Mrs Gebre-Gabreselassie

2010-01-09 00:00

MRS GG is my neighbour, an Ethiopian widow-lady, and it came as quite a pleasant surprise when recently she asked me very charmingly please to lend her a certain CD of that refined sort of Caucasian music, you know, where all the instruments play together and a gent in evening dress waves a stick about even if it’s the middle of the day. It goes like this, said Mrs GG: Boom,chiBoom,chiBoomchiBoomchiBoom. Ah yes and indeed, said I, that’s Mozart all right and you’re welcome. And could she perhaps have the use of my computer for half an hour or so? In fact, says she, she wouldn’t mind if I helped her a bit, she doesn’t know how to use the thing and she wants to record something new, all she has is recordings of classical Ethiopian love-songs accompanied by a goat-skin harp. Only a pleasure! I exclaim. And any time. Well how about now? she asks. Your wish is my command, say I.

But it’s a long long story, and I’d better start at the biginning. My flat is number 11, second floor, see, a peaceful little place with one room, kitchen and bathroom plus a delightful little pop-up view of central Durbs. Cosy, quiet. That’s why I bought it 10 years ago. Next door in number 10 was a cosy quiet plump sort of cuddly mid-age duck name of Shireen, social worker, who looked after distressed kids whom she could murmur to peaceful sleep in five minutes flat whilst stroking the forehead with delicate wee fingers like small pinkish plantains. Of a nice afternoon Shireen would take tea with Mrs GG from number 9 and stick out her right hand smallest pinkish plantain in a refined sort of way whilst eating small cakes, and gossip and giggle and murmur fit to put me peacefully to sleep next door in fifteen minutes or so. But Mrs GG, now, she is composed almost entirely of old bones and piano strings, plus ivory teeth, of course, like her second cousin Haile Gabreselassie, world marathon champion. She is a sweet old thing by anybody’s measure, but nothing you would really want to cuddle. There is something in the composition of the atmosphere at 4 000 metres altitude that makes people run everywhere, says Mrs GG, that’s why they’re so skinny and win all the marathon titles. The air up there is full of hydrogen, she says, which makes everybody extra light. But Mrs GG herself is like a bag of nails. With a lovely soul, as it were.

Of course there’s something uncomfortable about good times: you’re always anxious lest they suddenly come to an end. And alas, ours suddenly did. Shireen got moved to Maritzburg on promotion, two entirely pretty Tech students with big toothy white smiles moved into number 10 and the very first house-warming thing they did was to stick taxi-music full blast on the hi-fi, low-resonance thumping like having a wooden stake driven into your head, day and night. On day 3 we started slipping notes under their door saying please please PLEASE, also banging on the door at midnight with dreadful threats to have their landlord kick them out. Madness was in the air.

But enough of such miseries! Here is Mrs GG with a sweet smile on her lips and a couple of CDs for recording some nice Mozart. Boom, chiBoom, chiBoomchiBoomchiBoom, she loves it like anything, but I feel obliged to point out what I am doing is actually piracy, unless it is strictly for her own use, you know, one has to be careful these days. Of course ofcourse ofcourse! says she, I mean to play it for myself all day it’s so lovely! Which apparently she does, and what a treat after all the taxi din which you can’t really call music at all. But then she suddenly stops for some days and nights, and the silence is quite eerie, I tell you. Then she suddenly starts again, extra loud; what new madness is this? Mrs GG, I cry, what madness now, in God’s name?

Seems Mrs GG and Shireen were such bosom-buddies each had a key to the other’s flat, and Mrs GG still has hers. So what she did was take careful note of all departures and arrivals next door and when nobody was about she nipped in and briefly borrowed the taxi CDs and got me to rewrite them with Mozart. Mrs GG, I cry, that is housebreaking! Nemmine, says she, we have peace. Seems the pretty ladies took their CD player back to Game City claiming it was faulty and played nothing but Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Naturally the Game technician told them to bugger off, but they hadn’t enough money from home for new taxi CDs and since silence is unbearable to today’s youth they just gave Mozart a try, anything so long it’s loud. And now they’re hooked absolutely. Boom, chiBoom, chiBoomchiBoomchiBoom, day and night. 100 decibels. I wouldn’t mind a bit of quiet guitar Blues. Eric Clapton unplugged, perhaps. I wonder what he’s playing these days.

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