Do you know who your neighbors are? Probably you don’t. Who cares who they are? Modern urban life liberates us from the neighborhood. Our social and professional ties span the city, span the globe. Next door is another planet.
Until something weird happens. Example: a suicide, broadcast live online. Indifference only goes so far. You have to care about that, if the suicide in question is a neighbor. Even if you didn’t know him. Even if you’d never seen him.
Spa! (Nov 1) titles its macabre little anthology of neighbor stories “Psycho Neighbors,” but the characters are not really psychotic – just troubled, or criminal, or, it may be, misunderstood.
“Mr H” was 28 when he hanged himself in September. He lived in a dreary Tokyo suburb, partly residential, partly industrial, and his death would have passed unnoticed among the neighbors if not for a peculiar circumstance – he died on camera. Unfortunately (or maybe not) he didn’t set things up very skillfully. The lighting was no good, and not much could be seen. But when his mother came home an hour or so later and found H’s body dangling from the ceiling, she let out a shriek that penetrated to every corner of the live site to which the action was being streamed.
The episode soon became public knowledge in the neighborhood. “I didn’t know the guy, but... well, it’s not a good feeling,” a neighbor tells Spa!. A local real estate agent expresses fears of property values going down. He notes a strange fact: A suicide will depress property values in the vicinity if the house in which it occurs is subsequently vacated. Not, however, if the family continues to occupy it.
A middle-aged housewife, comfortably established in an upscale Tokyo condominium, was astonished one day to find the police knocking on her door. Did she know anything about the people next door? “Anything at all, no matter how unimportant it seems.”
Well, she said, she didn’t exactly know anything. There’d been the customary new-neighbor greetings. They seemed a nice enough young couple, evidently well off. After that, the most striking thing about them was that she never saw them. She heard them, though. They seemed to sleep days and be up all night. Whatever they did – including, at times, what sounded like home carpentry – disturbed her and her husband’s sleep. Strange vehicles came and went. Once she rang their bell to complain. She knew, from sounds and lights, that someone was home, but no one came to the door, and she gave up.
That’s what she told the police, and what they told her in return made her glad she hadn’t had a chance to vent her annoyance. The neighbors were wanted alleged international drug smugglers, apparently using their condo as a base of operations.
“Fumiko” is a company employee in her 20s, living in the Tokai area. One day her doorbell rang and a familiar friendly voice hailed her through the door: “Hello!” It was the delivery man who filled her water dispenser. It was strange, though – she hadn’t ordered a refill. She opened the door and there he was – not in his delivery uniform, however, and not on business. He’d just moved in next door, he said, and was paying the customary courtesy call.
Fumiko’s first thought was, “Stalker!” Her second was, “Surely not!” But she kept running into him. When she left for work, when she came back, when she took the garbage out – he was always there, always smiling, always saying hello. When the new delivery man came with her next order, she asked about his predecessor. “Oh, he left,” said the new man. “Went back to his home town.”
His home town? Next door is not his home town!
She decided to move. The news is full of reports of stalkers, some of them homicidal. Better safe than sorry. When he saw her dealing with a moving company, he asked her where she was going. Needless to say, she didn’t tell him.© Japan Today