Every day I witness the grand spectacle of the neighbours I see from my balcony. People I never knew existed, people I never cared about, people I still don’t speak to but people I am getting to know day by day, alive, breathing, sneezing, and stuck just as I am.
We have now become silent mirrors of each other’s lives. On my right, I have the façade and windows of a now completely empty hotel. Not much happening there. Right in front, there is a stretch of different houses. On my left, there is one big building with 8 apartments, a lot happening there, and after that another stretch of houses without balconies. Below, on the ground floor of my building, the perfectly designed garden remains perfectly designed even though the owner has not set foot there since March 18th. The neighbouring ground floor sees much more action daily.
Only one of the houses facing me has a balcony. The sun shines on it until 12 only. They have the biggest balcony; it is a terrace! They could even have BBQ’s over there; except they never do. Occasionally a young woman or girl comes out in a bikini and strikes poses to catch selfies she will surely instantly post on IG, Snapchat and FB and spend the remainder of the sunless day awaiting likes and comments. Once a young man sat on the only lounge chair while she religiously continued her selfie dance.
The building on my right has 8 apartments. Each with a balcony. The 4 apartments on the right side of the building have larger balconies but no sun. The 4 on the left have smaller balconies but they are always sunny. Some days you see the inhabitants of the left side sweating in their bikinis while the ones from the right-side wear scarves and jackets.
On the top left floor, lives a very sunburnt young man. Every day he comes out shirtless to sit in the sun and sunbathe. I somehow am having a hard time with the fact that a perfectly healthy young man does nothing but sit in the sun every single day doing nothing when he should be out working and earning a living. And then I remind myself that the only reason I notice it and get annoyed by it is because I am doing exactly the same when I should be doing exactly what I said he should. And maybe he is. And maybe I am. And maybe there is a situation. And maybe not.
Below the idle burnt young man, lives a woman who likes to clean a lot and in between each and every bout of her frenzied cleaning, she takes all of her 65-75 years of age, and about the same amount in weight, and dons her flesh to the sun in a purple itsy bitsy bikini, unaware and uncaring of the very lively flesh she moves around with her. She sits, or lies, lathers oil on her flesh and waits for the results: her skin becomes ever so dark and her hair ever so white just like it was fashionable back when she was young in the funky ’70s.
Below her, on the balcony are two black plastic yard chairs neatly and geometrically facing each other, as in a never-ending conversation. Sometimes, but rarely, they are occupied by their owners, a black mother and a daughter who continue the conversation on the same amicable and structural tone set by the furniture.
On the right side, people are more fleeting when they come out. It is never sunny, so they never stay long. Or not long enough for me to notice anything particular. Today the inhabitant of the third floor came out longer than usual. He was wearing a shiny silky pinkish blouse and was carrying a woman’s purse on his shoulder. He had a 3-day beard and could have looked very manly were it not for the shouting colours and accessories. What got to me most though was the purse. I kept wondering why, oh why is he on the balcony with a purse. I would have asked … that is if we were on speaking terms. As it is we are just mirroring or whatever.
Amidst all that, I hear the birds who keep getting louder and louder as if somehow understanding that they now rule. They are the only ones still free to come and go as they please and they let it be known as loudly as they want. Them and the young son of one of my neighbours hidden behind the walls of one of the houses without balconies opposite me. The young son or the young children, I have no idea if there are more than one. They all sound the same when they shout their discontent to their parents anyway. Each time a child shouts a parent shouts even louder after the child. They then shout at each other until they stop, as abruptly as they have started. No explanation ever, as if one was needed.
The ground floor is the most interesting. It is a whole courtyard belonging to an elderly couple. They remind me of prisoners in their yard. Apart from two square islands filled with synthetic technicolour grass that remains electric green all year long, there is a covered seating area, that looks like pure heavy duty adorned plastic from above, complete with table, cover, bench and chairs. They have covered the ground with gravel. Each of their already heavy steps due to their age becomes even louder and insistent. Just like prisoners do, every day at more or less the same hour, they come out for fresh air and exercise, … and to tend to their garden and the flowerpots planted all along the two walls on which ivy grows. On weekends, they have visitors, their children, and grandchildren. Then they all talk loudly, in Italian. At some point they take a nap in the shadow of the covered seating area; the man always takes the daybed while his wife sits on the longue chaise. There they fall asleep, as if they did not have a care in the world. And they probably don’t.
Sitting next to me, the cats enjoy the birds from the balcony and I can’t help but feel so sorry and so guilty for the cats, for having confined them in an apartment from where they can only dream of catching anything but the occasional fly. My two fierce mice killers.
And then I remember that I too am confined and can only dream of spreading my wings and fly away. So in the meantime, I join the cats and watch the incessant film of my neighbours and the birds.