My favorite thing about my apartment used to be its windows. The huge converted mansion’s windows stretch from a half a foot off the floor to the top of the cathedral ceiling.
I was busy last night and, since I would be getting home after dark (which is quite late here as the northern England sky is still bearing that brilliant shade of twilight after eleven, today being the summer solstice) and our part of town is not known as the absolute safest, I requested that my husband walk to meet me so I would not come through our busy streets after dark alone. When we arrived home, the main entrance to our apartment was propped open with a cinderblock. The neighbors must have forgotten to close it after propping it to let their children move freely in and out of the hallway during the sunny part of the day. I could hear their carefree voice in the hall and outside the window in the front lawn as I had prepared to leave earlier that evening and do so enjoy the nearby presence of children as they seem to keep life in perspective. It being after even the twilight had faded to black, I shut the door and spent a couple hours with my husband watching comedy, recalling the evening, and eating pears. I was exhausted by two o’clock, having spent an evening at a social gathering, as my social skills have perhaps stooped to an all-time low, resembling summers I spent in my early teens in the backwoods of the Appalachians. I went to bed with a heavy sleep hanging over me and my cat followed suit and fell quickly to sleep on my shoulder with his head on my pillow and his face buried into my hair.
I was awakened from my sleep by tapping tapping tapping on the bedroom window. The cat woke and sat on my chest, staring at the crack in the curtain that he is guilty of always making when he pushes his head between the two curtains to peak out on the moving world after it has been closed from us at nightfall. The crack makes a clearly visible peeping hole into my bedroom, but I knew myself to not be visible to the road from my position in the bed, so I stayed still and waited for the tapping to cease. I called for my husband with no reply. The knocking on the window ended as I heard a siren pass; perhaps the person outside had realized the way their action would look to a passing policeman or perhaps they had just exhausted their rapping. I could not know his motive. My heart was pounding, almost inexplicably, and I crawled out of bed wrapped in a heavy comforter and went to find my husband, who was in the living room. He told me the doorbell had also rang softly several times but he had dismissed it assuming it was the inconsiderate man who lives upstairs who, some weeks ago, had taken a habit of ringing our doorbell or tapping on the bedroom window for us to let him into the common hallway. Because it happened previously during a holiday weekend, we assumed he had lost his key and could not get a replacement until the office reopened on Tuesday. On Tuesday morning, he rang our bell again, at 7am, and my husband let him in (the same man, always with a coy grin). On Tuesday evening, he rang once more at midnight, and then tapped on the bedroom window where I was until my husband went to let him in, this time giving him a threatening warning that we will not open the door for him again and that he should replace his key immediately. He mumbled something about talking to the other person he lives with, and we assumed he and his partner would have cleared up the confusion as we did not have another unannounced ring until after three o’clock last night.
That is why last night the ringing bell and the tapping tapping tapping were thought to be that man, again having lost his key, and perhaps trying not to anger his partner by waking her by ringing their own bell. I sat in the living room for a bit describing to my husband the tapping, almost frantic, and somehow much more terrifying than that of the man upstairs previously. However, I eventually dismissed it all as having been him and the terror having come only from the fact that I was jolted awake, perhaps firstly by the ringing doorbell, but only became fully conscious upon the tapping. Perhaps five, perhaps ten minutes passed before we heard the heavy muffled voices of men in the hall and feet walking up the carpeted stairs. I felt surely someone had finally let him in, either his own partner or perhaps the Indonesian father who lives across the hall and whom I had met before on our first attempt to unknowingly let the man upstairs into the hall. He had rung both of our bells and ran past us with a playful laugh saying he lives upstairs. That is how I met him, and knew him, and was the only explanation he had given me for his ongoing odd behavior.
My husband walked me back to bed, checked the window to ensure no strangers were outside, and tied the cat’s crack between the curtains tightly closed with one of my hair bands and I crawled back into bed, still shaking from the events and the unnerving awakening. He went back to the living room but several minutes later I heard the loud voices of men, again outside the bedroom window. I yelled once more for my husband, but this time I could see through the top cracks between the curtains and through the slightly transparent, stained-glass effect of the fabric, that the voices of men were carried about in an atmosphere of flashing blue lights. I peaked out to see a long band of police tape in front of my window and the nearby busy traffic intersection completely barricaded by police and ambulances. There was a police officer standing outside my window, guarding it. I pulled the curtain wide open and stared at him only later realizing it would be better to sit unnoticed. I could hear their muffled voices through the single panes of glass on my enormous bedroom window. As I sat near the window listening to the muffled voices of the officers an gigantic spider with long jagged legs walked right before my eyes across the curtain, silhouetted by the filtered light. There was talk of dropping a foreigner’s body, of trails of blood, of the traffic movement in the driveway that runs in front of my window with only one entrance or exit, and of the wall that stops cars and foot traffic from easily accessing my window from the main street in front of the apartment. I sent my husband out to speak to them of the things we had heard that night, the often dismissed goings-on in the city, voices passing, yelling, car doors, ringing doorbells. The officer kept my husband from stepping onto the stoop outside the main hall and told him that he himself was the one ringing doorbells, so my husband later assured me that the police had rung the bell, and that they must have tapped on my window having seen the light from my lamp which sits by the window through the cat-cracked curtain. I lay awake all night, listening to the shifting voices of men outside my bedroom window, noticing bright flashes of white, a camera flash, repeatedly lighting the crevices of my curtains. I wondered what it was that was drawing them to my bedroom window, as I had heard no sound of struggle, no car doors, no noises of distress, nothing at all save the tapping tapping tapping. Finally the blue flashing lights transformed into a steady blue dawn and the driveway outside my window fell silent once more.
I slept furiously, finally waking up in the stillness of late morning. I went to my window, still curious of the camera flashes, the white tape, the police guard. I searched, looking for pools of blood, or white chalk outlines, discarded baggies with traces of white powder, or bullet shells scattered about, but saw nothing. Then I noticed the driveway had a yellow chalk arrow drawn on it, and further down, another and another, leading out toward the road. Suddenly I realized there were pinkish grey stamps near the first yellow arrow, shaped like flabby horseshoes, the first one appearing just outside my bedroom window. I traced them with my eyes to find they were following the yellow arrows. I looked at the stairs and the stoop beside my window which is the entrance to our main hall, where the button for our doorbell is. I saw more of the same reddish grey stamps, and then some drips on the steps of the same fluid color. That is when I noticed that the stamps begin at the edge of the stoop and first move toward my window in one direction, stop suddenly just outside the central part of the bay window, and then turn around and move away toward the exit, following the yellow chalk arrows.
It was only when the night passed, when sunlight and the summer solstice illuminated the world, and when I saw the imprint of the moment outside my window, that I could understand more clearly the terrifying reality of the night before. Because, while I slept, I feel surely now that it was not the police who tapped tapped tapped on my bedroom window, despite the fact that they took credit for the ringing doorbell that directly proceeded the rapping when they spoke with my stoic husband. Even in the haze of my fear and exhaustion last night, I found it odd that a policeman might have been tapping on my bedroom window, but tried to imagine it could be another curious cultural difference, since it was not the first time my bedroom window had been tapped upon following a ringing doorbell. But now, seeing his footsteps just outside my window, traces of his path on the stoop toward the ringer for the doorbell, the yellow arrows that follow the movement of his steps from my window toward the road where last night there was an ambulance parked, I imagine it must have been him rapping, blood soaked.
I wish I could have known who was at the window. Surely, though, I have grown quite terrified of any someone outside my window, especially at a moment in the night when everyone should be asleep. And I thought, again, it must be the strange man upstairs, who quite truly unnerves me and who promised to never ring again or to rap at my window at midnight or later. But I worried more it might be someone other than the man upstairs, in a city known for burglary, where the author of “A Clockwork Orange” grew up, impoverished by its legacy as the first industrial city. When the Ikea deliveryman brought me my bookshelf during my first week living here, he told me to watch out in this part of town, that his “old lady” had her cellphone stolen nearby. Of course, though, I know this is always the case when living inside a city, and I thought it quite fortunate that she had been burglarized without any real physical damage, without any terrifying gun-wielding or the rest that is so common where I am from. Of course, I do not walk alone at night, and never act distracted on the streets, and always lock my doors even during the day, but I do this everywhere, as I have come to know even the smallest towns are not safe from the psychopathy of humankind. And I quickly learned that most of the reputation of my area of the city comes from the infamous race riots of the nineteen eighties, which actually make me feel proud of living here, followed by a series of rather unpleasant instances of gang-related gun violence, which has nearly been eradicated since the last gun-related fatality in the region was nearly a decade ago. I dismissed much of the reputation of the area as being racism and xenophobia mixed with the legacy of the place. All these things were in my mind as I heard the rapping, but I wish I could have known who was at the window.
I know the man was a foreigner, like me, left alone in a strange world. I went outside this evening and followed his footsteps, followed the yellow chalk arrows out to the main road and across the intersection, where I suppose someone saw him and called for help. I looked at his steps outside my window, up onto our stoop, even traces of where his hand must have reached inside our mail slot. It’s strange to follow a ghost of a moment like that, feeling so near to him. I never would have imagined that it might have been an aching human who was outside my bedroom window rapping and tapping on the glass, only would have thought it was something terrible trying to be let in. I did not hear his screams, did not hear the car doors of his aggressors, or even the faint murmur of “Help”, and I never saw him, so I could not know it was him at my bedroom window.
Windows are strange devices, meant to let the world in without letting in its ghosts. A good window keeps out the cold in the winter and drives out the heat during the summer. It protects us from rain and burglary, from gusts of wind, animals and insects that might bite or sting. But it lets the sunlight drench us, feed our plants, warm our homes. A good window is thick and heavy, unbreakable, yet escapable. The windows in my apartment used to by my favorite thing. They let the world in. There are cracks between the frame and the single panes of glass so gusts of wind can fill our rooms and the precipitation during winter enters and settles in a solid fog on the glass. On sunny days, the light streams in and the cat sleeps on the floor drenched in the sun. I sit by the window for many hours a day, painting, writing, petting my cat, and sharing meals with my husband, as people come and go, drying laundry, taking out the trash, going about the motions of life. Through my windows the world enters and the house fills with Sunday mornings or Sikh festivals, children walking home from school on Friday afternoons in their navy blazers and white collared shirts. It fills with the children playing in the back garden, cats stalking each other along the walkway, women pushing strollers, young men driving cars with the windows down blasting Bollywood soundtracks. Now my windows are full of rapping and tapping as the world has been let in, but I only wish I would have known it was him.