On Christmas Day I decided to visit my downstairs neighbour at about fifteen minutes past midnight. It may have been a minute earlier or later, but that's just a detail at that time of night. I hadn't gone to see him before. It had occurred to me several times, but the door to his gallery is usually closed, so dropping by isn't easily done. And now, in the dead of a dark and cold Christmas night, I took the plunge and went. I fumbled for the switch of my bedside lamp and stumbled out of bed. I put on a pair of tracksuit trousers, found a jumper lying around somewhere, tied my hair into a ponytail and unlocked my front door. When I got downstairs I was surprised to find the door to the gallery open. I wanted to speak to Downstairs Neighbour so badly now I hadn't even thought about what I would've done if it had been closed.
I rang his door bell. Inside, I heard someone say: "Get that, will you." The door opened and the smell of strong roll-ups came wafting out. I saw Downstairs Neighbour standing in his flat holding a wardrobe door. On the floor next to the wardrobe was a man on his knees with a roll-up in the corner of his mouth and a screw auger in his hand. He had opened the front door behind him and now dived back into the wardrobe without even glancing at me. He was getting ready to start screwing.
"Hello, I'm your upstairs neighbour."
Downstairs Neighbour raised an eyebrow. "Hi."
I was wondering if I missed something. I wasn't sure what his half smile was supposed to mean.
"It's the middle of the night and I'm trying to get some sleep. Do you think you could be quiet?"
Downstairs Neighbour raised his other eyebrow too. "So what's bothering you?"
My jaw tried to drop. I stopped the dropping with all my might, because the last thing you need when you have bare feet and a sleepy face is an open mouth. Inside my skull I could feel my brain folders being scanned for socially accepted behaviour, but I got no relevant hits. Either he had no clue what was going on, or he did have a clue but just didn't give a toss. In both cases I needed Tactics. My mind was racing. Should I go for anger or patient reasonableness? I was probably too baffled to choose anger. Besides, anger somehow feels different when you go barefoot. And I'm not sure if anger really gets you anywhere with people who think it's perfectly normal to do a bit of drilling in the middle of the night.
"Drilling", I said. "And screwing. And banging things."
From the bottom of the wardrobe came an impatient: "All right, we're bearing it in mind."
Which I totally disagreed with.
I said: "I can hear just about everything anyway, because these flats are really noisy. I can even hear you talk and cough. During the day I don't mind, but this isn't very nice, in the middle of the night."
Downstairs Neighbour looked from the roll-up smoker at the bottom of the wardrobe to me and said: "We'll be finished soon."
"Good", I said. "What shall we say? Another ten minutes? And after that quiet again?"
Something was muttered on the bottom of the wardrobe and my neighbour looked at me with a grin on his face. "Sure."
I walked along the gallery and up the stairs, back to my own flat. I locked the door and got back into bed, trembling. With anger. I wondered what would happen.
15 minutes later, all was quiet.