Recently my mum (who lives at No 3) received a mysterious note in an elegant envelope from No 9, the lesser-known neighbours three doors down. A party invitation! Silver, cursive handwriting slid across thick black paper (“delighted”, “join us”) signed with no names, just “No 9” and an x. This had never happened before.

“It’s so you don’t dob them in to the police,” I ventured. “Everyone knows if you ask your neighbours to a party, they are less likely to grass you up. They must be planning a noisy one.”

“Hmmm.” Mum was unconvinced. “I’m sure I saw a sold sign. Maybe they’re the new people moving in.”

“Or the current people moving out and having a parting rave.”

“They’re retired.”

“That’s ageist. Anyway,” I said, clocking the gothic feel of the black paper, “they could just be in a cult.”

I’ve lived in the city so long that an underground cult living three doors down seems just as possible as a friendly family (though I figure Mum’s safe from brainwashing, given the invitation’s focus on the prosaic subject of parking). But I wouldn’t know either way because we’ve barely spoken to our neighbours. It’s not intentional. Yes, I am a believer that wanting to be left alone (for home to be a place where you don’t have to perform for others) is a legitimate position. But it isn’t mine.

You learn behaviours unconsciously, co-opting them without thought. Where I live, we shuffle past each other in silence. And I wonder if perhaps I don’t speak to them because they don’t to me, and vice versa. There is only one way to find out. When the weather warms, the BBQs burn and we can sit outside of the cramped flat, maybe I’ll invite the neighbours over. They won’t come. But someone has to break the ice.

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