As he sat on the couch with his head in his hands, his mind was racing, running through the events from the previous day. Did he make a mistake? What would happen now?
But they left him no other option. They had turned their house into a gas chamber, forcing his wife to wear a gas mask all day. He just did what he had to do. And as he sat there, consumed by these thoughts and filled with anxiety, he heard someone knocking on the door. It was the police.
This story took place in Westport, South Island, New Zealand. Our protagonists are a man named Brian Cohen and his wife, a Ukrainian-born woman named Svetlana.
The two of them are retired senior citizens who bought a parcel of land in South Island, hoping to build a home where they could spend the rest of their days in peace and quiet. However, destiny had something different in the books for them.
The couple had recently sold their flat in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, shortly after their retirement. They had plans of spending the rest of their lives in the countryside, away from the noise and bustle of the city.
They bought a big parcel in South Island and started planning what their new house would look like. But from the two of them, Brian was the most excited about the project, and it was because of his very own reasons.
Brian used to be an architect. After years of building houses for other people, he couldn’t wait to create a home that he and his wife could enjoy in the autumn of their lives.
Every evening, Svetlana would watch her husband sit at his desk to plan how the house would be built. She’d stay next to him and smile fondly, witnessing his childlike excitement about the project. But they couldn’t wait to move away from the city and start enjoying the country life; so they made a decision.
Brian and Svetlana bought a mobile home and decided to move it to their newly purchased parcel and start living there right away. After years of living in the city and enduring its stressful and gray routine every single day, they felt like it was time for a bit of adventure.
They had never done anything like that, and they were excited to see how they would adapt to a simpler, more bucolic way of life. They had no clue what they were heading for.
They estimated that the house would be built in ten to twelve months, during which they would be living in the trailer. They expected those months of bohemian lifestyle to be a pleasant and exciting experience.
However, they didn’t count on their neighbors. These would make sure that the couple’s bohemian, carefree dream life would turn out to be a nightmare.
For the first few weeks, their new life in the trailer was everything they could have ever asked for. For the first time in many years, they felt free from the stress of their lives in the city.
Right there, they had no other distractions than each other’s company and a few books, and no other duties than walking to the gas station nearby to buy some food every now and then. And the best part was the silence, the peace and quiet, and the clear air. But that would soon change.
One day, while Brian was getting some food from the gas station, Svetlana started selling something weird in the air. It smelt like something was burning! In a matter of minutes, the house became inundated with smoke.
Svetlana looked all around the trailer, wondering if there could be something burning or some issue with the engine. But she found nothing. Then, coughing and coughing, she went outside. That’s when she found out what was going on.
The smoke was coming from their neighbors’ chimney. Apparently, they were burning coal, and the wind was bringing the big clouds of smoke in the trailer’s direction.
Fortunately, it stopped shortly after Brian came back from the gas station. Svetlana hoped that it would just be a one-time thing, as she was close to choking on the smoke while she was inside the caravan. But things were about to get way uglier.
For the following weeks, the neighbors didn’t stop burning coal. And every time the wind blew to the west, Svetlana and Brian’s home would get filled with smoke. One day, Brian decided that he had to do something. So he went over to their neighbors’ and told them about the issue.
“So the bottom line is, my wife has a really bad reaction to your smoke, to the point that she can’t sleep at night. Could you please stop burning coal?” he asked them, trying his best not to come across as too confrontational. But the neighbors gave him an appalling answer.
They refused to stop. They argued that they weren’t doing anything illegal, which was true: the region’s legislation didn’t have any regulation against coal heating. But they showed no concern for Brian’s case and kept burning coal like nothing happened.
The situation became unbearable, and Svetlana had to buy a gas mask to wear inside the trailer every time smoke inundated their home. And that’s when Brian knew he had to take drastic measures.
In a fit of anger and frustration, Brian did something he would regret later. “I was really upset and actually threatened to go over and do something to him, it just made me really angry,” he told the press when asked about the story.
The day after he did that, the couple heard someone knocking on their door. They hoped it would be their neighbor, who may have reconsidered his ways and wanted to apologize. But they were wrong.
They were two police officers! Apparently, the neighbors had called about Brian’s threats the day before. They were not there to solve the issue with the smoke, but to warn Brian to desist in his ways.
Brian and Svetlana tried to tell the officers about the problem. But they just shrugged and repeated what the neighbors had said before: there was nothing illegal about burning coal in that part of the country. Now, what could the couple do?
Brian and Svetlana tried to take their complaints to every single authority in the region in an attempt to find a solution to their problem. However, they found little success.
“We got duck-shoved from one to the other, but no one will take responsibility,” Brian has told the media. But what’s even more appalling is how other neighbors have been reacting to their story.
According to Brian, some members of the community have expressed their support. However, others have laughed at them, saying things like “don’t you realize this is a coal town?” and telling them to return to where they came from.
“Every night, I need to wear a gas mask because I can’t sleep, I can’t breathe. It’s like a gas chamber,” Svetlana has told the media. “We as New Zealand residents have the right to breathe clean air. That is what the Clean Air Act states. Why do we not have the same rights as other regions in New Zealand?”