When I moved in, there was still a husband next door. Every morning I could hear him coughing through the bedroom wall. After a while, the bedroom wall became silent, and the hall became louder. She was standing outside, with her monstrous little black poodle, and chatting with the hunchbacked woman from across the hall. Not every morning, but most mornings.
I left for a couple of years. When I came back, the poodle was still alive. She even takes him with her to the toilet now, which is outside in the hall. The hunchbacked woman wasn’t there anymore. Nor was the old deaf couple in the small apartment half the size of mine. Or the other old woman down the hall. A fat woman and a thin man moved into her apartment and put the sign “Fam. Antic” up on their door. “Fam.” for “family”. Now the fat woman would have noisy chats with the poodlelady, about how she had been in hospital for weeks and her husband hadn’t even paid her a visit once, about how he hadn’t done nothin’ around the flat while she was away, about the trouble they had with his former wife, over custody for his son. Occasionally, the police would stop by at their apartment. Once in a while a boy with spiky hair was around. He liked to spend time on the toilet. What do you do when a boy with spiky hair who doesn’t want to be anywhere where he can be blocks your toilet?
About a month ago, light shone out of inside the small apartment half the size of mine. Last week, when I moved out, an Indian lad came out from there. He pays about one third more rent than I did, for half the space, without central heating, and they’d installed the shower themselves a few weeks ago. They: Three Punjabi guys, two of them brothers from the small town Hoshiarpur near Amritsar.
The other day I went back there again, to meet a man from the Burgenland who had called on my ad in a magazine: Bulky furniture to give away. The poodlelady was out in the hall. She said the fat woman had complained about the Indians, because they never flushed the toilet. Three toilet roll holders, one for each party. Whenever mine got empty, that of family Antic’s got empty as well. After a while I concluded that they took their toilet paper back inside the apartment whenever one of the other holders got empty. They have to be afraid of toilet paper theft.
The poodlelady was concerned. Who are we gonna get in there now, she said, pointing at my almost empty apartment. Suddenly she seemed to like me. Eight years ago she had complained bitterly about my living habits, concocting all sorts of bizarre stories based on her short-sighted observations. That I had spread out lots of mattresses on my floor, for instance, renting out sleeping space to “young persons who don’t belong to this house” (“hausfremde junge personen”).
Then Burgenlander turned out to be a cheerful old man. He’s a fruit-vendor alongside a big road that goes straight to Hungary, but he also sells electric supplies. You need to store them somewhere, he explained. Otherwise, you know, the Checks, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, all these people. You know. That’s why I need the furniture.
He came on his own, even though he’d said on the phone he would scout for “some men” to help him. He hadn’t found any men, he said, only a woman. But, get this, she’d started drinking Schnaps on the drive, and although he had told her off, she got so pissed that she lay asleep in the car now, unable to help moving furniture three flights of stairs down. He smiled and shrugged. “What can you do.”
When he came upstairs again, one of the Indian lads was with him. And a fat woman, very cheerful, too. Glowing eyes, and always “looking for more men”, she said. “To help. He needs help”, she said with a strong Eastern European accent, pointing at the Burgenlander. The slim Indian lad from Hoshiarpur and the Burgenlander managed to transport bulky pieces of furniture down three flights, very gently, very slowly. The Burgenlander presented me with a bottle of wine and some homemade peach compote, and then he drove off. He said he’d be back in a couple of days to pick up the rest of the furniture. I said thank you to the Indian lad. To the Schnapslady and the Burgenlander. It was almost dark and I went for some Vietnamese food. Today, I talked to the Burgenlander on the phone. He still has difficulties finding men to help carrying the last pieces of furniture. Actually, he added, he had offered the Indian lad from last time some payment for his help, but he wouldn’t take any money. The woman, well, the woman won’t be much help this time either, because she’s so embarrassed. She had started fooling around a bit with the Indian lad’s brother, and had promised to call him. But now she hasn’t called him for two days, and she’s embarrassed. What can you do.