I’ve been here in Chile almost three weeks now. It’s been a quiet time of visiting with friends and getting my feet on the ground.
When I say quiet, I mean mostly “silent.” Compared to my old apartment, which is just a couple of blocks away, this fifth-floor apartment is like a monastery. It took me two weeks to realize that I was hearing the bell and siren from the nearby fire station. All that noise used to rise up to my 16th floor apartment. Now, I barely hear it.
Here, I’m surrounded by other buildings. Outside noises are muffled, and I never hear the cacophony from the street that used to keep me awake at night.
Oh, there are the boys who live across the hall. During the day, it sounds like they’re playing indoor hockey with lots of yelling and crashes, but at night, they’re quiet.
Then, there is the upstairs neighbor who wears her street shoes in the apartment. She clomps around, fully dressed I’d guess, day and night. I had the same kind of neighbor in the other apartment. A woman who thumped around morning until the wee hours of the next morning, she did an impressive amount of remodeling of her apartment.
Most days, there was some kind of racket coming from upstairs. A drill, a saw, a hammer. A week ago Saturday, when the hammering started here, I woke up with a sense of déjà vu. Disoriented, I reached for my phone. It was 1:33am.
At first, I thought the sounds were coming from next door. Then, I realized that they were emanating from the apartment above mine. BAM-bam-bam-bam-bam, again and again, as if she were hanging pictures.
I lay awake, thinking she would stop any minute. I mean, how many pictures can one woman have?
Apparently, she had a lot. I finally drifted back to sleep an hour later with her still going. I woke up again around 5:00am. I could still hear her at it. The tapping was faint now, as if she’d started in the bedroom and then moved into the living room or kitchen. Not loud enough any more to keep me awake.
Later that morning, I was still in my “nightie,” my long t-shirt, when my doorbell rang. I was surprised because the concierge hadn’t buzzed me to say that I had a visitor. Who could be at my door?
I tiptoed over and peered through the peephole. All I saw was a blank wall. No one was there.
My hollering “Hello, hello…alo!” was met with silence. Which one of my neighbors could be ringing my doorbell and then running away? And why?
I turned from the door and, as if they could sense I was walking away, the bell rang again.
“Alo, alo?” Still no acknowledgement.
I crept back to the peephole, stood on my tippy toes, and glanced down. I could just see the top of a dark head. It was one of the kids from across the hall.
I opened the door enough that I could speak to him. His eyes took in my attire and went wide as saucers. In a very soft voice he said, “Disculpe. ¿Tiene fósoforos?” Excuse me, do you have any matches?
“No, no tengo fósoforos.” No, I don’t have any matches.
He ran back across the hall and closed the door. I could hear little voices giggling.
I didn’t know if he and his brother had decided to check out the gringa, if his mother had sent him looking for matches, or if the boys were alone and planning to burn down the house.
My friend, Carlos, came for tea the other evening. When I told him the story, he got a good chuckle out of it. As he opened the door to leave, he looked down the hallway in both directions.
“Cuidado con duendes,” he said, laughing. Beware of elves.