Friday, 20 July 2007

Knowing too much

I hear every word my neighbours say. They stand on the balcony shouting into their mobiles, bellowing back into the flat. Shutting my own door makes no difference, and anyway it’s not practical on a hot, stuffy day.

Usually, I only hear those neighbours who live in an adjacent flat, but last night some distant residents were in the throes of one of the most traumatic arguments I’ve ever heard. I felt like a three year old, cowering upstairs mummy and daddy tearing strips off each other. It was horrible: two desperate people screaming, thrashing out their future. She thought he wanted her to move out, and then - sobbing – admitted she thought he wanted her to have an abortion. His denial was unconvincing, and delayed.

I shouldn’t know this. It was private. I closed the windows and shut the door, but the night air was humid, and soon I opened the window again. They were still arguing. I don’t know who they are; I’ve never seen them. I probably never will. It was compelling, don’t get me wrong, but I heard other windows opening and shutting as residents rushed to listen in. We are all trespassers; bystanders in a very private drama. Tenants leaned over the railings in the pouring rain, soaked but shamelessly trying to catch every word, looking for the flat which was the location for this melodrama.

The row worsened; doors were slammed, something crystalline was broken, the screaming and recriminations grew louder: and more ferocious and horrible. She was a slut. He was a bastard. She was a bitch. It wasn’t his baby. She hated him; he hated her. She was packing her suitcase. Oh yeah? Well…he was calling the taxi himself.

He blamed her family. She agreed, but she needs their help with a baby on the way. They couldn’t stay in Dovecot Towers – it’s no place for a child. I could sense the other residents straining to hear. I wanted to shout at the mystery fighting couple to keep it down (it was late at night by now) if only to remind them that we could all hear their argument, but I think they were past caring.

We all live in little residential boxes. Isolation renders us immune to the idea that tenants are linked by some sort of neighbourly umbilical cord. We shut our front doors, imagining this protects us from the world. But when we enjoy our desirable balconies, it’s as if we share an open plan living room, a fact which residents forget, as they venture outside to order drugs and pizzas, have innocent, pointless, screeching conversations, even arrange adulterous liaisons with their partner oblivious in the bathroom.

By two am the row was easing off. She was still crying. His despair was palpable; he was scared, but did she really think he wouldn’t help her with the baby? As they were calming down, the rain lashed and the focus changed. Her final words were plaintive, and soft. She said: ‘…you just don’t love me anymore, do you?’
I couldn't hear his answer.

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