Living among people has one major disadvantage – namely, the people. Even when one hides in one’s own den of a flat to avoid the sight of people, the sound of them can’t be entirely avoided. The thing is, not all human habitations are properly sound-proof. My experience twists the laws of physics and suggests that instead of absorbing noise, walls of homes tend to amplify it.
I was brought up in an old two-level house and was used to its human and inhuman (also inhumane) noises. My room was surrounded by the kitchen, hence the daily clinking of dishes, and the living room, hence the nightly noise of the TV turned up loud. The inhuman sounds included mostly rats eating through the structure of the building. The most inhumane of all was however the neighbour’s tireless playing of brass music – he must have been the only person left on earth to enjoy the assault on the ears that brass music is.
Then I moved to a moderately old block of flats. The sounds produced by the house and its inhabitants at first felt like living in a combat zone. Doors banging, people yelling and music playing indoors, dogs fighting, cars racing and glass smashing outdoors. It took me some time to accept that it’s not a world war but just people casually existing. Eventually, I came to know my neighbours on all floors more intimately than either of the parties involved ever wished for.
Next to me on the same floor there lived an old gypsy woman. She used to have a husband, but he died under intriguing circumstances which were not publicised in the death notice stuck with duct tape on the entrance door of the house. I dubbed my neighbour Esmeralda for her inclination to Latin American theatricality. She travelled in taxis, partied most nights and was returning home singing and swearing at the lack of a lift in the house.
Occasionally Esmeralda’s family members would come to extract money from her, which provided for either a tragic or a comic performance, depending on whether she gave up the money or not. When the police knocked on my door to inquire about her, I thought it prudent not to know anything. I didn’t want to end up as Esmeralda’s late husband.
Stacked in the bed-sit above me was a middle-aged alcoholic with enlarged prostate. He lived alone, but on and off, fellow female drunkards sought shelter in his place. They would sit together on the miniature balcony, clatter with beer bottles and tap cigarette ashes down on my laundry hung out to dry. The prostatic alcoholic was a great animal lover. He used to feed the birds in all seasons, causing the seed skins and bird droppings to be strewn all over my balcony. Finally I stopped putting the laundry out.
This upstairs neighbour had prostate problems so severe that I considered starting a fundraiser to get him a Prostenal course of treatment on the house. His prostate was very much my business, for he kept on peeing a few drops very noisily each hour, days and nights. I suspect he must have been standing high on a block when doing this, otherwise I have no explanation for the sheer loudness of his urinating. It must have been the same block that he used for drilling training, as with the amount of drilling he did, he couldn’t have made do with just the walls, the ceiling and the floor.
I moved out from this colourful house soon after the local street kids grew up, started to smash windows, doors and cars big time and amused themselves by running up and down the stairs in the house and banging with baseball bats on people’s doors. I got my car vandalised, possibly because I was silly enough to try tell the kids off when they were vandalising something else. So I got rid of the car and moved to a new block of flats, alas in a close neighbourhood.
The other day I happened to meet a neighbour from the previous house. He lived downstairs and from his flat there always oozed cigarette smoke, dog smell and loud techno. He lived with a noisy wife, an unascertained number of children and several dogs. The neighbour looked good enough now, as he was walking two ancient dogs, and he spoke to me coherently and more substantially than we ever spoke when we lived in the same house. It looks that his wife and the younger kids had left, the eldest youthful delinquent had been put away in a correctional facility, and the man was doing better than before.
I’m hoping for the same for me, as I had left one husband and one cat behind and now live at the top of the world (or on the top floor, at least) with the other cat that I got in custody. The house is so new that some of the units are unoccupied and dead quiet. The walls seem to be made of actual brick rather than cardboard, and nothing can be heard from the inhabited flats either. The silence is so oppressive that it regularly makes me suspect a nuclear catastrophe had happened and everybody died. I hate to say it – but I miss my singing, peeing and drilling neighbours. People make one feel alive.