Spying on the Neighbours at 6am

I was awake before 6am today. I slept well, but I went to bed not long after ten last night – unheard of for me, who never goes to bed before midnight – but I was cold and I was lonely and I just couldn’t stay awake. I’d started reading Milan Kundera’s Immortality, but there was too much misogyny in it; I tried to believe it was the character, but really it was him, the author, and now, a quick google, and I’m definitely not the only one who has noticed this. I put the book on the pile of books to go to the charity shop and I went to bed.

I slept, as they say, like a log, dead to the world, and woke while it was still dark at about 5.50am. I love that time of day, when everyone seems to be asleep; it’s like you’re witnessing something that so few others are, so few that you feel you’re the only one awake, that only you are seeing the neighbour across the road naked in the showers. Sometimes he showers in the middle of the day when it’s light, and sometimes the neighbour from two floors down showers, too, her body big and round and unembarrassed. It feels like a violation to watch her shower, and the two or three times I’ve seen her naked behind the frosted glass I’ve wondered if I should go down and tell her that people can see. Her window is level with the heads of passers-by; anyone walking along the pavement who turns to look at her window, will see, if she’s naked, her naked.

The man on the third floor can only be seen by a few, and at six in the morning, I want to believe, only by me. His body is lithe and smooth and he has long hair, the kind of hair that is a joy in the shower. I remember having long hair, hair halfway down my back; in the shower, or coming out of the sea – anywhere where my hair got wet – made me feel feminine and beautiful. He takes his time showering. It’s as if he knows he’s being watched, as if he knows – surely the woman downstairs must know this, too! – that the window is transparent, and anyone who looks that way can see naked flesh. It’s a kind of silhouette, a silhouette the colour of their skin, a light brown, and their dark hair. The man does not seem to have hair on his chest, and the woman’s nipples are not visible, nor are the folds of her skin. They are like figures in A mist.

I like spying on my neighbours. I live on the fourth floor, the highest flat on this side of the road, higher than the buildings opposite. I can look into quite a few flats, but there are three in particular that I like to look into; three men in particular whose movements are a pleasure to follow. One is blond, one is dark, and one is just a figure in the mist (no, that’s not precise – I see him in his kitchen washing dishes, but that is not interesting to me). The dark one is probably about 5’10” – it’s hard to tell from this angle, and although I have seen him and his girlfriend out on the street, I’ve never been close enough to gauge. He is hairy and has dark stubble. I’d say he was in his mid-thirties. His girlfriend (wife?) is expecting a baby. I have seen her shave the hair on his back. They do that in the living room, which is right across the way from me, exposed as if it were a stage, me the audience. They are not a particularly fascinating couple to observe. He goes out to work; she stays at home. They watch a lot of television. They have been living in the flat for over a year. At the far end of the living room is a surfboard which hasn’t moved from its position since they moved into the flat. Perhaps they’ve been here for more than a year; it could even be two.

The neighbour to the left of them (the showering neighbour is on the right) also watches a lot of television, and so does the neighbour to the left of him. They are a row of three flats with people in them who all watch a lot of television. My brother says that’s what keeps couples together, what stops them from fighting. He says the pressure to be interesting and to hold conversations is what kills relationships. (Needless to say, I do not have a television.) That neighbour to the left of the one to the left of the couple is the blond one. He likes to take his top off when he eats his dinner late at night. The first time I saw him sit down with a plate on his lap (he only moved in a couple of months ago) I thought he was about to snort cocaine and that what turned out to be a plate of food was a small tray on which he would chop up his cocaine.

Spying on neighbours is exciting. I’m not the kind of person who likes to watch people in the sauna having sex, or pornography. Porn doesn’t turn me on. Perhaps the excitement of spying has something to do with the untouchableness of neighbours, the feeling of seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing, something intimate and private. Watching them excites me in a way that is not entirely sexual; I don’t get hard when I watch them. I like the feeling that I’m spying, that I’m catching them unawares.

Ever since I was a boy I have enjoyed watching my neighbours going about their business, and even more so if they are naked. It’s infused with the thrill of being around naked men or boys from my childhood years of being a shy queer-boy, not being allowed to touch, not being able to voice my desire, feeling shame, feeling that something is wrong, that what I’m doing (looking) is wrong. To desire that which is out of bounds is exciting. (I started a post a while back about David Beckham, but I have yet to finish it. I have quite a bit to say about desiring David Beckham.) Watching men in the sauna fucking and sucking does not excite me. Joining in excites me!

The man in the shower this morning at 6am was like poetry. To watch him was to stand before something that moves the heart, that inspires one to sing, that thrills. I felt privileged, awe-struck. That sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. This has always been true. It was true when I was a boy watching my classmates in the showers, the older boys at swimming practice, my father’s peers in the pool, the surfers and lifeguards. It was true when I was sixteen and watching the neighbour next door (we were on the eighth floor, he was on the seventh; his bathroom adjacent to my bedroom) showering and shaving before bed at night, his nipples emblazoned on my psyche. It was true when I was in my twenties and the man in the building opposite would come out onto his third-floor balcony to hang up his washing while I lay in bed in my first-floor apartment in a country that was profoundly hot and humid. I am no longer in that country, but the desire to spy on, to watch, to look at my neighbours is as alive now as it was then.