Jane was shouting. She liked to say that she was born with a more powerful throat-mounted amplifier than most people. She said she got it from her mother, whose booming voice had been her most outstanding characteristic.
But her mother was long dead, and so had gone out of the contention for the loudest voice. Jane was convinced that the absence of her mother meant she had the most powerful voice the people who met her would ever hear.
Her voice carried the furthest in the block of flats, pushed the largest number of air particles. The neighbours had long learned to live with it, partly because she employed it only sparingly and partly because her voice drowned out everyone else whenever a new neighbour, unfamiliar with the unwritten covenant, dared confront her about it.
This early afternoon, the target of the booming voice was the children playing in the bare dusty yard three floors down from the balcony out of which Jane leaned. She was summoning them to come up for lunch.
The children, two girls and one boy looked up instantly. Quickly, their little brains analysed the tone of the voice to discern the mood of the person from whom it issued.
Certain moods necessitated immediate obedience, while others left some room for flexibility. They had learned to distinguish between the two versions rather accurately over the last seven years, which constituted the totality of their lifetimes, lifetimes that had started simultaneously.
Today, having collectively and wordlessly decided that what they had heard was the friendly version of the voice, the children went on playing for a few more minutes before reluctantly collecting the shiny marbles and stowing them in their pockets.
Then they shuffled the rough stairs to the one room flat in the middle of which their large and loud mother awaited them.
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