September 12, 2004

A burglary

We were burgled the night before last. I'm pretty upset about it, though I'm starting to calm down now. I've had a few panic attacks and I still haven't eaten properly since the night before it happened. It wasn't the sense of danger, or the intrusion, that upset me, or even the potential financial loss involved. It was that I thought, until this morning, that it was probably my fault. I thought I'd let other people down when they were relying on me and put all their possessions and personal stuff at risk.

I lost most of last night's sleep, trying - unwillingly, because I wanted to sleep - to remember what I'd done on Friday night, whether I'd closed things up properly, trying to remember when I'd gone to bed, what I'd done and in precisely what order. From one theory to another and then back to the previous one, over and over again until the point of madness. When I did get to sleep it wasn't for very long, and it was just as well the police were a couple of hours late turning up this morning, as I was flaked out on the settee for most of that time. Hopefully, tonight will be rather better.

I thought I must have left the front door open. No reason for that, I've never done it before and being heavy and easily locked, it's not one you'd often forget to close properly anyway. But I couldn't think of any other explanation, when, on getting up at eight o'clock on Saturday morning, I found the front door open and a bike missing. I was the only one in - Janet, the landlady, is on holiday in France, and Effi, the other lodger, was in Greece, and I thought, coming back late on Saturday. So it had to have been something I had done, there was nobody else here to make any mistakes in locking up. And I am notoriously careless, through stress perhaps, and if I'm asked to do more than one or two things at a time something always gets forgotten.

I've left the back door open more than once, though that's a bit easier to forget as it will come to without locking, so you can forget it's open if you're not careful. So I just thought I must have left the front door open even though I had no other reason, other than the fact of it being open, to think so. Careless though I am, I can usually remember what I've forgotten, after I've forgotten it. If I'd left the front door open, I'd have noticed. I'd have noticed when I went to bed, as there would have been a huge draught even if I'd not seen the gaping aperture. I couldn't have missed it. But there it was, the door was open, and a bike was missing.

But nothing else seemed to have gone. Naturally I rushed into the front room to see if the telly and PC were still there, and they were. Nothing electrical seemed to have gone. Nor was there any mess. I couldn't understand it. I started thinking maybe there hadn't been a burglary, and perhaps Effi had come back early, left her stuff round a friend's house (since she wasn't in and there didn't seem to be any bags in her room at all) borrowed the bike for a trip or something and left the door open. Put like that, it seems stupid, and it seemed stupid at the time, but why would anybody come in through the door, take the bike furthest from the door - Janet's favourite bike was still there - and not take anything valuable?

Then, on my way out to see a friend, I found that my bag was missing. My bag, with chequebook, passport, glasses, radio, umbrella and filo. And my jacket didn't seem to be anywhere around either. So I had a panic attack, tight chest and short breathing in the too-familiar manner, sat down for a bit, then rushed round the house several times looking for it in all sorts of places. It wasn't in any of them.

So I called the bank, and asked them to stop my cheques, and called the passport office, and asked them how much it would cost to get an emergency replacement, since I need it on Friday week. I left messages on Effi's phone and Janet's, and decided I really needed to go and replace some of the missing items as well as getting some more photos and some more forms for the passport. I rushed out of the house, and then rushed back on remembering that I'd had a credit card statement in the bag which meant I really needed to call the credit card people too, in case anybody tried to use my account. Then I finally got out, upset and shaken, and went up and down Oxford Street buying a new umbrella, a new A-Z, a new filo, a new jacket and some photos for the passport application. I said I was upset and shaken - enough so to walk out in front of a car near Bond Street, though one far enough away to be able to brake in good time.

I went back via the police station, where I reported the break-in - if you could call it a break-in, since no entry appeared to have been forced - and the opticians, for a new glasses case. And I went home, and lay on the settee until Effi called from Heathrow and I could tell her about it. After that, I lay on the settee for another couple of hours until she came home and was able to look through her room and find out if she had anything missing. Which she did - discman, camera, bracelets, a few other things, which I said I'd pay for as I still felt it was my responsibility. (The only things I had missing were things that had been on the ground floor. My room is on the top floor, and not only had I been in it but I'd left the light on while I slept. Had I taken my bag upstairs, as I normally do, it too would have been safe.)

Effi, though, wasn't so sure. She reckoned it might well be possible to break in through the front door using a plastic card, or something like that. Nor could she see how I could both have left the front door open and missed that I'd left it open. But even so, and even though I was sure that I hadn't left it open, that still seemed just as likely as somebody having gone for our door at random. More so. If it were a professional thief, somebody who knew how to open locked doors, why was the valuable stuff still here? If it weren't, if it were some kid who'd noticed an open door on his way home in the early hours, wouldn't they be likely to just whip a few items, avoid any doors that were shut - as was Janet's, and the front room - and scarper as quickly as possible, whipping a bike and a jacket on the way out?

Privately, I still thought it must have been me. Or most likely me. Hence the subsequent, sleepless night, and the trying to remember and fit together events. Hence the subsequent lying on the settee, and the loss of appetite. I was also concerned that neither the police nor the insurance company would find the story convincing - "somebody must have broken in, honestly, even though there's absolutely no sign of them having done so" - and conclude that some sort of story was being spun them, either as a backside-covering operation or as a fraud. I wasn't looking forward to telling them about it.

Until, a few minutes before the police came round, Effi came in and said she wondered if they'd broken in through her window, which she had left open while she was away. And this made perfect sense. It would explain why her room had been gone through. It would explain why the door had been open, since that was the way the thieves would have gone out. And the police thought that seemed like a good possibility, too, even though Effi's window is on the first floor and getting there isn't easy. (I also wondered whether anybody coming in through the back might have been put off by my light being on. But I have a very heavy curtain that's nearly permanently closed, and it might well be that the light isn't actually visible.) They also said that it was quite possible that somebody might have broken in the front way. They were fine about it. And I felt much better.

Not because the buck passes to somebody else, though Effi might feel terrible about it. I certainly don't blame her if it was her window, as I leave mine open too. (Or did. No more, I should think.) And as I should have taken my bag upstairs, I blame myself for that going missing. I don't blame anybody else for anything. I don't even blame the cats for not being guard dogs. But it is a weight off my mind that I don't feel personally responsible for the break-in. I feel upset, I feel a bit stupid, and I still don't feel like eating, much, and I don't fee like filling in the passport forms - I always have difficulty with forms - and I won't feel completely better until, at least, I get my new passport, which will only be a couple of days before I need it, allowing plenty of opportunity for panic.

But right now the chest is no longer tight and the head is no longer spinning. I've lost a few personal items and some money and a weekend. But I've not entirely lost faith in my own trustworthiness, and that is something, for the moment.

One of the policemen had a mobile phone which went off a couple of times. The tone was the Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.


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