.They spent the whole day with Thorsten’s parents, listening to their stories about the past and their difficult life during the long, dark winters, when there was hardly enough food for the family and the livestock. Hannah and Thorsten had heard those stories dozens of times before and they knew them almost all by heart, but out of respect for the old couple, they listened attentively as if they were hearing them for the first time. They returned home in the late afternoon and heard the loud music from their neighbours’ party even before they got to their street. A plaintive, high-pitched voice accompanied by a strange mixture of Arab and Western instruments boomed from the large loudspeakers on the porch. The guests mingled around in groups, laughing, shouting, talking in loud voices,
clappingpatting each other on the shoulder, drinking and eating from overflowing tables. The pervasiveenticing smell of barbecue filled the air and made Hannah nauseous as soon as she opened the car door. She rushed into the house and closed the front door with a bang. But the smell had somehow already entered the house and clung to the walls, furniture, carpets and clothes.
She went to her room and looked outthe window. The music, the voices and these dark-headed people were encroaching on her. They invaded her space and intruded on her privacy. Their presence was taking over her life. She believed her house was solid and secure, but suddenly, the walls felt as thin as cardboard - insubstantial under the assault of the awful music and hubbub.
Thorsten came up silently behind her, put his hand on her shoulder, and kissed her on the neck.
“You don’t seem to like our new neighbours,” he said.
“I’ve nothing against them. Only they speak in loud voices, create much noise and make me nervous.”
“Well, many people speak
aloudloudly when they are abroad - Americans, Italians, Spaniards Spanish...”
“I’m aware of that. I know I’ve no right to tell people how to behave. I was used to the old couple. They were so quiet and kind.”
“The old couple was the old Sweden; the new neighbours are the new Sweden. After all, you and your paper endorse multiculturalism, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I love all people and nations equally. It's just that I can’t help feeling disturbed.” She fought to stifle the irritation growing inside her. Did Thorsten accuse her of hypocrisy?
“You can take my room. Nobody will ever bother you there.”
His room was on the other side of the house. It was smaller than Hannah’s -
on the north sidenorth-facing and dark. How could she leave the room where she had spent more than two decades of her life? It was part of her soul, what with all those paintings on the walls, portraits of her parents and the large photograph of her and her children when they were about four and five, madetaken in a studio. It was in this room where her creativity flourished. It was at the table in front of this window where she felt the energy that kept pushing her on, even when she was tired or depressed. The room had become an essential part of her, irreplaceable,just like her eyes, ears or limbs.
“I’ll get used to the noise. Now I have to take a bath.”
She was in no mood to talk about her feelings to Thorsten. He would not understand her anyway. She had the urge to wash away the smell of barbecue, which had permeated her clothes and her skin. Hannah filled the bath with hot water and submerged herself up to the neck. She closed her eyes and tried not to think about her neighbours, although their music travelled through the bathroom window and walls. Later, she and Thorsten watched
TV,some entertainmentTV shows/programmes and a banal Swedish comedy from the 1980s which they had seen countless times before. Hannah pretended to be interested in the film, but her mind was elsewhere. outside.She wondered when the party would end, when the terrible music would finally stop, and when the guests would start to leave. She went to her room a few times, and without switching on the light peered through the window to see if the party had subsided. dampened.To her chagrin, there were no visualsigns of (anything like) that. it.But at 22.00 sharp, the music stopped, and soon the guests started to leave, shaking hands, and kissing and hugging each other profusely. About one hour later, there was only Fadil and his family around, cleaning the tables and picking up the rubbish.
Hannah went to bed before midnight and lay awake beside
hisher husband. awake.What is happening to me? How can I waste so much energy on such unimportant things? Am I envious of an immigrant family who has succeeded in life and has numerous friends who take care of each other? Her mind wandered to theunknown territory. She believed she knew herself and that she was aware of her faults and her hidden side. Now, questions came up as if during an interrogation. Did she delude herself into thinking that she loved all immigrants coming into her homeland? Was her love selective or reserved for the people who looked and behaved like herself? If that was the case, she was no better than racists who she could see almost every week demonstrating on the streets and waving Swedish flags. It was a relief when sleep finally overcome her.
TO BE CONTINUED
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