November 3, 2016 | Narrative
to be a good neighbor
when to (or not to) intervene
On this particularly quiet Friday summer night, I am in my room on Gray’s Inn Road, London, going through Tinder profiles, carelessly swiping right in the hopes of getting a match. I have only made 10 matches since I moved here a week ago. My Tinder love life has always sucked. I text them, but they never text back. Now, I just use Tinder to pass the time, swiping right without even looking at the pictures or bio in the hopes of increasing my chance of getting a match. It doesn’t work.
Then the neighbors who live on the floor above me start at it again—the bickering, the shouting, utensils knocked about, heavy footsteps on the ceiling. “Fuck you bitch!” “Slut!” “Motherfucker!” and all the other commonplace vulgarities seep down into my room below. I am quiet and remain on my bed, looking at the last picture of a beautiful girl who claims to be from Romania. She says she is in London for only a week. I swipe right again, but I get a notice that my swipes are over. I read her bio—Andra from Romania, in London 4 a week visiting friend and looking for hookup. I bite my nails and spit on the carpet floor, then press the spit into the carpet with my heel. “Fuck you!” the neighbors scream.
I stare at my phone screen, bored and angered at my neighbors’ nightly fights. I seem to be the only one who hears them, despite the fact that I live on the second floor of a three-story building in central London.
These fights have been going on since I moved in. This time I decide I will not intervene. The first time I overheard them, it was on a Monday morning at 2 a.m. and Joanna, my neighbour, was crying loudly. When I went to the third floor in anger, begging for quiet during such ungodly hours of the morning, Joanna came to the door, makeup washed off her face by the tears running down her cheeks, lipstick marks on her neck, hair disheveled. “Fuck you! Mind your business,” she said, giving me the middle finger.
I end up putting on earplugs and going to sleep.
The next day, I see Joanna walking downstairs. I figure this is an opportune moment to talk to her, so I invite her to have coffee with me. “Fuck you!” she says. Realizing my efforts to establish dialogue are futile, I vow to call the police the next time I so much as hear a whimper from her room. She looks at me with contempt and slowly walks down the stairs, cursing.
Later in my room, I ruminate on all the things that I want to tell her, how I might help, how I might offer solutions to her nightly fights. I want to tell her about women of Nyeri—women who don’t hesitate to hit their husbands’ skulls with a machete. I want to tell her about Wanjira, my aunt in Nyeri, who, upon getting called a girl by a married man, threw a pot of boiling water at the poor man, and then followed him with kicks to his crotch and slaps to his head. I want to tell her about Nyeri, where men cower at the sight of women.
But this is London and Joanna said fuck you and, for the rest of my stay, Joanna and her partner dared not to so much as breathe loudly lest I hear them and call the police.
Surprisingly, on my last day, as I was leaving for the airport, Joanna offered me a ride to the train station and, for the first time during my two-month stay, I get to have a conversation with her. As we talk, she mentions that she is a doctor and that she is going to bite her partner’s dick off one of these days. As I exit her car, she looks at me straight in the eyes and assures me that she is a grown woman who knows how take care of herself.
At the train station, I go to my Tinder account and mindlessly swipe right. This time, I get a match—Joanna. I look over the bio and photos and am certain that this Joanna is my neighbour. But I don’t text her.
Now, as I sit in my dorm recalling these summer incidents, my conscience haunts me. I debate what I should have done, the role that I should have played to help Joanna from her abusive partner: Should I have called the police? Would my stories of women from Nyeri have helped? Did the fights resume after I left? Is Joanna safe? Did she ever bite his dick off?
In the hopes of having a clean conscience, I decide to talk over the matter with Joanna. Since my only contact method for her is Tinder, I fire off a message: “Hi Joanna, how are you doing? How is life on Gray’s Inn Road” I ask. Her reply is quick: “Fuck off!”