Over the years, we've been lucky enough to have some wonderful neighbours. The kind who wouldn't mind feeding our cat for us if we went away for a few days. In fact, they used to go above and beyond - we've come home, after four hours on the road, to home-cooked meals in our fridge (when I was pregnant with Miss Pie), and fresh flowers from their garden.
I used to rack my brains trying to think of ways to repay that kindness. These neighbours had no pets, and rarely went away overnight. I always made sure to give them a box of chocolates but it always felt a little lame. I don't think I ever did return those favours adequately, but told myself I would try to help out in future. Maybe not to the same friends or neighbours, but at least pay it forward.
We recently had some friends leave town for a few months, so they could be amongst family for the birth of their first child. While they were gone, they generously lent us their car, as we are currently without wheels of our own - but that's another story.
The other day, J and I found out our friends would be returning on the weekend, so I put into a plan of action to make sure their return home would be a nice one. Their journey would include fourteen hours on a plane, with a newborn bub. I remember that feeling all too well from last year.
I cooked up a huge batch of Southwestern-style chicken soup (with a few tweaks such as fresh coriander and lime), and filled five large single-portion containers, to put in their freezer. I bought a carton of organic milk, fresh bread and a bunch of daffodils, then hopped in the car - which I then left to have cleaned at the car-wash near our friends' place.
As I approached their apartment with a heavy bag of goods, I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy. Happy to be helping out some friends. My self-worth was peaking at a nice level.
Then I opened their door and saw the kitchen.
Someone had beaten me to it. There was a huge pot of pink cyclamens on the counter. Strung high across their kitchen cupboards, was a welcome sign. Pink, home-made bunting, no less. Pink paper butterflies fluttered on each end. Several new boxes of cereal were left on the counter, too.
After placing the daffodils in a vase, the soup in the freezer, and writing a note, I opened their fridge to put away the milk. There was already a gallon of fresh milk inside. I didn't have the heart to look what else had been left for them.
I did a brisk walk around their apartment, just to make sure everything was in place for them. That was when I saw chocolate hearts scattered across their bed.
Bollocks to that.
I left, feeling somewhat deflated by my efforts. Stupid, huh?
It made me realise there is no such thing as true altruism, at least not where my own motives are concerned. I was feeling good about performing a few little welcoming gestures, only to have that bubble burst by another person's efforts at the same thing. Done better than me. When had this become a competition? I've tried reminding myself that over the course of nearly three months, I also collected their mail on a weekly basis and posted it to them (they were expecting some important, time-sensitive documents). That was helpful... but the least I could do seeing as we had use of their car.
Ah well. At least the milk I had bought was organic...