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The struggle to leave the place you call home

'Our presence here is entirely our choice. My choice is to no longer live next to or be associated in any way with people who share an address with me, yet loathe me'

    In an unnamed suburb in Middle England, there is an apartment block, built of fine red brick.

    The flats vary in size, number of occupants, and of course, in decor. Some residents are fairly recent arrivals, while others have been there for most of their lives. But they all have two things in common; firstly they all rent, rather than own, and secondly, they are all, without exception, proud to live there.

    It's their home. The floorboards may often creak, it's sometimes hard to get hot water late at night, and the busses out front don't come nearly as regularly as they should, but it's a good building.

    Or was.

    A new management team has taken over running of the building, and since then, the behaviour of some of the residents has changed markedly for the worse. Of course, in a block this size, there will always be a few odd sorts - but increasingly, these people seem to be running the show.

    Jonathan is uneasy. He's leased a second floor apartment for a number of years, but the behaviour of some of his neighbours increasingly strikes him as strange.

    The Levy family feel similarly. They've lived in the block for a couple of decades; it's where their kids grew up. But there's something in the air - a change in the wind.

    Muriel feels scared, a sensation she never expected to feel in the building. In her eighties, this is where she's lived for as long as she can remember. But recently, at a residents meeting, she was aggressively shouted down while trying to make a point. Now, cruel and abusive messages are being pushed through her letterbox.

    It's the change in building management which appears to have sparked this behaviour. The new team have made some troubling decisions. They've met with people they shouldn't have gone near. They’ve sat silently as their friends have spewed hate against relatives of the Levys, of Muriel’s, of Jonathan’s. They've also said some highly worrying things which suggest they don't consider certain of their tenants - the Levys, Muriel, Jonathan - to be proper residents.

    But whenever these tenants bring this up, they are aggressively shouted down by some of the other tenants, who accuse them of making things up, of following a shadowy hidden agenda, in a desperate attempt to discredit the building’s management.

    They're not alone in being accused of this. The Steins, who live on the sixth floor, also feel it, as do the Farbers, on ground level.

    But the management team and their most vocal, aggressive supporters prefer to listen to Rita, who lives in one of the penthouse apartments. Very deaf, and almost entirely blind, she comes from the same background as Muriel, Jonathan, the Levys – she’s even distantly related to the Steins - but insists that there's no problem at all with the management. Her voice is magnified beyond all measure. 

    What is in some ways worse than the aggressive, bullying nature of some of the residents, is the apathetic majority of tenants, who just don't seem to care about what's going on. Apparently, they feel that if management can fix the hot water issue, and somehow make the bus service in front of the building more reliable, as they've claimed they will, it seems a small price to pay for a few residents feeling threatened.

    There are, it should be noted, other residents who are shocked at the change of atmosphere and who do speak out, but they're notable precisely because they seem so few in number. 

    How can things have changed so quickly in the building? Or was it rather that the feelings were there, seething just beneath the surface, just waiting for the appropriate management team to encourage them to emerge?

    Jonathan leaves. The Farbers also go, as does one of the Levy children. The atmosphere is just too toxic. 

    But others stay. “This place is my home,” Muriel says. “Why should I be the one to leave?” The Steins say something similar.

    “We can't let them win”, one of the remaining Levy brood states grimly.

    But they have won control of the building - that much is made emphatically clear by the actions of the management team and their supporters in the following weeks. 

    The remaining families and individuals regularly receive disgusting messages through their letterboxes. The messages often abuse them while simultaneously quoting Rita saying the abuse is imaginary. It's a bizarre nightmare. 

    General meetings see Muriel shouted down, increasingly aggressively. She stops going - it's affecting her health. The Levys are accused of acting on behalf of secret paymasters who want to take over the building. It's getting worse.

    Finally, the few families meet privately. Muriel informs them that despite living in the block for well over half a century, she's leaving.

    “Well, we’re not”, say the Steins. “It's our home, why should we leave? Besides, we can't let them win!”

    Muriel looks at them closely before responding.

    “Of course, your own decision is yours to make. But they have won, haven’t they? Look at the general management, look at the support they have in the building, it's only getting stronger.

    “Yes, it's been my home, and I'm attached to it, but we don't own it. We rent. Our presence here is entirely our choice. And my choice is to no longer live next to or be associated in any way with people who share an address with me, yet loathe me, and you, and every one of us, except for those like Rita who agree with every word they say.”

    “But general management want you to leave,” says Mrs Stein desperately. “Why give them what they want?”

    Muriel smiles gently.

    “Do they want that? I honestly don't think they much care one way or the other. Either way, they're in total control. They know there's nothing I can do about it. And by staying, to outsiders who've heard what's going on, it might even seem like I'm giving the general management my tacit support. Which is why I've handed in my notice.”

    Moving day dawns - but Muriel is not alone. Michael, the Levys' twenty-two year old son, has also decided to leave, and helps her transfer her belongings to the waiting van.

    Muriel takes one last, lingering look at the building.

    “You're so young, you probably don't remember. But this place was beautiful once,” she tells Michael.

    “Perhaps it one day it will be again, although I don't see how.”

    Michael nods agreement. As Muriel gets into a waiting taxi, he appears to wrestle with himself, before swiftly sticking a notice on the block’s front door. Then he hauls his suitcases away.

    Pale, tired, autumn light dapples shadows on the building’s damp red brickwork.

    A sudden gust of wind snatches the notice, but not before a postman, mystified, reads its message:

    Will the last Jews to leave Labour Towers please turn off the lights.

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