Monthly Archives: April 2014

And Punishment

The apartment where we live is under the roof of a squat, two-storied house. My neighbour, who moved into the house a few months ago and never leaves his apartment, lives on the floor below, and every time we go out we are obligated to pass his apartment, to the left, the door of which invariably stands in front of the only entry/exit to the house, to the right.

And each time we pass, we get a sick, frightened feeling, which makes us scowl and feel ashamed.

Nothing that any neighbour can do has a real terror for us. But to be stopped on the stairs, to be forced to listen to his trivial, irrelevant gossip, to pestering demands for payment, threats and complaints, and to rack our brains for excuses, to prevaricate, to lie—no, rather than that, we would creep down the stairs like cats and slip out unseen.

Except that we can’t. Not with the creaking of the stairs, which always alerts his clever little ears to our comings and goings.

He does not leave his apartment. He waits, doesn’t wait – is always just there. Ready, and wanting his due, whatever happens to be the thing we are doing or not doing that is simply and absolutely destroying everything in his world that day. Ready and then pouncing from behind that door, trapping us between his door and the door to the outside, which is always closed, muttering curses under his breath and shouting demands to the back of our heads like a deranged landlady from a Russian novel.

But not like.

My downstairs neighour is the deranged landlady from a Russian novel. He is as real as that. He is pulling it off, completely – the transformation utter and total. And he is bringing down the house with him, making it lose the charm it once held, making it, like him, a burden.

The word for this is elusive, but the word for this is also obvious – it is impressive.

Every day that we avoid meeting our landlady by the staircase is a success.

Sound dramatic?

I know.

Tell me about it.

1 Comment

Filed under People, Relationships


Sunday in deep afternoon in a coffee place in a small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by highway. Not that that makes that much of a difference. It doesn’t matter.

These coffee places spring up everywhere and nowhere. That is their, for lack of a better word, charm.

These coffee places are – this coffee place is full of people who don’t stay long; they come and go in perfect turnover, replacing each other like a low shuffling tide.

The uniforms for the employees… they are supposed to be able to wear them home, on the bus, to the mall, on the way from school without arousing the notice, suspicion or contempt of others. That’s not a lie, really, but it’s just not true, either. You can spot them easily, pick them from the crowd so fast, when they do any of that.

Actually, most of the employees at these coffee places are not fresh-faced teens but people about the exact age and build of my mom. My mom could be working here, and probably yours as well.

A lot of moms like our moms work here. They repeat orders dutifully to make sure they got them right, and then go out back when it’s time for their break.

There is an Indian family sitting near the door, eating from Tupperware filled with food from home. No one is bothering them about it (as long as they eat fast and somewhat furtively); they have already bought their coffee.

A trio of teens, draped in fading black t-shirts and determined sneers, plop down into their hard plastic seats, hands full of donuts and extra-large something-somethings. They sing along with songs they say they hate.

…I came in like a wrecking ball…All I wanted was to break your walls…All you ever did was wreck me…

(It is obvious they will be back here later, if they can’t get a ride out tonight).

… I came in like a wrecking ball…

Dog-eared newspapers can be found here and there, brought in by people from the outside. They are the only thing people seem to read in these coffee places.

There is an old man sitting next to me, thumbing through a section of newspaper. He stops to scratch his beard. He finds the Sudoku and does it with his finger.

I have a pen in my bag, but I do not offer it to him.


I read the obituaries until my coffee gets cold, which seems faster than can honestly be expected.


Filed under Food, Places