Sunday, May 22, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Today is Sunday, so I woke up late this morning. It had gotten colder overnight, so when I got up I turned on the air conditioner that heats my apartment. The strong smell of incense flooded in with the warm air. My next-door neighbor, an old Russian woman named Aleksandra, died of a heart attack two nights ago. Her funeral is being held in her apartment today.
News of her death came to me last night at precisely the moment the neighbor who lives in the apartment directly below Aleksandra and I were sharing complaints about her. “There's always people coming and going from her place early in the morning,” I complained. “Her doorbell is loud and plays annoying tunes like 'My Darling Clementine' and 'Happy Birthday. The chiming of her grandfather clock sometimes wakes me up at night.”
“She yelled at me about setting my garbage in the hallway for a minute,” added my friend. “And people were moving furniture around up there in the afternoon when I wanted my baby to sleep.”
Someone delivered the news to us while I was sitting in my friend's apartment, gossiping, and we felt terrible. We simultaneously looked to the ceiling, asking forgiveness, whether we were directing our prayers to the apartment above or further up, I don't know. I don't know why I was so ungracious toward this poor old woman. She always returned my greetings in the hallway when I saw her, but since the weather turned cold, I didn't see her very often. I was glad when she stopped coming out so much, because she whenever she did she would always talk to me, striking up a very one-sided conversation that always made me uncomfortable. Once she made me repeat her full name several times until she was satisfied with my pronunciation. A moment later, I didn't remember her last name. More than once she motioned to me that I should come in for tea, but looking past her into her dark and creepy apartment that emitted some strong unpleasant smells, I would say in my best broken Russian “nyet, sichas nyet.” (“no, now no”) and saying a word that I hoped best resembled the Russian for work, I pantomimed running in place, and left.
Today is a rare gloomy, damp, snowy day. It's cold, but not that cold, so the city is covered with muddy puddles. I preferred not to go out at all today, but I had a pile of garbage that needed to be taken out, and as all I had in my fridge was one egg, some ketchup, and mayonnaise, a trip to the bazaar was needed.
As I readied to leave, I could hear several voices on the other side of my door. I looked through the peep hole to watch for the mourners to move out of the way. I felt guilty trying to avoid the whole funeral thing, and I wondered if I should offer to do something, or at least go in and pay my respects, but I'm a coward, and it seems more respectful to stay out of the way than to risk a cultural faux pas.
When the mourners dispersed, I made my escape. The hallway was filled with smoke, not from the incense, but from Tajik women cooking over two open fires right in the stairwell. One woman is deep-frying potatoes, and the other is watching rice in a larger pot. A rare and out of place taste of community and local tradition in a building who's occupants are a mix of nationalities that all keep to ourselves.
A red coffin lid is propped up against the wall of the stairwell opposite my door. On my way out and the way back home, I navigated past these obstacles—the large coffin lid, the two fires and two cooking pots, the mourners huddled around the building's entrance with umbrellas. And now I'm hiding in my apartment again, the TV on, but muted respectfully. Rest in peace, Aleksandra. I'm sorry I never took you up on that offer for a cup of tea.