Short Essay: “888”

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Right now, a car is sitting on the next block down. A few minutes ago it was honking its horn – “beep, beep, beeeeeeeep” – every 15 seconds or so. Maybe someone is trying to get the attention of his date without having to actually walk up to the door. Now someone is whistling loudly. Maybe it’s the horn honker, frustrated that his previous attempts to be heard (at least, by his date) have not been successful.

Later at night, someone upstairs will hum, or sing (or yell) as they pad around, getting ready for bed. The space between my ceiling and their floor is so thinly insulated I can hear most of what goes on in the apartment above me, especially if I’m sitting in my bedroom.

As the clock ticks toward midnight a siren or two will squeal outside, or an inconsiderate person with very loud music will squeal his tires up and down the street.

Every morning starts the same, with footsteps on the floor above me and a muffled man’s voice that sounds like it’s saying, “888,” over and over a couple times very slowly and deliberately. This will continue sporadically throughout the day, sometimes four or five times. It’s a little eerie – every day, without fail, over and over again: “888 … 888.”

The day time is pretty quiet (except for the mystery man in B5). Most people are at work or school. Occasionally the maintenance men come to one of the neighboring apartments. I can usually tell them from the sharp “pop pop pop” of their knock on someone else’s door, and their accented English “Hello? Anyone home?”

The outside chorus picks up again when the kids get out of school. The air is alive not with voices of children who’ve just happily finished another day in class, but with the honks and yells of angry drivers who are upset that the bus is blocking their way through the narrow street. Both sides get backed up with traffic, so much sometimes that the bus can’t even move. The honking gets worse.

Then, the voice again, unexpected but now familiar: “888.”

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