Saturday, August 11, 2007

The French Affection

It was pitch black and I couldn't see my hand in front of me.

Fumbling in the darkness, I reached up for the fusebox and found the switch. I pulled it down and turned off the electricity. A nearby electro beat stopped abruptly.

3:45am, stood on the top floor of a neighbouring apartment block, outside my French neighbour's flat. For the past year and a half, my French neighbour has woken me up at ungodly hours to a soundtrack of gabba techno or Gallic hiphop. My spontaneous attempts to murder his speakers earlier this year only served to have absolutely zero effect when he acquired further speakers.

I fumbled for the hallway light switch and turned it on. In the new light, I saw that my French neighbour's door - his replacement door as I'd kicked his last one down two months earlier - was now broken, so I pushed it open and switched his electricity back on. He was walking out of his bedroom in front of me.

'Oh no, I woke you up again.'

I said nothing and lit a cigarette, like a nonchalant detective in a Raymond Chandler novel, minus a trilby and raincoat, and plus a t-shirt and jeans, and a severe short new haircut. I walked towards him silently.

'Zorry,' he said as I walked past him and into his bedroom.

Fortunately, it was early Saturday morning and I had no work to be woken up from. I hadn't even gone to bed yet, but when I'd switched everything off in my room, I'd heard his music and paid him this visit. I wasn't angry, just fed up.

I had intended to appeal to his sense of decency if he had any, but as soon as I entered his bedroom, I stopped in my tracks.

His room had been demolished. In a fit of - I don't quite know what - my neighbour had destroyed almost everything. The floor was strewn with shards of glass, mounds of paper, twisted cds and dvds, empty beer cans, and small hillocks of cigarettes and ash. There wasn't a visible patch of carpet to be seen.

'What the fuck has happened here?'


'Jesus Christ.'

I pulled out a cigarette and handed it to him, which he took. At my feet was one of many beer cans, so I picked it up and flicked cigarette ash into it and sat on the edge of his bed with a sigh. He joined me. I said nothing. He could let it all out, and I would listen.

'My bruzzer, he has left me.'

I met his brother a month or so ago, a night I hadn't blogged about. He'd woken me up again, despite my having broken his previous speakers. It was 2am then, and I was disconcerted to see two people in this room, particularly as his brother was older and meaner looking and rolling a joint when I'd walked in to yell. He seemed a lot more level headed, albeit less approachable.

And now this man had gone. His kid brother had got into a fight with him and thrown a saucepan of food at his head.
His older brother subsequently walked out.

'I have no money, my landlord, I 'ave not paid 'im for two monz. Everyzing is shit.'

I looked at the sea of paper and filth on the floor, and nodded.

'I 'ave no family, I 'ave been in foster 'omes sinz this 'igh.' He raised his hand a couple of feet off the dirty floor. 'All I 'ave is my music. I will never see 'im again.'

'You're 19,' I told him. 'He's your brother. Of course you'll see him again. It just feels like you won't.'

'I try to kill myzelf. I have a knife.'

'Show me the knife.'

Karim reached down to the floor and handed me two kitchen knives. They had bits of dried food on them, and they were viciously sharp. He then showed me his wrist where he claimed to have cut himself. I couldn't see any scarring, but I didn't doubt that he'd held one of these blades against his veins and toyed with the idea of suicide in a drugged haze.

'Ze police, zey arrest me for possession.'
I took my eyes off the knives and looked at him, trying to work out just how intelligent he may be.
Possibly not very.
He has dark brown eyes, almost black. If there was a glimmer of youth in them, it's virtually extinguished. He has a small thin frame, his grey t-shirt sagging off his drooped shoulders. His face is lightly tanned with a smattering of youthful stubble, and has a look of permanent regret. He could easily pass himself off as the 'before' photo in one of those 'Faces of Addiction' montages.

'I 'ad a gram of cocaine on me, and 'ad been smoking skunk all night. Zer paper, is there.' He pointed to a yellow duplicate slip on my right. I picked it up. It was a notification of police bail.

Karim became overcome with a newfound vigour and began handing me forms and papers explaining his story. He then handed me a menu for a local pizzeria.
'I work at zis restaurant. I do orders for tomato, mozzarella, for pizza an' wine. Is shit. I 'ave no money. My life is shit.'

He looked at his floor. Not the best place to stare at when he's down, really.

'That's what life's like, Karim,' I found myself telling my tormentor. 'It's not an easy ride. You're lost, mate. Perdoo.'

'Yes,' he said. 'Perdu.'

'Why do you think you do so many drugs?'

'I like to get 'igh. I had once 29 pills in my fridge. I wake up, 'ave 'alf a pill, I 'ave zem many nights. You know Fabric?'

'Yes, good club,' I said, dragging on my cigarette and recalling those days when I would go clubbing and walk past troops of ladies like a ghost, wishing I had a different head.

'I go zere a lot, take lots of drugs.'

'What about women? You're a good looking young man,' I said. 'Why don't you go out and meet women? You're 19 and French, for christ's sake.'

'When I go zere, I see ze women and I like zem, but zen I 'ave ze pills and I am all for ze pills all night.'

