In Dovecot Towers, you hear a lot from people you may never see. For example, someone a few doors down loved The Arctic Monkeys. They played it loud - not annoyingly so, but just enough that I noticed.
Last Sunday afternoon I met some new people in the lift, who got out at my floor. They were Australian, and had been buying household items, like a clothes line and a bin. I wondered if they’d just moved in. They’d been here one week: it was The Arctic Monkeys fan and his girlfriend. Carefully, I did my good citizen bit and explained that they needed to ask the landlord to fit a new lock. They didn’t even know who their landlord was, since they had used a letting agency. I gave them the caretaker’s number, and wished them all the best in their new home.
At 2am the following morning I was woken up by screaming and footsteps pounding frantically along the corridor (nothing unusual there). But then I heard a woman begging someone not to touch her, shouting “Keep away from me!”
Envisaging a street attack or a drunken domestic assault, I was racing for my phone when I heard a loud bump, then more screaming, then another ominous thud. On the street below, a woman was pleading frantically for help.
Her boyfriend had jumped from the balcony. It was my near neighbour, the male half of the couple I’d chatted to in the lift that afternoon. She was calling an ambulance, beseeching them to hurry, while begging her boyfriend not to die.
Repeatedly she cried inconsolably: “…this can’t be happening…this can’t be happening.”
She didn’t know what to do, and called the ambulance again, urging them to hurry. I screamed down at her from my balcony to keep him still; that moving him might cause even more harm, but the words: “…his brains are all over road…” made me realise that moving him would make no difference now. Concerned at having heard her earlier begging someone not to touch her, I called the police, who were already on their way.
The Dovecot Towers trademark ‘Heads-Over-The-Railings-Tenants-Ad-Hoc-Residents-Association’ appeared. There was nothing to be done. Judging by the way he was lying, he had died instantly. The young woman bolted a short distance down the street, and faced the wall, shouting: “This isn’t happening!” before turning around and realising that yes, it was really happening. She was remonstrating with her boyfriend: “Oh God, what have you done, don’t die, I love you, I love you. Please don’t leave me.
Then another man appeared, clearly in as bad a state as she was. She said: “Keep away from me, don’t touch me!” then: “It’s all my fault.”
The man said he felt responsible. No ambulance yet, so they called again. She noticed her boyfriend wasn’t breathing, and they attempted to resuscitate him, but to their horror, there was blood in his mouth. A window opened and a woman yelled at her to shut up but another resident, aware of the desperate scenario unfolding below, retaliated: “Shut the fuck up yourself you selfish bitch.”
The ambulance arrived. The paramedic took one look at the broken body lying prone and bleeding on the street and shook his head. He covered the dead man with a blanket. Her remaining hopes extinguished, she berated the paramedic: “You didn’t even try!”
The police came, taped off the scene, and shepherded the girl away from the lifeless man and into the ambulance, where her visceral howling punctured the night. Suddenly police spilled out of vans, unmarked cars arrived and men in suits surveyed the scene. I heard the police enter their flat, heard her crying, and watched them leave in clean clothes, carrying luggage. She was led towards a car. Just before she got in, she curled herself into a ball and rocked to and fro, as a policeman looked on helplessly. Even the police were distressed. I heard one officer say he’d seen dead bodies, but nothing like that before.
Suddenly it was all quiet, and the dead man, with one fractured, contorted leg poking out from underneath the blanket, was left alone in a cordoned off area on the street, watched over by a solitary police van. He looked so lonely. By seven am the corpse had been moved. It was raining. A pool of brain matter was left in a gutter, until the scene of crime cleaners washed it away.
I’ve no idea what happened in that flat; what made a young man jump to his death, and I don’t suppose I ever will. As I write this, someone is embarking on a twenty-four journey from Australia to collect their dead son: the son I spoke to briefly, but never knew.
Does this have anything to do with Dovecot Towers? Maybe; possibly – but then again, perhaps not. People move in and out with alarming frequency, flats are now rented by the month, week, or even by the day. Life is tenuous, alienating, prickly and dehumanised. We don’t know each other. Problems seem larger here, isolation is exacerbated and arguments are inescapable in a tiny one bed flat.
And what about the devastated young woman, who was asking the world, the pavement, God, the sky or anyone, for help? Tomorrow, she’ll wake up and face the future alone with a ruined life, returning home to the flat where her world ended, her soul forever scarred. I’ll never forget the couple I met in a lift, and the harrowing primal sound she made will stay with me forever.