Part of every move to a new location involves meeting the neighbors. In an apartment building, it’s almost unavoidable. Almost.
My last apartment was in a pretty quiet building. I never officially met any of the neighbors. Except one. The mystery lady upstairs.
Last Christmas I hosted a dinner party. The doorbell rang, and I opened the door expecting to find my friends. A noisy group, you really can’t mistake them for anyone else. But this time in the midst of them was an older woman. Okaaaaay I thought, somebody brought their grandma who I’ve never met before.
No, no, my friends introduce her as the neighbor upstairs, who they ran into at the building entrance, and inform me that she had no idea I was living in the building. A fact which she seemed displeased with.
“Where is Mariam”, she queries suspiciously. (Mariam is the owner of the apartment)
I respond, “She lives in Moscow now”.
She looks me up and down, peers over my shoulder into the apartment, then announces, “No she’s not“; then turns and walks up the stairs.
So, did she think Mariam was hiding from her? Or that I had killed Mariam? I never knew what to make of her response and the mystery was never solved.
I vowed to do a better job with neighborly relations in this new apartment. After I got settled a bit, I would make an effort to meet people.
While I was fairly consumed with the pain of moving, I reminded myself to stay alert for potential neighbor introductions. Repeatedly tramping up and down 3 flights of stairs makes a lot of noise, so someone was bound to poke their heads out. A potential of 6 neighbors to meet on my floor and the ones below.
I put the key in the lock on my front door, gave it the normal clunky loud 360 degree turn, and started to open the door.
My neighbor on the right immediately burst out of his door, shook my hand, introduced his family, and welcomed me to the building. Dad was the head of the house, plus his son, daughter-in-law, and 2 grand kids. They introduced themselves in 3 seconds. They talk fast. All at the same time. And I forgot their names instantly. I know them now as older guy, tall guy, wife, kid one, and kid two. Cute kids.
I was off to a rocky start with the no-name thing, but I had officially met more neighbors in a few seconds than I had in 14 months. I retreated into my apartment to avoid any more neighbor contact. 5 people was more than enough for the first day.
After the moving men had finished, and I closed and locked the door, and walked into the bathroom to wash my hands.
Squish. Drop, drop, drop.
What the hell? I looked down to see that the bathroom rug was completely soaked and looked up to see water dripping from the ceiling, through the light fixture. I quickly realized that this probably wasn’t a good situation for the light, or me.
I shut off the light and stepped back to assess the situation. Obviously, my neighbor above had sprung a leak. I marched upstairs to have a chat.
Knock, knock, knock.
I could see that the apartment was under renovation. By now, I had “phoned a friend”, who was going to translate the situation for whoever opened the door. But there was no answer.
“Knock on another door“, he suggested.
So I tried the door to the right. The owner opened right away. “Yes“, the apartment was under remodel, “No” she didn’t know if they were home. I met her, the son and the husband. We’ll call them “blond lady family”. All names again quickly forgotten. She closed the door.
“Knock on another door“, he suggested.
So I tried the door to the left. The owner opened right away. “Yes“, the apartment was under remodel, “No” he didn’t know if they were home. He introduced himself, but was less chatty than blond lady family. We’ll call him “upstairs neighbor on the left”. Name again quickly forgotten, and now I was already out of nicknames.
Great. I was meeting them, but retaining nothing.
“Knock on your neighbor’s door, on your floor“, aka older guy, tall guy, etc. “They always know what’s going on in the building.”
I walked back downstairs. Tall guy opened after one knock. I think he had prepared to see me, considering all the noise I was making. Translator/phone a friend explained the situation. We all went back upstairs, (2 of us physically present, 1 on the phone) and tried knocking on the apartment under remodel/source of the leak.
This time the door opened, as the neighbor recognized tall guy. It was the grandma of the house.
“Yes“, they were remodeling,
“Yes“, it was the shower,
“No“, they didn’t realize it was leaking.
A spate of apologies followed the last line, with the grandma calling me “Balik jan“, every other word. Loosely translated it means “dear child”. Everyone should be called balik jan at least once a day, it puts a smile on your face.
Unless you’re called balik jan by some punk-ass 16-year old grocery bag-boy, who further told me the bag of groceries he was refusing to hand me, was too heavy for me to carry. He chose poorly. I don’t care if he was taller than me. I will hunt him down someday….
Grandma explained that her son was in charge of the construction, but currently at work, and she promised to send him down to my apartment as soon as he came home, and further promised to make sure the shower didn’t get turned on. And apologized some more.
Satisfied that we had the situation somewhat under control, tall guy and I walked back downstairs. In a span of roughly 15 minutes I had met neighbors in 4 of the 9 other apartments in the building. All of whose names I had completely forgotten.
I thanked tall guy for his help, and went back into my apartment to process the day.
As I was strategizing on how to forever avoid all the neighbors, who would expect me to know their names, I decided I needed to get some supplies and take a little walk. Perhaps some fresh air might jog my memory on names, it was a bit chaotic with the knocking on doors and the traipsing up and down the stairwell.
I finished my walk-about, and as I was entering the main door of the building, a young couple was walking out, carrying a baby.
“Hello!” said the Dad, “welcome!”, while Mom struggled to get a hat on the baby. Everybody smiled at me, even the baby.
Well, they’re pretty friendly, so enthusiastic, I thought. What a nice greeting. I thanked them and smiled in response.
As we were all smiling and passing by each other he further added, “we missed you!” To which I responded “hah”, which is my normal stalling response when I need time to translate exactly what they’ve said from Armenian to English . But by time I put together what he had said, they were out the door.
They missed me? Had I already met them? How could they have missed me? And they didn’t even say their names! What floor are they on?!?
It quickly dawned on me. I’m living in my friend’s apartment, who moved to the US a few years ago, and who is also height challenged, and also a Diasporan. And a fellow Princess. They thought I was her, and were welcoming me on my return.
Now I tried to decide which was worse. That my response to “we missed you”, was basically a response of agreement, as in: “yes you did”
OR, that I didn’t correct them and explain that we had never met before, and accepted the well-wishes.
There was no win. I walked back upstairs, and mentally added them to the list of neighbors I would need to avoid.
Oh how I long for the days when I had only one neighbor to hide from, and only because she thought I was possibly a murderer.