Amongst her large bags, under a small umbrella, a lady braids hair on the corner; she doesn’t look up, no matter the sound. Cameras down at their bellies, a class of eager students surrounds her, clandestinely snapping; she pays them no mind. Later, with her on the wall, they discuss balance and light, considering better angles for next time. Luckily for them, their subject is not going anywhere anytime soon; they can return when the light reflects more brightly off her situation. It’s getting better, it’s getting better around here, and the war drums from down the street are fading without a permit. You can’t do that here. You have to go.
This was my sight line and what I had asked for, but it didn’t sit right to be deprived of my own view. Was I not allowed to look out my own window? After all, they lined up in such a way that a level bridge could connect us over the street, uniting our floors; just a few steps and we would be in the same room. We often shut off our lights at the same hour, when night grazes the morning. Was this a one-way street, me watching her? Why did I feel like a performer in my own home, did she notice me trying not to notice her? I’d seen her working out late at night with liters of milk at one a.m. or maybe two. I was her mirror, unwavering. I had seen her in bed with men, a few men, they always ended up in the bathroom, she’d go in first; on her way there her hand gestures suggested they delay, you wait here. They would, but eventually they would follow. I’d draw my curtains. Many nights, alone, she would display herself, to herself, in front of the mirror, scarves and jackets, seasons to come, or another evening’s potential; me on the other side. She always changed in the bathroom; I was thankful that I didn’t have to navigate that. Her blinds used to go down only when the sun pierced between the silhouetted buildings, when the light became too much to bear. But these days her blinds stay drawn into the night and when I wake up she remains out of view.
I’ve been told that three people have died in front of my building, in the last six weeks or so. Until it started happening, I would joke that Broadway (at least between 4th and 5th) was the place people came to die. There was a time when I knew quite a few of the people outside of my place, still strangers in many ways, but not as much as their replacements. It never seemed as if the ones I knew, had any intentions of leaving, even if they are now mostly gone. It’s hard to get to know the new faces and they seem to forget mine just the same. We all seem unwelcome to one another, looking at each other as if we came here for the same reason, as if some of us didn’t just end up here, as if some of us couldn’t leave fast enough, and some are here to stay whether you like it or not. At least they finally scraped that shit off the street, can’t wait to see what they replace it with.
I have less than three months before I have to leave. As a witness, I’m not suffering in the same way as those witnessed; but who is to say?
The first time I had visited the building, the stairs were terrifying. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there wasn’t a bathroom, but there was. Over the years, I’ve been surprised that the bathroom hasn’t gotten any better. I mop it occasionally, but there is only so much I can do when no one else seems to care. I would enter a few minutes after cleaning, only to find footprints from the hallway from someone who doesn’t mop, who doesn’t live here, and who, perhaps, finds it all entertaining. You can’t mop the hallway; it just absorbs the water, dirt resting on top, in-between, and deep below. Once we were told that our leases were being cut short, the landlord stopped coming around. Things got left in the halls. Objects began piling up. It will all be demolished in the end.
The man to their right leans in close to the shorter one’s ear and extends his tongue fully out of his mouth towards her auditory canal; slithering serpent like. A splash of saliva exits his mouth and lands on her jaw line; she lets out a horrified involuntary shriek, grabs her friend’s hand and pulls her across the street before the light offers them safe passage. His tongue retracts back into his mouth; he looks left, right, and left again before crossing himself.
Up and coming meets down and out.
There is a new girl across the way. She lets the breeze in, with her bed sideways to the window, her position off to the right of mine. If our gazes met it would be cumbersome to both of us; her blinds were pulled halfway down yesterday. I wonder, if soon, they will be pulled half way more, closing her off too. Perhaps opening them one day with the hopes that things will be better, as I am sure she was promised.
When will these people leave, when will these people leave?