As Sandra parked her car next to her father’s house, she noticed that another row of the dirty white eternit panels had been kicked in—probably by some teenage kids on their way back from school when most adults were at work and nobody was looking. Once upon a time, she had participated in this forbidden sport, too, which got you in a lot of trouble if you had the misfortune of being seen or—God forbid—being caught. Now her father’s house was the only one left with this cheap and irresistibly fragil wall covering. Sandra’s family had always lived in the most bedraggled house on the street—even when money hadn’t been an issue. As long as she could remember the house had been a work in progress. It always had been the talk of the street, and never in a good way. Not having any money didn’t improve on this fact.
She still remembered a time when the house hadn’t looked as bad, at least not in comparison. Back then, most people on her street had lived in somewhat rundown houses. Money had been tight for a lot of families. Now everybody else’s home was renovated. Even the street was all shiny and new with its brand new layer of tar.
As she got out of the car, Sandra noticed a movement on the opposite side of the street. When she looked, she saw an old lady watching her through a window whose lace curtain was pulled back a little. This made Sandra uncomfortable. Not only because the street was rather narrow and the window at eye level—but also because she felt like something was expected of her. The old lady’s face wasn’t familiar to Sandra but she smiled at the old lady anyway, greeting her as if she was an old acquaintance—just in case she was somebody Sandra ought to recognize. The old lady smiled back but with a disapproving frown. Sandra wasn’t quite sure if the frown was directed at her or the eyesore that was her father’s house. She decided it to be the latter, took her overnighter out of the car and put it on the sidewalk.
In front of her father’s house a single car was parked—not a Mercedes anymore, not for a long time—on which a slim tree cast its skeleton of a shadow. Sandra wondered if she would ever live to see the day that her father would admit that he was happy for the shade it provided. He had complained a lot when the village council first decided to not only pave the street but make space for trees instead of cars. During the town hall meeting, he had been the only person voting against the proposal to beautify his own street. He considered himself a practical man who wouldn’t be bothered with appearances and was certainly not paying for them—not if that meant taking parking space away from people. In the end, it couldn’t be helped. Her father naturally was outvoted and had to pay his share for the building measure.
Begrudgingly he parked his second car in his courtyard which was a pain in the ass because one had to step out of the car, open the big wooden gate set in iron, secure its wings with two heavy stones to keep them from shutting again, back into the narrow cobbled courtyard without losing any side mirrors, then close the gate again because obviously it couldn’t be left open or what would the neighbors see? Also, he tended to take it very badly if somebody else dared to park on the spot in front of his house which he considered to now own, even though he didn’t and anyone was allowed to park there.
Weirdly enough, everybody on the street, nay in the whole village followed this unwritten rule. Locals didn’t need to see a license plate to identify an outsider’s car. Everybody on the street knew who owned which car and where it was supposed to be parked. Deviations from this rule were not well received, and neither were outsiders.
This weird conception of what was private and what was common, this tendency of appropriation that was considered “village culture” was one of the things she had especially hated about village life—although it hadn’t made the list of her top 10 reasons why she had happily left and after each visit was always relieved to see the city limit sign in the back mirror of her car again. The main reason she abandoned the place was that she had never really belonged there. True, she had been born and raised there. True, she new every inch of it, all that lay on the surface. However, she had never felt like a part of it. She never understood the essence of the place, what made the people tick. To her, the village was a foreign place that confined people and ideas and was inhabited by prying strangers with alien views on life and the world.