When I lived in Toronto, I met one of my neighbours only three times. Once we said hello from my balcony to his; once I gave him a tin of tomatoes (and received a plateful of supper in return); and the third time I helped him break into his apartment.
It was a dark and stormy night, and I had been contemplating the beginnings of stories. It was much in my mind that most literary adventures start with people choosing to foolish and potentially dangerous things — helping strangers, saying ‘yes’ when they’ve always said ‘no’ before, volunteering to be a spy or a burglar. So when, at 11:00 that night, I heard a knock on the door I answered it, and was very much in the mood, after an astonished pause, to say ‘yes’ to helping my neighbour get to his balcony from mine by an unorthodox route.
The balconies being about fifty feet above the ground, and the weather full of heavy rain and wind, and his balcony having a large hibiscus shrub blocking the side facing me, I did tell him not to be so silly as to try to jump the six feet or so between them. Instead I waited while he disappeared to fetch what turned out to be an extremely long plank from the alley behind our apartment building. We manoeuvred the plank through my apartment — it was so long one end was still in the hallway while the other was through the balcony door (though, mind you, my apartment was very small, just one room) — and eventually we positioned it over my railing, wedged into the bottom of his beneath the hibiscus (and sticking far out on the upper end).
Displaying far less nervousness than I felt (but then, he looked like the sort of person who could, and did, such things as a matter of course), my neighbour crossed — I might almost say scampered — into his balcony, and back through the hallway into mine. This time I helped him manhandle the plank down the three and a half flights of stairs to return it to the alley. My presence was fortunate, as he’d neglected to bring his keys (again!) to get back into the building. I felt cursed with being practical.
I happened to be moving shortly after this small adventure, and never really saw my neighbour to talk to again. I’ve often thought about the abortive invitation in that evening, though. It wasn’t an invitation to anything in particular so much as to the possibility of panache, even of derring-do, in life. I am a bit shy of such invitations, rather more than I’d like to be; but ever so slowly I am learning to heed them. One never knows when the pirates may appear; nor whose side they’ll be on.