Saturday, 11 June 2011

Life is a Prize

I believe that life is a prize,
But to live doesn't mean you're alive.

-Nicki Manaj, Moment for Life

This week I met the old lady above me for the first time. I've lived in the same block as her since November. The only time I'd previously laid eyes on her was in March when she had a very nasty accident.

She's not quite as old as she sounds from her phone conversations (I can hear them quite clearly through my ceiling). I'd put her at 60 having met her, but when she's on the phone she does sound 20 years older. She's had a hard life. When I saw her, her ankle was still bandaged. She'd just redecorated before the accident- on returning from hospital she had to do it all again, which she could barely afford.

Next door to me there's a guy in his forties. I call him Charles Bronson. All he needs is the 'tache and he's a true 70's lookalike. The lady says that nobody lives long in the flat he rents.

Before I moved in, an old lady called Eileen had lived in this flat. I didn't ask the housing association, but I suspect she died. She may have smoked herself to death. When I took the paper off the walls and ceiling, the nicotine stains had embedded straight through multiple layers and onto the hard surface. (Nobody had stripped the paper off, ever, judging from the 1960's designs.) You could tell that Eileen sat in an armchair in the corner of the room, taking drag after drag, year after year. The stains fanned out from that corner, covering the whole of the stripped lounge a dirty yellow.

The old lady above me had been friends with Eileen. Apparently, Eileen was an unkempt hoarder. Her flat was filthy; she never cleaned it. (This isn't hard to believe, considering the smell when I first got the keys.) The old lady said she couldn't stay talking to Eileen for too long. The smell made it hard to breathe. You couldn't move in the bedroom. She piled up stuff everywhere, as if she was afraid that she could lose it all.

I suppose she did, in the end.

I pitied the old lady: she was close to tears regaling it all. I'd have helped take her bags up, but I had a pile of my own shopping that needed throwing in the freezer ASAP. There was also a part of me, admittedly, that thought she might latch on to me and take up my time every day. I felt guilty for thinking that.

At least she knew her previous neighbour. At least they were similar ages. I'm the youngest in my block by about 20 years. I haven't really bothered socialising. The lady didn't mention if she could hear my music or other, erm, sounds.

On the bright side, nobody has died since I moved in. We're all living pretty frugal, by the looks of things, but for an Oldham council estate the area isn't too bad. We've got a fair bit of greenery around us- trees, grass- which is important when you live in a sprawling, close-knit network of arranged bricks. We could all do with a bit more money, but everyone would say that. We still have our lives here on the estate- our prizes, as Nicki Manaj would have it.

Sometimes all you can do is to try to keep it that way.

1 comment:

M.J. Nicholls said...

It really is grim up north. I find neighbours in more ramshackle flat blocks can be friendlier than in the sort of impersonal suburban grannyflats I live in. I've been in my current flat for three years and I know no one of my neighbours.

But I am an antisocial bastard.