Everybody was afraid of her. Just the sight of her on the balcony, shaking her fist at kids who dared play soccer on her lawn – technically, the lawn of the entire apartment building, but who’s to argue with Mrs Hellgren – and making sure no garbage was ever left sticking out of the garbage cans.
In short: she ruled the house. (It seems fitting now, 30 years later, that her name was Hell-gren).
Mrs Hellgren also happened to have the master key of the building so that whenever I forgot my keys at home, my only rescue was to go talk to her.
And what did she do? She’d give me candy. She’d tousle my hair. She’d take my hat and, frankly, totally mess up my style because “you have such beautiful eyes and I can’t see them”. She was nice.
“What can I do for you?”
“I forgot the keys at home.”
And then we’d walk from her place to ours, through the corridors passing the sauna, the basement, the bike storage, and up to our door. She’d open up the door, I’d mutter my thanks and run in.
This happened at least once a month. I always forgot my keys. Until I moved out of the house and there was no Mrs Hellgren to help me out. I had a good 20-year streak going, until yesterday when I took the kids to school, while my precious J locked up behind me.
An hour later, back at the home office, I realized the keys were inside. Now what? I called J. She told me to go to our upstairs’ neighbours because they have a spare key.
Standing behind their door, I rang the door bell carefully, politely, I took off my hat, I coughed a couple of times, and I smiled, like I never did for Mrs Hellgren.
And inside, the nine-year-old was just as nervous as always.