The woman downstairs is crying again.
Well, perhaps crying is too passive a word. The sounds I hear emanating through the floor are aggressive sobs, staccato and loud like a cleaver being swung; wails that first choke the throat for an endless minute, before releasing themselves in an anguished, inhuman howl.
The cries were softer and shorter at first, as if the woman was trying to stifle them – perhaps she was trying to play normal and keep the peace, for both her own sanity and that of the adjoining apartments in our building. But eventually, she forgot about any neighbourly propriety and she gave into the grief unravelling out of her, spilling out with more noisy fervour each time.
Occasionally, the cries are in conversation with an equally loud male voice. The visitor’s shouts are muffled, and he speaks in another language – maybe Vietnamese; definitely Asian – but his hot-blooded hostility quickly seeps through the cheap plaster walls. Occasionally, I hear heavy thumps that immediately echo uneasily in the pit of my stomach.
I cradle my mobile phone in my hand, debating whether I should call the local police station this time, when I hear the downstairs door slam and the woman’s weeps settle into whimpers. So I put my phone away.
. . .
As I cross the road onto the corner where our sun-stained apartment building stands, I usually try to catch a glimpse of the woman living directly below me, but her curtains remain shut across her window.
Just once was there a sliver of an opening: I spotted her, leaning back into the dim light of the apartment, face shrouded by her long black hair. Hanging limply outside of the window frame was a slender, tanned hand, holding a burning cigarette. Ash fell fast but silent onto the awning below.
. . .
Finally, a month after I have the idea, I make the decision to introduce myself to the woman. God knows it’s hard to meet people in such a big building, let alone the city. I figure it can’t hurt if I casually let her know that I’m close by should she ever need… a neighbour, I guess.
I walk downstairs to her floor, balling my meagre courage into fists. I stop outside apartment 12 and raise my arm to knock.
But another neighbour has beaten me in making first contact.
A torn page of lined paper is taped to the woman’s door. Scrawled on it in a thick black texta, punctuated crabbily with several crooked underlines, was the following:
“Occupant of Apt. 12,
Your loud crying and screaming is becoming more frequent. This is very disturbing! Please stop!!!
I will call the police next time!!! I’m a shift worker and your noise keeps waking me up.
– Your very upset neighbour”
As I stare at the note, a new sound stirs from behind the door – footsteps suddenly shuffling nearer.
I don’t even hesitate. I dash down the hall and back up the stairs, back into my own apartment, back into my own bubble. It’s probably best if I just forget the woman downstairs; pretend I don’t hear her crying. Play normal. Keep the peace.