Monday, November 16, 2009

My Neighbours

One of the many factors I dislike about flat living is the different smells that waft out from each flat as the inhabitant starts cooking their evening meal. In our building each floor is, naturally, linked by a staircase. However, there is an absence of any doors to seal off the floors and the result is a medley of odours from each floor amalgamating and hanging in the communal air until their go stale. Imagine, for example, floor one provides the fried onions, floor two provides steamed fish, floor three, roasted garlic and by the time you get to floor five with Soraya’s various curries and lamb dishes the air is so heavy with the various scents that it’s a huge relief to close the door on them all and breathe the relatively fresh, albeit slightly damp air, in my apartment. It seems that the patch of mould that is slowly moving its way across the ceiling is responsible for this but I have also noticed that the wall behind my bed is constantly wet so I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole apartment crumbled away to nothing before too long.

The inhabitants of my building are a varied bunch. On my floor there’s Soraya of course but there’s also the old man who lives directly opposite the staircase. We have a strange relationship – each morning I hear him shuffling past my apartment, unlocking the loo door and urinating loudly with the door wide open before shuffling back to his apartment without using the flush. This is followed by a bellow of range on my part when I visit the loo half an hour later to find a generous sprinkling of urine all over the stone floor and an unflushed bowl. I proceed to hammer loudly on the wall adjacent to his apartment whilst shouting obscenities before returning to my apartment and listening to some music at full volume to vent my anger. This is all played out anonymously and when we meet each other on the stairs we are, generally, perfectly amicable with one another and will discuss topics such as the weather and the state of the building. He’s a strange man, not least because he is in his sixties and living in a studio apartment, but he also has a lazy eye which always looks skyward and a slight limp. The thought of him shuffling past my door in his dressing gown and slippers at night is the stuff of nightmares.

On the floor above is a very cruel looking Iranian guy who is possibly one of the most unfriendly people I have ever met. He has a waxen complexion and is completely bald except for a thin sprinkling of black hair around the back and sides of his head. He wears dark, misshapen clothes and I have had the misfortune of coming out of my apartment just as he is going past and having to endure five flights of stairs looking at the back of his head. This has happened on several occasions and never has he made any attempt to smile or speak to me. Once he was eating a cream cheese sandwich and kept dropping pieces of cheese which he would scrape off the floor and wipe on his trousers.

On the third floor lives a rather large lady with a ruddy complexion and unkempt greying hair. She’s much more friendly than the Iranian man and will always stop to say hello no matter how short of breath she is from climbing the stairs (usually with an array of packages and boxes). She gives the impression of always being tremendously busy and I often see her stomping around in her hiking boots and cycle gear as if she’s just about to embark on an expedition to the Alps. The door to her apartment is surrounded with pot plants which I thought were hers until one day I saw the little old lady who lives next door to her tending to them.

The elderly lady who lives on the third floor inhabits the apartment on the left hand side and can usually be found either pruning, dead-heading, or watering her pot plants or else pottering about in the storage room which is full to bursting with old bed parts, microwaves, assorted pieces of broken furniture and paintings. She has fine, wispy white hair which she wears tied up in a loose bun and milky blue eyes. She reminds me very much of Kralefsky’s mother in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals although she certainly isn’t bed-ridden nor are her flowers exactly exquisite. She too is very friendly and always calls me ‘Monsieur’ which, although relatively normal, still makes me feel rather important.

Finally there’s the man who lives upstairs who I originally met at the laundrette and lent some washing powder to. He likes to practise his English when we meet in the stairwell and claims that his girlfriend (who also lives with him apparently) is English.

Thus, these are the residents who I interact with on a regular basis and who make up life in my building. There are others; the two guys who come home each night at 1:30am and thunder up the stairs, the girl on floor two who had the house party for her birthday and the Chinese man and his wife who live on the fourth floor. However, the ones previously mentioned are the most relevant and interesting characters in the building, and I portray them in order to give you an impression of the various personalities flourishing in a little side street, near Gare de l’Est, in the 10th arrondissement.

1 comment:

  1. Recognising the quirks and oddities is a talent . POsitively Dickensian in tone. Great stuff.