It’s dark. Curtains are drawn. If the outdoor light goes on when we lob the footballs over the fence the people inside won’t notice. (I retract that ‘we’. The man of this house will lob them over. Throwing balls was never my forte, though I did make the rounders* team at school. Desperate, I guess they were.)
One by one, eleven balls soar over the wall and thud as they land on the Astro Turf. Always green, always clean, never growing, that’s the ‘lawn’ in the ‘garden’ backing onto ours. Three boys live there. Boys who like football. Boys who have footballs. Boys who are watching TV, I hope, and don’t hear the noise.
But why did we have eleven footballs? Why haven’t we thrown them back? They’ve been here for months, why haven’t the boys been round to claim them?
The screen goes wiggly, we step back in time …
In our small, verdant garden, the walls are lush with climbers – with ivy and wisteria, with roses and honeysuckle. We value our privacy, but we’re not obsessive. Trees do a moderate job of screening us from our neighbours. We can’t see them when they’re in their garden, though we hear the lads on a sunny summer’s day. Boys will be boys. Boysterous – ha ha!
But back to our green oasis. There’s a gap in the planting, a spot that doesn’t see much sun. Seeking inspiration we visit a nursery for ‘specimen plants’ which promise instant (if expensive) gardening gratification. We stroll through the rustling aisles where a showy shrub stands out.
Not what we had in mind.
Dark shiny leaves. A profusion of perfect – almost too perfect – blooms. Just this side of tarty, a deep, royal crimson, not a bright, blowzy scarlet. The price? Sharp intake of breath.
Camellia flutters her flowers. She’s sold.
We plant her feet in special soil. She blossoms in the lee of the wall, under the dappling leaves of an elegant, if immigrant eucalyptus. My, but she’s pretty.
But – just a minute. What’s this?
I’m standing in the window. A man’s wandering round in the garden behind ours. How come I can see him?
And look – the ivy – it’s flopped off the wall. No, hang on, everything’s flopped off the wall. The wooden panels that everything was attached to – they’re gone!
Tangles of greenery tumble over Camellia. She’s wounded. Limbs broken, shape distorted, she’ll never be the same again.
We wait, dumbfounded. Surely they’ll come and tell us what they’re doing?
Two days later new panels replace the old, panels so short I can still see Mr Destructor strutting. And I can see him setting up goalposts against our wall. Their wall.
Three balls fly over. We throw them back. More rain on us. And more.
We put up our own, higher fence. Do our best to pin the greenery back in place. Camellia, no longer the pretty girl she was, hides her blooms and drops her leaves in shame.
We cease to return the balls.
Nearly three years. Not one apology. Not one ‘please may we have our ball back’. Nothing.
So here we are, on Christmas Eve, throwing back eleven. A minor Christmas truce.
I anticipate a note of thanks, a token something thrown over the fence, a card pushed through the letterbox.
At Mass on Sunday (yes, that’s where this was going) – a thought occurred to me. Well, many did, but here’s just one. Catholics grow up with guilt. I know, I know – you may laugh, people do. They also grow up with words like contrition and repentance, penance – and absolution.
We spend our lives with ‘sorry’, but also ‘I forgive you’.
But here’s the thing. If you never feel guilty, how can you say sorry and mean it? And if you never say sorry, isn’t it hard to be forgiven?
So, my thought for the day:
- admit it when you’re guilty, practice saying sorry, enjoy being forgiven.
*Dear Americans, Footballs here are the round kind used in what we call football and you call soccer; Rounders is a game or sport like baseball, but without the fuss and helmets – and much enjoyed by girls. (Incidentally, the ‘man of the house’ is American and has one of your ‘footballs’ which broke my finger one memorable day as I made to catch it. )