I live on the first floor of an historic building that once belonged to the University of Castilla La Mancha. Like most of the old buildings in town, it has a traditional patio, or interior courtyard. This feature is excellent for temperature regulation – during the worst of the summer heat, the courtyard inside is around ten degrees cooler than the temperature outside the front door, where it feels like you’re standing inside a fan oven. The disadvantage of the patio, though, is that it acts like a sound tunnel, and so I’m never blissfully unaware of neighbourly ongoings.
The neighbours directly above me are the bane of my life. The official living arrangement, so my landlady and good friend Sofia tells me, is that the flat belongs to a housebound elderly lady – allegedly of a sweet-natured disposition – who is slowly losing her marbles. Ana, who’s from somewhere in South America, is her live-in carer. The old lady calls for her, all day, every day, deep into the night, until the first flickerings of dawn. Not even the afternoon siesta hours are sacred. And it goes like this:
“Ana, don’t you hear meeeee?”
“Aaaaanaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!! Help Meeeeeeeeh!”
Eventually, I hear heels tottering as Ana attends to her demented employer. That’s another thing. Heels on hardwood floors. And the children. Who, according to Sofia, shouldn’t be there. But they are. Every single day, come rain or shine, Ana hangs out a fresh batch of tiny clothes to dry. And they thump about, those children, on the hardwood floors. With their street shoes on. And they drop things. Did I mention the hardwood floors?
Ana likes to chat on the phone. In fact, she gets one phone call after the other. In the summer, when all our patio-facing windows are permanently open, I’m privy to her conversations. I’m not able to discern the words. I doubt anyone can, probably not even her callers. This is because Ana has the voice of a mountain goat, the reverberations of which drown out any verbal content.
However, it’s not the kids nor Ana’s bleatathons that drive me to the point of insanity, but the howling harpy.
It’s not just the frequency of her cries , it’s the quality of them. Her wails make my bone marrow quiver like a kicked puppy. These are the anguished bawls of somebody whose windpipe is being pumped full of gravel, while having their joints ripped out of their sockets on one of those medieval stretching racks.
Then, one night, a couple of months ago, there was the sound of coughing, like a drum of rusty nails pounding against a concrete wall.
My weary ears perked up. The bedridden banshee had caught something. A cold. A lung infection. Or maybe even full-blown pneumonia. The next round of coughing and hollering seemed to corroborate my suspicions.
“Aanaaaaaah, Aaanaaaaaaaaaahhh! I’m going to dieeeeeeeee!!!!!”
I admit it, I really got my hopes up back then.
…but it turned out to be a false alarm.
[Post Script, 08 March 2013: I don’t exactly know what happened, but the howling has abated. The old bat is still there, still alive (evidently), but ever since I got back from my holiday at the beginning of February, I can only hear her calling maybe three or four times a day, and the sound is kind of muffled. Hurraaah! Now if only I could get Ana to stop prancing about in her bloody street shoes!!!!]