Thank You Very Very Much

There’s a woman on the second floor of my building who has the strangest influence on my mood. It’s funny and a little embarrassing how much involuntary control she has. She’s about five feet tall, has dark brown hair, except for the bits that are going gray, and is probably in her early 50s. She’s sort of sagging and tired-looking, but she’s much brighter when she smiles. When she’s nice to me, I feel like a Good Neighbor. When she’s unpleasant — which is how I usually find her — I sneer at her behind her back and roll my eyes. What’s her problem?

I usually see her in the elevator or at the front door. She doesn’t say much to me. I have seen her exhibit exactly three emotions: indifference, gratitude and extreme annoyance.

For instance, sometimes when the elevator stops at the lobby floor, and I’m exiting and she’s standing outside waiting, I’ll push the outer door outward and she’ll jump. “Hi,” I’ll say. And she’ll ignore me and step on, looking offended, even while I hold the door for her. I don’t know why she always stands so close to the door. I guess she’s probably expecting to open it herself. And when it opens for her, the whoosh of the air pressure briefly blowing her hair in her face, she gets annoyed and startled by another person being there.

I have no reason to take it personally, so the feeling fades before long, but her attitude always knocks my mood down a notch. I think it’s because I can’t predict her reaction and there’s nothing I can do when she’s angry. I don’t know what anyone has ever done to her.

Once, while I was on my way to the fifth floor, the elevator stopped at the second floor. As she began to step on, I said it was going up. She clicked her tongue and heaved a heavy, practiced sigh, but stepped on anyway. She rode with me to the fifth floor in complete silence before heding back down to the lobby. I just sort of stared at her feet, wondering where whe was going in those slippers.

I guess I don’t really know anything about her, so she can be a paper cutout of a neighbor, and I can therefore have simple feelings about her and project whatever I want onto her two dimensions. I don’t know what goes on in her head.

Sometimes she just ignores me altogether. I saw her on the sidewalk near the building one morning. She passed me without a word. When I started walking behind her, she sped up, as if she were escaping me or something, stealing a sideways glance to keep an eye on me. Like I’m going to mug her at 9 in the morning? I simply passed her on the side and went on my way.

Sometimes she’s nicer. If we happen to enter the elevator at the same time, and I hold the door open for her, she’ll thank me. And when she exits, she’ll say very politely, “Have a good evening.”

I find myself often holding the front door for her, too. “Thank you very much,” she’ll say, with an enormous smile, as if the last thing she expected was some help from a neighbor and I came along at just the right time.

The other day was very special for her, apparently. I was on my way out to work in the morning, and she was coming in with two large plastic grocery bags. Rather than watch her fumble for her keys, I held the security foor for her and opened the outer door for her simultaneously. “Oh, thank you very much. Thank you very very much!” she said.

There’s a brief thrill feeling like a Better Person those times when she gets all huffy and snooty for no apparent reason. But I think on the whole I prefer when she’s nice. I don’t expect ever to have to exchange much more in the way of conversation than basic pleasantries as long as I live in this building, and being nothing more than an upstairs neighbor, that is enough for me. To think that I’ve given her a reason to smile — her overreaction notwithstanding — brightens my outlook for a few minutes. She’s so unpleasant most of the time, I wonder what the reason might be. The contrast of her suddden happiness makes me consider that there’s a real person inside that skin of hers.


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