When the people carrier pulled in beside me and the passenger window wound down, I expected to be asked for directions.
The lone woman inside leaned over and said: “I’m sorry about my skank of a son.”
I was taken aback; firstly that she wasn’t lost, at least not in the way I expected, but also because that harsh sounding word seemed completely out of place coming from this middle-aged, ordinary looking woman.
Even though I sort of knew, I asked: “Who is your son?”
“He lives in your block,” she said.
She looked tired. Tired and worn down. How many other neighbours had she apologised to in her time?
He had moved in a few months previously and while it was clear his problems hadn’t just sprung up overnight I’m very much a live and let live kind of person – as long as he is not hurting anyone else.
Although, in this case, he seemed to be hurting her. Very much.
“Is he getting any help?” I asked.
“Only from me and I work full time. It’s hard,” on a sigh she looked down at her hand, resting on the seat. Her gold wedding band looked almost too big on her thin finger.
From our flat I had seen her visit him and I knew she often dropped him off on a Sunday afternoon. I imagined she’d fed him a lovely roast dinner, maybe with his siblings or his grandmother sat around the dining table. He always carried a plate covered in foil and what looked like a bag of clean washing when he came home, which would later be hung on an airer in the front window.
There was always a certain smell seeping out from under his front door and I remember thinking that I bet his clean clothes soon reeked, although I imagine he had bigger problems to worry about.
“It must be really difficult.” I said, thinking that was probably the understatement of the year.
She nodded: “I’m sorry if he’s noisy or causes trouble.”
“To be fair, I haven’t heard any noise.” I answered truthfully. Every time I had seen him he’d looked slightly out of it but he’d held the door open for me a couple of times. “Also, it’s not your fault if he does.”
“Well, he’s still my son and even though he’ll be 29 on Friday I still feel responsible for him. You’ll be the same with your little one.” She looked down at baby Freya in her pram on the path with a sad sort of smile. “That’s what being a mother is about.”
We said our goodbyes after that but a few weeks later things kicked off, eventually leading to police raids on his flat – although he was long gone by then.
Who knows where.
He never did return. His washing was left hanging in the window for months until the landlord cleared it all out ready for a new tenant.
After all the drama, one of the neighbours said: “I don’t know why they put people like that near decent families.”
And I thought of his mum.