Erum Hasan’s submission, Her Life, was the third place winner of Good News Toronto’s 2012 True Story Contest — a creative non-fiction personal essay about a good neighbour.
First apartment. First pangs of loneliness.
The Stewart Street abode was my sanctuary — and my insane asylum. All of me would be refracting off the walls with no other roommate, love, or family members to absorb my moods and tempers. Four cans of Coca-Cola rolled in the refrigerator. The superintendent often showed up uninvited, hoping to catch a glimpse of something or other. He had tattoos of swear words on his hands; I was scared of him. I knew he had been in my apartment while I was away. Things had moved. Toaster. Books. Underwear.
She was my neighbour. Blonde, petite, stylish Chanel eyeglasses. We smiled at each other. She mispronounced my name and called me “Harem.” I felt too embarrassed to correct her. We crossed each other in the hallway and exchanged pleasantries. I can’t fully remember her name, but it was something traditional, like Patricia.
Patricia always looked put-together. Tight little cardigans, pearl studs; her hair in perfect chignons. She looked content. At night I would often hear music and voices oozing through the brick wall that separated our bedrooms.
One night, as I lay crying over a past love, I heard her laugh on the other side of the wall. It was a carefree tinkle-y kind of a laugh. I looked at my watch: 1:37 a.m. Someone was making her laugh at 1:37 a.m. I was jealous. I thought wryly about the wall separating us and the emotions it divided; laughter on one end, sobbing on the other. An emotional equilibrium of sorts.
I began to lust after her life. She had someone deliberately bringing laughter to her life. What did I have? A job I didn’t like, a solitude that was eating me alive, a city at my feet that I was too afraid and lonely to discover.
Then one day, she invited me in. “Harem,” she said, “I think the mailman accidentally left some of your mail in my mailbox. I have it up in my apartment. Why don’t you come over for tea?”
“Sure!” I said excitedly. I would finally enter the romanticized cove, imagined so many times.
The door swung open.
It stank. Three cats lazed languidly. Dust balls clung to the carpet. Clothes strewn on overused furniture. “We should hang out more often,” said Patricia. “I’m from out West, Harem, and don’t know anyone here.”
“But I heard people…and laughing?” I asked, confused.
“Oh that,” said Patricia. “I watch TV till the wee hours of the morning.”
The reverie disintegrated. A new Patricia emerged. Alone. With three cats. Wanting to befriend me. Laughing at her television as if it were a companion.
“Of course,” I replied. I wasn’t that lonely after all.