We were told, in hushed tones, that he was crazy. And that was made clear from the day he moved into number 21, next to Mrs Simpson. Although the word ‘crazy’ was never used, of course. He was, more commonly, referred to as ‘eccentric’. But we quickly learned that ‘eccentric’ meant ‘crazy’. It was just a more polite way of putting it. A polite sort of insult, I suppose. For we lived in a very polite street.
He was from Afghanistan and he had a thick accent that no-one understood very well but from which everyone could tell that he was not very intelligent. And probably dangerous.
And my mother told me that, under no circumstances, was I to accept any offers of lollies or cold drinks from him. And perhaps that it might be best if I didn’t talk to him at all. Ever.
But here was the problem. I walked past his house everyday as I came home from school and if he wasn’t tending to his vegetable garden at the time he was sitting on his verandah sipping on hot tea and staring out into the distance. And when he saw me he said hello and before I knew it we were talking daily about football and the weather and how to make lemonade and what sort of roses grew best in dry soils.
And he told me about his former life as a doctor and how, one night, the police came and took his wife away. And then he said, “but don’t you worry about that because this is a better country where everyone is free and they don’t put people in jail for no reason.”
And so I was a bit surprised when they came with their flashing lights and their sirens and their air of self-importance and they pushed him into the back of the van and drove him away. I was walking home from school just at that moment so he had the opportunity to say, “don’t worry …. a misunderstanding … “ or something like that. I never saw him again.
There are laws against eccentricity in this country, of course. I realise that now.