I look out my kitchen window and into the glassed-in balcony across the way. For the first time, the sheer curtains are closed. Women are moving between the kitchen and the balcony table, which is crowded with ash trays and pots of food. Young people I have never seen before lean out the windows to smoke. The old guy who sits on the balcony every day, smoking his cigarettes in boxers and white undershirts fails to appear.
I think my neighbor is dead.
The thought surprises me. I never realized how much time I spend on him, unconsciously surveilling. Noticing that he sits down to his solitary lunches at 1 pm, about the time I’m fixing mine. If his son is eating with him, they’ll take lunch in the kitchen. That doesn’t happen much. Maybe it’s not his son.
He’ll usually dress for lunch. And on the street he’s always in a shirt and tie. Dressed, I almost didn’t recognize him. During the summer he sits outside at the neighborhood bakery with a newspaper and a glass of tea. On the way to the store I see him there. When I come by with my groceries he is at the same table, solving the Sudoku and smoking. He buys his cigarettes from the bodega at the end of our block. I heard him asking for his brand once as I passed.
Mostly our relationship is through the window. Neither of us have good curtains. He always sits facing my window and reclines backwards on his chair until it is balancing on 2 legs. From my station at the kitchen sink I observe him smoking, making phone calls, and eating. One day he is holding onto a small girl. She stands on his knees and leans out the window to pick plums.
When it’s hot and everyone has their windows open sound ricochets through the cement canyon between our buildings. I hear his voice. And I learn the girl’s name: Eylül. It means, “September.” Her birthday must be coming up. They are practicing the happy birthday song.
“İyi ki doğdun Eylül…” He starts singing, encouraging her to join in.
She doesn’t really talk yet.
“Eyyyyylüüüüül!” He claps to encourage her.
“İyi ki doğdun Eylül… İyi ki doğdun…”
I don’t mind that I can hear him singing all through my apartment. He’s usually so quiet. And most of the time it is just him and his cigarettes. I decide that he is a retired bureaucrat and a loner. And that Eylül is his granddaughter.
The last time I saw him in the window we broke a rule; we looked at each other. He noticed me, just as I noticed him. I’m sure it was accidental. Still, I felt like I should apologize for surprising him with my attention.
A man I don’t know disappeared from his window overnight. Like steam or a scared cat. We’ve never even spoken. But without him over there ignoring me, I feel alone.