From where I slept, on the lowest level of a six-level house when I lived in Africa, I could hear the night noises of the city. Rattling cars and small buses bouncing over bumpy streets, dogs barking, and now and then night guards chatting with each other in Portuguese as they walked up and down the street in front of the houses. I heard the screechy bleep of a car alarm and small tinkling noises that I never did figure out.
Maputo street scene
Every morning the soft swish, swish of a palm frond broom sweeping clean a small sandy path just outside my window tells me it’s 4 a.m. and another day is starting. At 6:30 my daughter calls her kids for breakfast. Heeenry, Maaason, Aaaby. The sound boinks up two flights of granite stirs like a Slinky toy in reverse. Noise booms and echoes up and down and all around this concrete house with shiny bare granite floors.
The kids pile in the car and Casamo, the guard on duty, clanks open the iron gate in front of the house. The trip to school includes bouncing over pot holes and slowing to plough through a sandy pit where rain has washed away the road. The big blue school gate opens, the guards smile and wave, and the kids chatter to their friends as they hurry to their classrooms.
In a few hours, midday quiet settles over the house. Olga who keeps everything spanking clean, uses only a rag and a broom. No vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, clothes dryer or furnace to make household noises.
On a Sunday afternoon, the shouts and cheers of soccer fans build to a crescendo, then fade as the game ends. A loudspeaker blares African music as the fans make their way out of the stadium and begin their walk home.
The next-door neighbor leans hard on his high-pitched horn, signaling his guard to come running and open the gate to his driveway. He must be an impatient man. He keeps leaning on his horn until someone appears every time he comes home. And always, the guard takes his own sweet time, his silent way of saying, “What’s the big rush?”
Every evening a strong breeze from the ocean wafts through the windows of the top level of the house where the family likes to gather after dinner. Blam! It slams the metal door shut and makes us jump.
Soon, with lots of clicks and twists, all the doors and windows in the house will be locked and the lights will go out all over the house. The inside alarm will be set for the night.
I’ll slip into my bed in the basement, pull the gauzy mosquito net around me, and wait for the night noises to tune up.