I put on my shoes and opened the door. I walked to the car and placed the parcels to be posted in the passenger seat. As I walked around to the driver’s door, I spotted the usual display. It was only 2 pm but two bins were already parked at the end of my driveway. I always found it rather odd that the bin-collecting agency used the word ‘present’ on its website and text messages to me when there was a change of collection day: “Please present your bins the night before to facilitate smooth collection”. When I ‘presented’ the bins every Thursday night, I would sometimes wonder if I should arrange them in an abstract or geometrical fashion to fulfil the word ‘present ’. Whatever ‘present’ meant, my neighbours had definitely presented theirs early enough. I tried to dismiss the feeling of resentment that bubbled inside me. I understood that because it was a cul-de-sac that they had no choice but to leave the bins outside my house. But I just wished they had asked me, or at least informed me. What angered me even more was sometimes they took ages to remove the bins after they had been emptied. Bin collection was on Fridays but sometimes their bins would still be milling around until Sunday.
As I got into my car, I noticed my neighbour was vacuuming her porch. Everyone was doing a lot of cleaning during the lockdown. Myself included. When I returned from the post office, I noticed that she was still in her porch. She was polishing her front door vigorously. That’s something I haven’t done yet, I noted to myself. I grimaced as I looked at my dusty door. I must get to that soon.
A little later I was stretched out on the sofa, watching a mindless reality show on TV when I heard voices and laughter outside. I peered through the blinds, and there were a few extra cars in the neighbourhood, one even blocking mine. I opened the front door and stepped out into my porch. I leaned out saw that my neighbour’s recently polished and gleaming door was adorned with a gold and silver happy birthday banner. They were having a birthday party for one of their kids and people were actually turn ing up for it!
I came back into the house, angry and outraged. What was wrong with folks? So what if the child did not have a birthday party, just once? I rang the local Garda station. The guards took their time. One squad car turned up almost an hour later. I watched through my window as one officer got out and sauntered up to the house. He stood in the porch, speaking to my neighbours for about 15 minutes. He left. People did not seem to be dispersing. It was almost another 45 minutes before I heard goodbyes being shouted out gaily. I stomped up and down the stairs, yelling at no one in particular, about inconsiderate people who didn’t care about communities.
I was still angry around 9 pm when I stepped out to present my bin. I didn’t yell obscenities when I was out like I had done once when someone’s bin had toppled over in the wind, and I had to run around scooping up the slimy contents. But my movements must have revealed my feelings. I dragged the green bin down my driveway, causing unnecessary clatter. I deliberately crashed it noisily against the edge of the pavement. I kicked the other bins. I slammed my front door twice.
The next evening, I heard the bin lorries circling around the cul-de-sac. I listened for the familiar sounds of the bins being lifted and dropped back to the road. My doorbell rang. I opened the door and one of the bin men was standing there.
‘Today is green bin’, he proclaimed.
‘Yes?’ I was puzzled.
He pointed at the direction of the bin.
‘That’s a green bin ’, I tried to keep calm.
‘But the stuff in it is not recyclable’.
‘What? It’s papers, and cans and cartons…..’.
‘Come and have a look ’.
I followed him out. My green bin’s lid was open. I could already see what was in even before I reached it. It was full to the brim with soiled nappies.
‘That’s not mine. I don’t have any babies. There are only adults in my house. Someone else did it.’ I looked around the houses accusingly but every door was shut, every window obscured.
‘I can’t empty this bin until the nappies are removed’, the bin man said.
I went back into the house, brought a large, black bin bag and started transferring the nappies into it.
‘Sometimes there is a fine ’, the driver shouted
‘It’s not mine ’, I snapped back.
‘We’ll be back after we ’ve cleared the estate,’ the bin man who had come to my door said, in a more reassuring tone.
‘Thank you’, I muttered.
I wished I had worn gloves as some of the nappies were stained yellow and I felt sick handling them. But I was too embarrassed to go back into the house. I shuddered and continued transferring the nappies. I looked around intermittently. Every door was still shut. I imagined shadowy figures hiding behind curtains and blinds, sneaking peeks at me, bodies convulsed in suppressed laughter, celebrating with sips of champagne from glasses held precariously in hands that were trembling in mirth. Beneath the nappies, I could see my recyclable garbage. Once I had removed all nappies, I tied up the black bag and dropped it into my black bin. I went back in and washed my hands vigorously, for more than 20 seconds. I bent over the sink and retched. A few minutes later, I heard the bin lorry trundling down again. They were back to collect the updated presentation of my green bin.
A week later, I was reluctant to present my bins on the Thursday night, as I was afraid vengeance-seeking neighbours would adulterate them again. The bin men usually only turned up Friday evenings so I wheeled the bins out around 4pm. The bin men turned up about an hour later. I was pleased with myself. I had curtailed any chance of further revenge via my bins. Let’s see what they want to try next.
On Monday morning, my phone pinged. It looked like a standard text message from the bin company. Perhaps some changes were being made to bin collection during the lockdown period. I tapped the message icon and opened it: ‘Please present your bins the night before to ensure smooth collection. Thank you.’ I was baffled. How did they know I hadn’t presented the night before?
There was something I had been meaning to do for a while. I grabbed a cloth and the can of Pledge, and stepped out to wipe and polish my door. My door would have a sheen that none of the others did. My revenge would be brilliant and blinding.
I usually teach English as a foreign language but now I have returned to doing what I enjoy most – writing creatively. Radhika’s debut collection of short stories, ‘Why are you here?’, is available here.