'Look', I said, 'You may think your life is shit, but you're 19. You can always turn everything around. You live here like this, but I'm only over there,' I pointed at his wall, 'and I'm 33. I'd like to be married with a wife and kids, but life doesn't always turn out the way you'd like.'

Karim nodded.

'Do you want your brother to see this room so he realises how unhappy you are?'

'I don't know.'

'Clean your room. Clean up this mess, and get back your dignity and respect. I think you've stopped loving yourself, and all the drugs, the knives, and waking me up with your fucking music, you want confrontation. You want to be hated because you hate yourself, and me yelling at you is like the proof.'

I stood up to leave. Karim was happy that we'd talked. Moreover, he wanted to talk. And for the first time that night, he beamed. I didn't know whether it was a grin on getting one over on me, or if he was relieved at finally getting to air his woes. Only time will tell.

It is Saturday afternoon as I type this. All I can hear are police sirens, random conversations from the street below, and techno.


elif said...

i think it's very nice of you to listen to his problems. seems like he doesn't have any company. nice analysis you did in the end. i think he also wants to get some attention, to be recognized so that he can prove himself and others that he actually exitst. happens at his very low level of self esteem. maybe if he just quits drugs and gets laid, he'll let you sleep at night.

Angela-la-la said...

Pah. Everyone has a sob story, doesn't give 'em the right to make their neighbours lives hell.

You're very sweet to listen to him though.

elif said...

edit: " that he can prove to himself and others that he actually exists."

Z said...

Poor lad. It's hard for blokes.

You're a good writer.

Anonymous said...

You, my friend, have a very soft underbelly under a prickly exterior shell.

Anonymous said...

Uh Huh.
Not one of your best writing attempts. A little over full with prosaic descriptions.

Vi vi vi vooom!!!!!!!! said...

Ahhh, bless ya for not smashing up his room any more than it already was. And Anon, fuck off. (Sorry, had to do that for ya.)

toby said...

Reckon he's seeing how far you can be pushed. Try chucking him out the window next time.

fwengebola said...

Elif ~ I was mildly drunk by then and didn't mind sorting this out with a 'chat'. I just didn't expect to be confronted by a scene from The Shining.
Ang ~ Ooooh, you're a hard woman, you.
Elif ~ No, no, you're good, I got it first time.
Z ~ Hard? Dammit, sometimes I wish I was a woman.
Lesbian, natch.
And god, thank you.
LFM ~ I'm a pussycat, really. A big, fat pussycat.
Anon ~ Oh lordy, criticism. The occasion warranted a more introspective tone, I felt. Rest assured I will go back to comparing myself to someone's swollen nipples or somesuch nonsense very soon.
Vi ~ I did notice that he didn't destroy everything. The TV, for example, a perfect object to smash in a drunken fug but nooo, the Yellow Pages got it.
Toby ~ I Lol'd there. And I don't Lol often. I am going with the mentor approach. Until he wakes me up again, then I'll tear him a new arse in his forehead.

Anonymous said...

god, that made me feel very sad.....and I thought you wrote about it with a lovely sensitivity...

fwengebola said...

That's terribly nice, thank you. And sorry about my arsehole/ forehead comment above.

Peach said...

poor chap...

Eliza said...

are you taking him under your wing? i think you should.. x

fwengebola said...

P ~ Yes, a few less drugs and techno and a bit more soulsearching and he may become a nice chap.
Albeit French.
Eliza ~ God, no.

londongirl said...

Karim sounds like one fucked up young man.

Good on you for trying to find a non-violent solution, but until he ditches the drugs, it seems like you may have to simply invest in ear defenders. or nose cancelling headphones?

Day Dreamer said...

Keep doing shit like this and people may actually like you.

Joie de Vivre said...

i so thought you were like a raymond chandler character before i read you saying you were like a raymond chandler character.

karim is a mess, i hope he 'hears' you, but the proof will be in the techno pudding.

oo, ive missed you fwenge

luna said...

My,I'm amazed that you still managed to walk in and not get into fisticuffs with him.He really is as trashed as his flat.
He's a headcase,it's gonna be a big job to sort him out,and one for the drugs counsellors only.

Your post sounds more like angsty French film noir than Casablanca to me,up to the sequence when you start lecturing him about, ahem ,tidiness, YOU of all people, with that it descends into pure Woody Allen,I was in stitches.

P.S. Karim is not a French name.

P.P.S.Yep, Angela's tough, she's a Scorpio,can't get tougher than that.

Clarissa said...

Holy shit. You made me spit out coffee in laughter with the stereo episode. I meant to blogroll you then but got distracted. Now I'm back and you're serving as shrink to that very same neighbour? I'm not sure how to feel about that.

fwengebola said...

LondonG ~ You are of course right, although I'm assuming you mean noise cancelling headphones. I can't think what nose cancelling headphones would do.
DD ~ No they wouldn't. I am largely unlikeable.
JDV ~ Where've you been??? I'm as much like a Raymond Chandler detective as I am Hindu.
Luna ~ I was too tired and drunk to get into a fight. Nope, Karim isn't a French name per se, but he's French Algerian, so he may disagree.
Clarissa ~ I've fucked it, haven't I? I should've retained an air of violent intent, and instead I've become his headdoctor.