So I was spending a quiet evening at home, eating some pasta, reading Asterix et les Normands (a comic book), and minding my own business. One of my building's best features is that it is very quiet; I've never even met any of my neighbors. So on a quiet night such as I described, the only sound in my little apartment is my own giggling over the antics of Asterix and his pals.
Until a repetitive knocking sound interrupts my peaceful moment. I hesitate, attempting to discern just where on the hallway it is coming from. Although the walls are respectably thick, the doors are not, and a knock on any door on the hallway is easily heard from many doors down. I relax; it is the door next to mine that is being thumped on, not my own. I settled back onto to the bed, but the knocking continues. A short pause and then the knocking resumes, more insistent. Really! After a few tries, don't most people give up and assume no one's home? The knocker apparently was not a quitter.
A short pause, but this time when the knocks resume, they are on my door. Darn! Up I go, walk over to the door, unlock the double bolt, and open the door. If I expected to find a college student who had gotten himself locked out, I was wrong. In the hallway was an indignant middle-aged woman. Without an apology for knocking on my door so late in the evening, she proceeding to ask me if a young man lived here. Confused I replied that I lived here. She clearly had the wrong apartment, but she was not about to give up her quest. She insisted that I must know which apartment so-and-so lived in. I quite honestly did not catch the name, but it hardly mattered, because as I've said before, I've never met any of my neighbors. Furthermore, I don't see why I should be expected to know who lives in all the apartments on my hall. After all, there's a good twenty apartments on my hall alone. This woman however felt otherwise, and despite my denying knowing (presumably) her son, felt it necessary to add that he is a psychology major. That's very nice I'm sure, but it's not exactly helpful given that most of the people in my building are students. Having finally convinced her that this was not her son's apartment, and that I did not know which one was, I was finally allowed to return to Asterix and his encounters with the fearless vikings.
I was not, however, allowed to do so in peace and quiet. I could hear her going up and down the hall knocking on each and every door, frequently returning to knock on my neighbor's door, and occasionally stopping to leave phone messages. I would very much have liked to ask her two things: first, if she realized that you can speak at a normal volume while on the phone, and second, if she had considered telling her son in advance that she would stopping by. Having been privy to the entirety of the messages she left for him, I assure you there was no great emergency at hand. She was just being annoying. I also considered asking her if it had occurred to her that maybe he wasn't answering on purpose. But I kept my nose in my book.
Not for too long though, because once again the knocking has returned to my door. Sigh. Up, to the door, unlock, open. The woman babbles something incoherent that I didn't entirely understand, but which once again lacked an apology. Honestly, if you knock on a stranger's door after 10 pm a little basic politeness is in order. Her french had an odd accent to it, and she spoke very quickly, and by now I was not in the mood to try to decipher it. I got rid of her again but as I returned to the warmth of my bed, the meaning of her words came to me, as well as the source of her problem: she was looking for apartment 13. Here's the catch.
There is no apartment 13 in my building.
On every floor, there are somewhere around 20 apartments, all labeled with the floor number followed by the apartment number. They start at the left end of the hallway with 1 and go up from there one at a time, with no particular order to which numbers occur on the left or the right side of the hallway. Except that there is no number 13. It skips from 12 to 14. If you're not superstitious, the reason is simple. The elevator marks the halfway point on the hallway and is situated directly across from apartments 12 and 14. Thus the elevator (and the stairway next to it) would be counted as the 13th room. If you are superstitious, well, all I can say is my building's not old enough to be haunted.
The knocking and phone calling kept up for a bit, but eventually I was allowed to enjoy my comic book in silence. Maybe she just wrote down the apartment number wrong. Maybe her son didn't want her to find him. Maybe someone was playing a practical joke. Whatever the case, I did not see the woman when I took out the recycling (it being a Sunday night), either in the hallway or in the lobby downstairs. It's possible that she did what any sensible person would have done ages before: given up and gone home.
Or maybe she disappeared into Apartment 13.