There’s a proverb suggesting that apparently insignificant actions can have disproportionately large consequences: a butterfly flutters its wings and on the other side of the world, a million people die.
Throughout my time in Dovecot Towers letters were stolen from the communal post-room. My landlord seemed extremely sympathetic, but to be honest, I was never sure if he took the problem seriously.
Earlier this year, I tried to withdraw cash but my card was declined. I had no phone credit, no food and no fare to reach my friends and ask for help. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t pay my rent. I emailed my landlord explaining: my post-box robbed, my cheque book stolen, my bank account emptied, then a debit-card was taken despite banning my bank, or anyone from sending post to my home.
This might still look bad on my part, but remember that William’s side of the ‘pay rent – maintain property’ bargain is habitually broken. Previously, he admitted that he wouldn’t want me to leave, acknowledging that I’m a good tenant. Even so, he didn’t bother to get his arse into gear and organise repairs. However much he needed my money, I think he was overwhelmed by the demands and responsibility of managing property.
As forcefully as I could within the boundaries of carefully assertive tact, I said that if he didn’t make a fuss, if he didn’t really cause a commotion and press the management company, nothing will change. The management noted, but ignored his requests. He claimed to know them, but I don’t think they were his friends; for once in his life, I think he felt important. Emphasising that I couldn’t sort this problem out myself, I added that the situation won’t vanish of its own accord and reminded him that even if I do reach the end of my tether and leave, subsequent tenants will be equally irate and then move as well. He agreed, and offered to fit a letterbox on my front door. Remaining sceptical, I thanked him.
Meanwhile on Wall Street, vultures, not butterflies were flapping their wings. Soon, William’s many mortgages were in arrears. Interest rates had risen dramatically and he was clinging to financial life by his over extended fingertips. Along with a vacant flat elsewhere, my missing a payment had pushed him over the edge. The bank has delayed replacing my money since (I suspect) they think I am somehow complicit. Those repairs are not his fault, but most definitely his responsibility.
When William and I met up, he asked what it would take to make me stay. I think he intended to muddle through the recession, but now he knows that Dovecot Towers is thoroughly unsafe, and that I couldn’t stay even if I wanted to. William should have sorted out the post-box situation, the unlikely tipping point which nudged him towards financial catastrophe.
And so, a butterfly fluttered by. A door was broken, another remained unlocked. A post-box was crow-barred open. Life became difficult for me, while an admittedly ineffectual, but otherwise decent man was devastated. Nothing is ever simple.
(NB: This morning, there was a sign, marked urgent, on the post-room door, from our new caretaker: ‘Persons have gained access and levered open the post-boxes, stealing the mail. I have informed the police.’ Then someone delicately explained that it’s been like that for over a year. Bless him for caring, though.)