It's late after a night out, past time for bed. I put on a robe and slippers to go to the bathroom. My building has shared bathrooms. It's not so bad. They're professionally cleaned every day. Some days they need it more than others.
Tonight, someone knocks on the door. This is not something we do here. If the door is closed, the bathroom is occupied. Just a moment, I call, drying my hands. I open the door to see my neighbor, his blue eyes open all the way.
Please, he says. I've cut myself. I need you to dress the wound. One hand is cradled in the other, wrapped in a towel. He leads me across the hall to his apartment, like mine but with no window. The man is easily two of me - maybe three - tall and broad. He walks with a cane. He leaves the door open and points at the drawer that contains his first aid supplies. There, he says, and stands back, as though I need plenty of room to work.
Usually, this neighbor avoids my eyes, but this week he's been friendly, saying Hello when we pass in the hall, on the street. He was in the stairwell when I was on the way to work the other morning, almost dancing, earbuds in. He turned a big smile at me. A certain flavor of bright attention, it's familiar to me.
The drawer is cluttered. He's explaining how he has an expensive knife from Japantown, but something just went wrong with it, he didn't know how it happened. My choice is between a large gauze pad and a regular Band-Aid. Let me see, I say to him. He looks a little taken aback, then shows me his finger. It's a small cut with a lot of blood.
You're going to be fine, I say. I wipe the cut with an alcohol pad and, unwrapping the Band-Aid, ask him his name, tell him mine. His face is open, eager eyes sticking to me. Are you a nurse? he asks.
I'm putting on the bandage when a woman appears in the doorway. She's my size, gorgeous, seemingly not much older than me. Hi Mom, says my giant of a neighbor.
Are you going to the hospital? asks the woman. At first I think she's talking about the cut, and I start to tell her it's not serious, but then I see this is a different conversation.
I'm different on this medication, Mom, he says. People tell me so.
What people? she wants to know.
The man at the smoke shop. He says I'm not myself.
I'm standing between the two of them in my robe and slippers, bandage wrapper in my hand. The mother touches my arm. Thanks, she says. I tell her - and him - to let me know if they need anything more. I mean this. I can't tell her how normal this feels to me, how light it is to me to put on a Band-Aid and make small talk, how they aren't completely alone.
But she nods me back to my room, down the quiet hallway. The door closes behind her, the two of them, mother and son. It's the middle of the night, and it's only them.