I didn’t realise I had become so complacent.
I also didn’t realise how lucky I am.
I came home from an appointment today, pottered past the letter box, unlocked the front door, and dropped my handbag on the bookshelf.
It was then I noticed that my laptop and iPad were neatly placed in a large bag sitting on the high chair.
I was confused. I had left my computer and iPad on the dining table. My corner, where I work. Plugged in.
It was then I noticed the spray of wood shards near the laundry door.
And then I noticed that the laundry door - a three pin, supposedly ‘criminal safe’ metal security door - was ajar.
Someone had broken into the house. The question became: were they still in the house? I stood there for a minute thinking: do I grab my bag and the phone and go outside and call the police, or do I go and walk through the rest of the house.
I called out in my best I’m-not-afraid-voice ‘if there is anyone there, you need to leave now.’ I walked into the first bedroom: no one. The door of the spare room was ajar, I kicked it open. No one. I did the same for the two front rooms, thinking in that none too rational way when adrenaline is coursing through your body, that if they were hiding behind the door I would squash them.
Good thinking Shan.
I also reasoned that since the baby gate at the bottom of the stairs was still closed, they hadn’t gone upstairs because when was the last time I (and here comes some stereotypes) a man, let alone the type to break into a house with a brick and screwdriver, opened and closed a baby gate. He would have just ripped it out of the wall, right?
So after I had reassured myself there was no one in house (and I don’t even know what I would have done if there had been someone there) I called the police.
While I was on the phone giving my details, someone knocked on the front door. A lady I had never seen, older but not old, with a sun hat and long white hair said: ‘are you on the phone to the police?’
She was a neighbour from across the road, and had happened to be walking past when the man jumped over my back fence and bolted down the road towards the train station.
She had gone inside her house and written a detailed description of the man, had a drink of water, grabbed the magnet with the phone number of the police and come to my house. If I had not been home, she said she was going to call the police herself and make a statement. It was a hot day, she had prepared for a long wait.
For a family she had never met.
As she gave me the description and the policeperson on the other end of the phone listened and typed it all down, it occurred to me that the reason he had left in such a hurry – and without my computer and iPad – was because I had come home. He had seen or heard my car pull in the drive and he had bolted. He was probably in my daughter’s bedroom (the only thing he took was one of her money boxes), and had seen the car pull in through the window.
I had come home at exactly the right moment.
He saw me and was able to leave. I didn’t walk in on him. I came home early enough so that he hadn’t enough time to finishing grabbing everything.
How lucky am I?
Six policemen and one forensics guy then descended on the house. Two of the cops wanted to see the kids’ rooms. We stood in the door looking at the mess of clothes, dolls, books and other assorted crap spread across the floor and bed.
‘Uhhh, was this… do you think someone has been in here?’ one of them politely asked.
‘Hard to tell,’ I said. ‘But the kids made this mess, not the burglar.’
They seemed to take forever looking around, while my lovely neighbour sat patiently at my kitchen table waiting. Eventually she was able to say her piece and go home to rest. As she left, and I was thanking her, I asked her if there was anything I could ever do in return.
‘Just be a good neighbour,’ she said.
A good neighbour. She is the ultimate neighbour.
Soon it was just the forensics guy dusting for prints. He called me outside.
‘I need to show you something,’ he said. We walked around to my kitchen window, where my fairy garden is.
‘Why do you have a hammer sitting near the window?’, he asked.
‘Because the builder left it behind and I thought he might come back for it,’ I replied.
‘And when was that?’ We both looked at the rusted hammer.
‘About a year ago,’ I admitted.
‘And why do you have all these bricks stacked here?’
‘The builder was meant to take them away,’ I muttered.
‘The thing is, first these guys use them to get into your house, and then they used them as weapons,’ he said pointedly.
So I learned a few things today. One is not to be complacent.
Another is to disconnect the external hard drive from the computer and put it somewhere else, otherwise it kind of defeats the purpose of saving all your precious things.
Don’t leave weapons outside the house.
And I learned what being a good neighbour really means.
Thank you Kathy.