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Sport 37: Winter 2009

Accommodations: 1

Accommodations: 1

Five minutes' walk from Borough tube is Newham House, Peter's building. L-shaped, six-floored, old brick, Newham backs onto Kipling House and faces Mortimer. All three buildings are ex-council. A car park is in between them, a central sort of courtyard—in the summer evenings, this fills with a mingle of languages, as tenants stand on their balconies to talk across it, building to building, in Bangla and Spanish and Russian.

In this environment, Peter often finds it too noisy and too close for sleep.

He shares five rooms on Newham's second floor with two others— one Italian and one Pole; no lounge. The hallway is so small that only one person can walk down it at a time . At night, they must all be quiet or they'll all be disturbed.

When the Polish girl makes love to her boyfriend, Peter can hear her through the walls as they conclude: each night she makes a single suppressed 'uh!' near the end of their embraces, and then the boyfriend leaves at 11pm. Peter has met the boyfriend—he is from Newcastle and works for Bmw Tower Hill and is engaged.

One night because he is lonely Peter goes to the laundrette. Walking through the car park with his bag of clothes he smiles at the Bangladeshi girls playing badminton. They have no net but their racquets swish through the night air with a breezing sound, and they smile back at him.

In the laundrette, Peter finds Gianni. Gianni owns the flat in which he, Peter and the Polish girl live. He purchased the flat one year ago, very cheaply, direct from the council. He is forty-something; he wears a leather jacket; he hasn't shaved.

'These fucking parking wardens,' Gianni says in greeting. 'I park for two minutes and they put a fine on my window.'

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Gianni often talks of parking wardens. He owns a white vehicle and makes deliveries for money. The congestion charge makes him especially angry.

'So did you hear the Pole last night?' he says, watching Peter feed a machine with clothes. 'Uh! Uh! Jesus.' He spits out the door. 'It's getting worse. Uh! All night. She is rapacious. I can't sleep.'

'Well,' says Peter, 'she is leaving London.'

The Pole's brother has become very ill, and this weekend she will ride a bus across France and Germany to attend to him. The trip will take 26 hours.

'Well, I won't miss her,' Gianni says. 'I need to sleep. Jesus. And now this fucking machine's broken.'

The next day, Peter goes to his work. It's in a small computer and hi-fi shop on Tottenham Court Road. The firm has a policy of not honouring its computer warranties. This is what bothers him most about his job. Not one of the warranties has ever been honoured.

'Shah,' Peter says, 'Shah. Can I've a word?'

Peter's boss is known informally as 'Fuck Em' Shah. He has a similar shop in East Ham, and right now he seems to know what Peter wants to ask him. 'Yeah yeah,' he says, then picks up the phone and begins speaking into it in his own language at high volume.

Peter looks down at the mobile phones in the glass counter display. He's been owed £40 in commission for three months now. It's this that he wants to discuss with Shah, but Shah is on the phone, and now he's walking out the back, and the door is closing.

When he gets home, Peter eats macaroni in his room. He can hear the Polish girl crying in the next room. She sniffles and cries out angry questions. Intermittently, there is the sound of her striking the Newcastle boy. At some point the boy leaves the building—he has a car—and the noise of the Polish girl's crying builds in volume, and then dies away, and then Peter can hear her packing again.

Through the night the Polish girl goes between the kitchen and her room. Peter gets up to check on his cupboards, pretending that he needs to hang out more clothes on the balcony.

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Easing past him in the hallway, the Pole smiles at him. She is holding two boxes of crackers against her chest.

'Good luck, Peter,' she says. Her eyes are stained a psoriatic red.

Peter has the excuse that it is too close in the hallway to embrace her comfortably, so instead he just inclines his head. 'Safe journey,' he says.

She smiles, and squeezes past him, and pulls her door closed.

In the kitchen she has left a box of small cakes on the counter. 'To Peter and Gianni,' a note says, 'thank you. Much love from your neighbour and friend, Tanieke.'

Peter reads the note over. Tanieke. It's the first time he's seen it spelled out like that—her first name.

For much of the night Peter can't sleep. Tanieke is leaving after only two months in the next room. Suddenly this is disconcerting for him.

It is silent inside the flat but much too hot.

After an hour of quiet lying on the bed he opens his window and lets the noise of the girls playing badminton come inside. He thinks of the young girls out there, swishing their racquets and smiling.

'Tanieke is leaving,' he says to the room. Then he says it again, louder, 'Tanieke,' and wonders if the badminton girls outside can hear him, and what they think he is saying.