Hearing that noise makes my skin shiver. A relentless snapping sound. The small bumps visible on my skin. Today it is louder than usual. The usual feeling of helplessness replaced by an anger. An anger that is imploring me to do something. To stop sitting here and change a person’s life. Release them from the misery that I have somehow become a part of. The repercussions might be be dangerous but my conscience won’t let me continue sitting here, complicity in what’s occurring.
Three months ago was when they moved in. A man and three women. Usually I don’t take much notice of who lives around me. People come and go and none of us talk to each other anyway. I just thought it was a bit strange that a man had moved in with three women. They might be related I thought at the time, or just trying to save money by renting it together. Other men came and went too. Sometimes only staying a short time before they passed my kitchen window on their way back down the stairs.
Standing on the landing one afternoon smoking a cigarette, one of the girls came out too. Her eyes glazed, pupils almost invisible, a distant look that I’d seen before. My son had been a heroin addict, I knew that look. She smiled at me nervously, using her hands to show she wanted a lighter. Replying with a heavily accented thank you. She smiled at me again “sorry, no English”. I smiled back. There’s a lot of people here that can’t speak English. As she went back inside it was the first time I heard the snap along with a muffled cry.
When you live in somewhere where everyone is almost living on top of each other you learn to ignore things. You don’t want trouble at your own door. Some people might think it’s immoral, but then they probably live out in nice houses in the suburbs. I say you ignore, really you are aware of it, you just don’t process it. You leave it in the back of your mind, telling yourself that it’s someone else’s problem, not yours. That’s how you bring trouble to you door.
One morning while waiting for a package to be delivered, I heard the snapping sounds again. This time they were louder. The cries accompanying them still muffled, but even more pained. My ability to ignore was slowly slipping away. I opened my own door and slammed it shut again. Making some kind of noise, just to make them aware that I could hear. The snapping abruptly stopped, the sounds of someone softly weeping still filling my living room.
The men still came and went. Passing the man who lived in there one morning, he gave me a look. A look that still haunts me. Without a single word that look told me to stay quiet, don’t cause any trouble or there will be trouble for me. Looking down at the floor was an acknowledgment of my compliance. A smirk on his face as I looked back, someone who was used to have control over people. Any defiance would be to put yourself in danger.
And so it continued. The sounds having no pattern, day or night they could suddenly start. I never saw the girls. I could hear them though, I could hear the sound of them weeping. My mind conflicted. My own safety, or the safety of the three people suffering next door to me. They are trapped in a place where they can’t speak the language, imprisoned in a small dark flat. No hope of escape. And I know. That part of my brain that stored all them things I wasn’t suppose to process wasn’t working. It was making me do something.
I chose to no longer ignore. I picked up the telephone and dialed the police station. An hour later they arrived. I heard the knock on the door, they entered, leaving me only able to hear muffled voices. They came out again and knocked on my door. The police officer telling me there was nothing untoward. The girls were students, they had visas. The whole time the man was watching, smirking at me. Now he knew. I should have just kept quiet.
Feature image By stevecadman (Flickrtik hartua) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons