So, I’m sitting at my kitchen table around 9 pm watching something on the computer and a smoke alarm goes off, either in the apartment upstairs or next door. It sounds like the low battery warning. The beep is very loud, designed to get attention, its pitch calibrated to make it impossible to ignore, it is keeping a very irritating beat, relentlessly. It continues for several long, lengthening minutes. I think, oh, shit, the low battery warning went off upstairs and nobody’s home, it’s going to be a long, long night. Finally I hear footsteps overhead and go out into the hallway.
It appears to be coming from the apartment of my next door neighbor, an elderly woman who always smiles graciously when we meet in the hall. She comes to the door in her nightgown, after I identify myself, pointing to my door as I look at the peephole and try to think of the Spanish word for neighbor. She tells me, in Spanish, with an apologetic tone, that she speaks no English. I point up to the smoke alarm, tell her I will fix it. I climb on a kitchen chair, remove the alarm from its bracket, turn off the noise. She thanks me after I put it back up, after I put the kitchen chair back in her immaculate kitchen, thanks me again as I leave her apartment. I smile and wish her good night, thinking afterwards how easily I could have said “de nada”.
We have been living next door to each other for so many years, in this largely Dominican neighborhood. How is it I don’t know enough Spanish to speak to her in her own language?