Knock knock June 27, 2008Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
…except not even on the door. No. On the wall. At a guess with two fists in harmonious and sonorous synchronicity. Naturally I turned the music down because I thought it might be a call for help. Perhaps the thump would be accompanied by muffled screams. Perhaps the neighbour was being brutally and mercilessly attacked by a wicked criminal. I stopped myself drifting off into a happy daydream with swirling dervishes and the beat of celebratory drums and strained my ears. Silence. Even the baby was quiet. No. The knock had been meant for me. When all I’d been doing was listening to Amy at a volume which can only have been the most faintly audible hum through the admittedly paper-thin walls. It was 6pm.
These are our second shitty neighbours. Part of the reason for moving from our first Berlin pad, apart from thinking we’d die of carbon monoxide poisoning every time we took 40 winks, was to escape the woman underneath who would come to complain that we walked too audibly. But her hair was purple which meant I could never take her complaints seriously. Any hatred for her was prevented from attaining its natural and speedy magnificent proportions because she had a nice husband called Mario. (East(ern) Germans like(d) names ending in o.) And when water trickled from our bathroom and sent the stalactites of swirly paint on their bedroom ceiling a shade of grey, Mario was forbearing and forgiving. We had a confusing goodbye, the Russian and I alternating to say, “Thanks, Mario, you were great,” to Mario and hissing at his purple-haired wife. Our other neighbour from the same house, a quite nice whoopsy whom we would occasionally bump into as he was setting off to the West to go to a bar which reeks of shit, regaled us with stories of the people who replaced us in the flat having such loud parties that the police would come. The Russian and I high-fived and smiled like Cheshire cats.
But it’s all much more unsatisfying here. At least the old house was a ramshackle hovel that made you want to commit crime as soon as you walked into the entrance. I would sometimes wait there in the dark and mug the Russian. Yet this house is categorised as respectable. Rather than your thoughts turning to crime as you walk in, your senses are ambushed by an all-pervasive abstract image of furniture polish and mopped floors. If you’re lucky, you can get up the stairs without bumping into any of the neighbours. The stairwell is like the room in a house used only on special occasions. Dreary and lifeless. Apart from, of course, when there is some other neighbour trudging indignantly in or out, doing their best not to say hello to you or catch your eye.
And so it is with the immediate next door neighbours. A young couple with a sanctifying child. Russian in some way we can’t work out. Or at least Russian-speaking, though their surnames are as German as could be. Her face is cast in unpainted plaster, its expression fixed – presumably since the moment she met her other half – in a permanent cocktail of misery and disdain. Non-stop unhappy hour. His is the face of the young moralising idealist. It combines, with the misery and disdain he and his beloved have perfected in each other, conceit and reproof. The face, which, by wonderful chance happens to be quite stunningly plain, is bound by the ugliest and most motionless hair this side of a waxwork museum.
Berlin houses are made of tracing paper. Berliners are famed for their rudeness. So it is not surprising that the neighbourly experience can be a less than pleasant one. But these neighbours, livid, perhaps, having thought they’d moved somewhere ennobling and respectable-making, at ending up next door to a pair of life-noise-emitting, Russian-speaking poofs, make the Russian and me have wicked thoughts. We say a cheerless and steely hello when geography has made it necessary. They answer with silence. Perhaps I’d unendeared myself to the man of the house when, before I’d realised he was in some way Russian, I would say to the Russian, in Russian, “Why doesn’t that twat say hello?”
Still, he should let it pass. There’s no need for us to be friends, true, but a cheerless and steely hello in the corridor is one of the few things keeping us apart from the animal kingdom. They may wish, nerves frayed after another sleepless and bawl-filled night, that we didn’t exist, or at least existed in silence. But that’s not what compact urban living is about. It’s compromise. While we have to settle for living cheek by jowl with our fellow cretins, we must make the experience as tolerable as possible.
Infuriated by the injustice of their uncivilised ways, I waited till 3am, put on Amy at full blast and knocked, my fists thumping in reciprocal harmony, on this side of the wall. I heard kerfuffle. Their front door opening. A ring at our bell. I braced myself to see him. It’s always him. She is presumably busy applying fresh layers of plaster to her face. Opened the door. Sure enough, there, in all its non-glory, was his charmless visage, sporting a withering expression.
“Sorry, I remembered your hair and how much it annoyed me,” I said by way of explanation and closed the door in his face.