On Tuesday at 4:56 AM, an earthquake woke us. Not especially strong, but it seemed to last a long time. I reached over, took Mayumi’s hand, and we laid there wondering how long the shaking would continue.
Just after that, I could hear the sounds of my neighbor and his girlfriend speaking through the bedroom wall. The thinness of the wall might be surprising elsewhere, but seems the norm in so many buildings in Japan.
My next door neighbor is present in my life in a strange, faceless way. We’ve lived next to one another for about two years, and while we’ve crossed paths a few times near the building, it’s usually at night and with masks on.
I couldn’t tell you how tall he is or how he usually dresses, aside from the standard salaryman suit on work days, and definitely couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.
Every day, though, I am aware of when he’s engaged in certain activities. I can hear the kitchen fan when he cooks, and the hum of the vacuum when he cleans.
A great deal can be surmised based on the muffled sounds transmitted through a thin, uninsulated wall.
I can hear his cat mewing for attention late in the evening. His curtains make a sharp rattling sound when he opens them enthusiastically in the morning. His iPhone alarm tone is the same as what I used to use. He has a peculiar sneeze.
My mind tries to construct an understanding of his personality and habits from these and other fragments. They are a strange assortment, though. I have many questions that will probably never be answered, and I can only assume that he also has unanswered questions and curious notions about me.