital after visiting Latoya; assassins were waiting for our hapless neighbour. As tragic as it was, I wanted my hedge-trimmer back. As I went round to the squatter house to collect it, I discovered Dwaine had found the almond wood table and chairs that had been nicked from our garden when we first moved in. Thankfully, he’d kept them safe under a pile sheets in his garage. Good old Dwaine, RIP.