I moved into a newer house with my parents and siblings when I was 4 in 1970. Our old house was a 4 storey Victorian build, with a permanently flooded cellar and an attic that was to dangerous to go into because of rotten floorboards that crumbled when the front door was slammed shut. We were relocated because the local council wanted to demolish the row of Victorians to build a bypass.
So we moved into the new house, settled in fairly quickly and lived a life that I’ve already mentioned in previous posts. The neighbors were lovely people, but eventually they either died or moved away.
When I was 15, a single man came to live next door because our previous neighbour had passed away. His name was Donald and he looked about 40ish, clean shaven, seemed extremely nervous and smoked like a chimney.
As time passed, we realised he was gay, which was something my father didn’t approve of but it didn’t matter to mum, me or my siblings. Donald was a lovely, very genuine chap. He would often pop around to my house to give mum a few cigarettes when dad had disappeared on one of his many wanderings without leaving her any money to feed us or pay bills.
There was a waist high wall separating out gardens, which I would very often sit on to read one of the old magazines my mother left laying around. I swear, as soon as I sat on the wall, Donald would appear, gliding through his back door, with a packet of cigarettes in one hand and a lighter in the other.
I didn’t mind his company because he was very interesting and engaging. He had lived in New York for several years, working in some sort of financial institution. He had been married, but his wife had left him. He often mentioned a mugging he had been the victim of and had lost his job because the assault he had been the victim of had affected his mentality, rendering him a nervous wreck.
When he had saved enough money he flew back to England to live with his parents. Donald used words I didn’t understand, and I think it was his use of the English language that helped to make him such a fascinating character. However, what I found most fascinating was the way he smoked cigarettes. He would place it very delicacy in the centre of his mouth, suck it so hard that his cheeks would collapse into his jaw and hold that position for what seemed like an eternity. Then he would look to the heavens and exhale a cloud of smoke that would have alarmed every member of the Green Party. When he held the extreme inhaling pose, he resembled an emancipated version of Nosferatu. Donald was the first person I accepted a cigarette off. (I don’t smoke much these days but sometimes I buy a packet when I feel my stress levels rising)
Donald had a boyfriend, who would call to Donald’s house at unusual times of the day and night. We could often hear them arguing through the walls, immediately followed by a door slamming shut. I lost count of how many times I was woken at 4 in the morning by Donald’s boyfriend shouting from the roadside for Donald to let him in, which he never did.
Donald moved away after living next door for about a year. We saw his photograph in the obituary column not long after. We discovered that he had been fighting against AIDS for a number of years and had died because of it. Every now and then I still catch a glimpse of his boyfriend shuffling his feet through the town centre. He’s pretty old now so he doesn’t recognise me. I watch him pass by and briefly remember our old neighbour Donald, sucking on his cigarette as if life depended on it. Wherever he is, I hope he’s still enjoying his cigarettes.