Her screams were like those of a bird of prey. “Don’t touch me. Just leave. Just LEAVE.”
He was threatening her, “You do know it’s your fault, don’t you?”
I was awake in my bed, at 3:30 AM listening to the neighbours playing out their tumultuous relationship.
The screaming match had started at 2:30 AM – or maybe that was when the sound had penetrated the fuzziness of my sleep. I tried muffling the sound with my pillow for a while, but that didn’t work. One hour in, I was lying on my back staring at the spotlights in my ceiling (the previous owner was an artist, apparently), wondering if this fight was going to cut into any more of my precious weekend Zs.
“I wonder what happened here. Was it a case of she-cheated-he cheated? Sounds like it… or was it just a case of gradual drifting apart, till no love remained? Is this how love feels – in the middle of the night, hoarse voices and aching heads, many threats – right in the middle of a wintry Australian night?”
There was some clattering from next door. A mundane thought struck me, “Is she throwing his stuff downstairs in a fit of theatricality? I hope not – we are 16 floors up.”
Downstairs, the sounds of drunken revelry floated up; the last of the party-goers were winding their tipsy way past the Surry Hills Police Station. Next door, the fight was still in full swing.
“Why aren’t you leaving? There’s the door.”
I was lying still in my warm bed, hoping to hear the bang of a door and to hear the end of the argument. Common sense, however, dictated that there was nowhere the man could leave to in the wee hours of the morning.
“Why don’t you leave? It’s MY house.”
“Ah,” I thought, “the plot thickens. I hope they don’t own a pet. Or a baby. I wouldn’t like to see the fight about that.”
Another ten minutes of this back and forth followed. This argument was becoming tedious. The voices, however, had gotten fainter – it seemed like someone was getting closer to the front door.
Suddenly, the woman raised her voice, “Help me, someone, help me.” Her voice had become less bird of prey, more cockatoo.
It became more insistent, “Help me!”
I sat up, wondering if I should do something. Bang my fist on the common wall and ask them what was going on? Walk out and knock on the door, asking if everything was alright? Or do nothing? Because doing nothing is easy, isn’t it? My fickle mind threw up another thought, “Am I suffering from bystander effect? I am the neighbour that did nothing, aren’t I?”
The man murmured something. It sounded threatening, if murmurs could sound threatening.
I was still in two minds, thinking in run-in sentences – “Go to the flat, knock on the door, check if the woman is okay – will we become best friends because I helped her out in bad times? Or is this a normal couple’s quarrel? After all, they had fought last week too and will I be interfering in what was a weekly routine? Wait-a-minute. If it’s a weekly routine, should I ask them to pipe down? What’s the etiquette in this situation? Will she throw dishes at him next?”
There was silence. And then again, the croak of the cockatoo-woman, “Leaveeeee!”
This was the theatricality of the mundane. And there we all were, the players and the writer, the theatrical and the mundane – existing side by side. Watching the last embers of love die.