Mara and Ruby were two of our more assertive residents, and if you don't remember them from the newspaper clash, well, let's just say that they were never destined to be friends.
Round two were the courtyards. Mara and Ruby lived side-by-side, and Mara began finding mandarin peels and apple cores in her courtyard all the time. No prizes for guessing who was throwing rubbish over the fence. Never caught in the act, mind you. This was shaping up better than a daytime soap.
Next, a trademan's van was parked in the area, and people started walking in and out of Mara's apartment. She explained to me that she was having new curtains fitted. Apparently Ruby had been spying on her. Holy Mackerel, this was getting ridiculous. But it wasn't over by a longshot. When I took breakfast to Ruby one morning, she had the television on. Loud. At 7am. I wondered if it was bothering neighbours, and then remembered that Mara was the only one not deaf, and she was already awake by 7, so I let it go.
But another morning it wasn't the tv, it was a language tape. At blaring volume a French man was enquiring about directions to get to the train station. It was one of the ones where you're supposed to listen and repeat what they say. It wasn't beginner level - I know enough French that I could tell this was an intermediate lesson. I smiled at Ruby, and instead of repeating what the man had said, I told her in French, "take the second street on the left and then go down the first street on the right, and the station is right there." She stared at me in total disbelief and had obviously not understood a single word I said. I asked her why she had such a difficult tape if she was just learning. She stammered something about having finished the learner tape already. Sure you have, I thought. Strange behaviour going on here.
At lunch, Ruby wasn't in, but the tables were discussing her. Anne thought she had found herself a man! This was hot gossip indeed. Anne reported that she had definitely heard a man in the room talking to Ruby. So she must have a gentleman friend, and at such an early time he must have slept overnight in her apartment, and wasn't that just disgusting!? The tablemates were horrified, all except for Mara. "There isn't any man!" she exclaimed in disgust. "She borrowed a tape from Ransa. It's a language tape." The others took that in and began to laugh at their mistake. Mara was not impressed. I took the opportunity to ask Mara why she had borrowed something so difficult, and recounted the morning's exchange with Ruby not understanding me.
"Because she isn't learning French, that's why!" she near-shouted. This stopped all conversation and the attention was back on Mara. "She's trying to get back at me for the newspaper. Every morning for two weeks she's blasted me with something noisy. This tape is loud enough for me to learn it myself. 'OO-SUH-TROOVE-LE-STADE-SI-VOO-PLAY-MESSURE.' It makes me furious!"
It was all I could do not to laugh. I really, really hoped that Mara had learned some French at school somewhere, because she had just asked a correct question on where she would find the sports stadium. It was beyond disturbing for someone to learn French through a solid double-brick wall.
Alas, the triumphant final battle was not to be. Ruby began telling people that she was leaving. Leaving? People don't move out of here to somewhere else, unless it's to more appropriate care. But Ruby had found an apartment in a cheaper complex and decided to make the shift. I asked Mara, tongue-in-cheek, if she was sad about her best friend leaving.
"Well, she's been out on the bus every day this week," she said, "and I know that because she has to walk past my window each time. So I always know when she is out." I really pushed my luck then, when I jokingly asked if she stood at the curtains peeking out, and was astoundingly rewarded with a laugh. Mara laughing with me! She must be extremely relieved to get rid of her arch-nemesis, if she could tolerate a lowly kitchen staffer poking fun at her.
"Yes, that's me, one eye to the gap in my brand new curtains," she said with a grin. "I won't be shedding tears when she leaves for the last time, let me tell you. I'm just keeping sentry duty there to make sure I don't miss it when it finally happens. And then I'm bringing wine to dinner that night. I might even dance."
The rest of my shift had me trying to imagine the cranky old stick-in-the-mud dancing. Try as I might, I failed to conjure that image.