I was sitting in the dark in the smoking room with the lights turned off, the only light of the room coming from the outside to the inside, from the streetlights mostly. I lit my cigarette, and for a moment I could see the quirky comedies in the room: the poorly executed painting of three black horses running on a wild fluorescent orange beach with cigarette burns all over it, the two lone coat hangers on the wall with the added graffiti of a crooked smile to make the two hooks look like vicious eyes, the triangular table that sat in the corner of this cancer cave where there was the only source of electricity in that oh so eco-friendly way of Europe where once one of my neighbors watched some seemingly important (European, not American) football game, the faint color of the walls much like the color of baby shit after he/she has eaten a healthy dose of pureed peas, the antiquated CD player that had heinously released the sounds of the last kinds of songs that should have been played in a place like this including but not limited to “Always on my Mind”, “You’ll See”, “I Come Undone”, “Sweet Lies” and many other sad songs to laugh at or happy songs to cry about.
I let the flame of my lighter crackle and burn for longer than necessary, puffing in and out on one of my last cigarettes, in attempt to make it much more than worth my while. The noise in the room and the tiny shards of light from the outside, and admittedly, from the inside outside hallway, were all mine alone, the only time I could find peace and quiet in that place. It was 2:30am.
I waited for the routine sound of stalker heels that never failed to make their way up and down and up and down and back again and up and down again through the nighttime dimmed light of the main hallway. Every morning she did this from 1:00am – 2:30am. She and I were always the last ones to go to bed sleepless and always the first ones to wake up restless, early in the morning, around 6:00am.
She was one of the only neighbors I wanted to talk to, and perhaps befriend. She looked like an artist or teacher or librarian or all of the above. Her perfect posture was veiled by her constant fear, and her garb; she was always wearing color-blocked tights, a smart and fitting pencil skirt, a nondescript crew neck blouse and a chic cardigan that she spent much time wrapping and re-wrapping around herself, as some sort of protection maybe – the whole ensemble was of cool dark colors: purples, greens, blues.
Her hair was mid-length and a rich shade of tree bark brown, shiny from the obvious constant brushing of it. The straight locks complimented her pale peach white skin magnificently. There were no bangs to mask her precious, scared and mostly furrowed brow, the eyes delicate but always bulging, the corners of the mouth squeezed together in deep though, her skin unfettered by the atrocities of modern feminine necessity. She was naturally beautiful, somewhat of a blessing and curse it seems.
She would check the entrances before they she entered anywhere, though I only ever saw her going into her room and the dining room, constantly getting tea and almost drinking as much as I did. One time I helped her, she was shocked.
The sound of her shoes made the whole experience more cinematic, the clink clank sounded like that classic clichéd moment of a scary movie, though it seemed as though she was the one being hunted or haunted, these clunky brown leather heels echoed throughout the entire ward. When she walked, it was almost as though there was a light that had been blown out inside her.
The way she held herself, tautly embracing herself as if not only she was cold on the outside but also cold on the inside (figuratively speaking) – I knew we had something in common besides the artist/teacher background, the fear of being watched, the love of reading, the tea, the smart and dark colored style of dress, the lack of sleep. She was a rape victim.
I was thinking about nothing when I was staring out of the window at the moonlit and streetlight lit and puffy gray cloud and pin-sized starlit pre-morning. Thoughts were at the time the biggest enemy for me and I did my best to do my counting and breathing exercises to thwart any attempt of philosophy.
In that room, a cigarette was not really necessary, for the chain smoking of the day was heartily still apparent in the air, but I had no cardigan, so I needed something physical to calm my nerves.
And then, a light.
Across the street, in a bright yellow building (a color almost mocking the building that housed me and kept me away from that real-ish world), a light came on. It was another eco-friendly European thing, the saving of electricity for the love of conservation despite the devolution of the world.
It was a bright guiding light that lit up the hallways of the building and most notably, the stairwell. The oxymoronic transparent and opaque glass walls that led down the outside wall of the apartment building filled up with the most bright and distorted light, reminding me of the control I once had of the functions of lamps and overheads and all sorts of lighting devices.
I remembered it was a Saturday night.
There were three girls. They walked from one of the mid floors down to outside, their ghostly shadows bouncing amorphously with the rhythm of the descent down the crisscrossed stairway. When they arrived at the heavy entrance door making their exit, another pool of light came rushing out in front of them and them behind until the mouth of the door snapped shut, eating the light from within. Then the two bright flashes of yellow lights from the VW Golf that was parked with its ass towards me, unlocking their getaway car for their after midnight escape to some party somewhere that I was not invited to.
The designated driver was sturdy and had dark features, the other two girls had light hair that was bouncy and free and glistening in the artificial light that was brightened for them as they approached the car that sat expecting under another stoic streetlgiht.
The interior light of the car lit up as the girls ducked into the vehicle, becoming half their size, and I became further acquainted with the backs of their heads. I wondered if all three of them wished that the fourth wheel of the bandwagon was amongst them, a token gay black guy, someone like me, someone to compliment their make-up, to fix their hair, to help them pick out the right smart outfit, to suggest wines and restaurants, to warn her if a guy was wrong for her or if he was gay, to hold her purse without embarrassment, to hold her hair in the toilet without embarrassment, to make sure the clasp of her necklace is always in the back pressed against her nape, to tell her whether or not to send that SMS to that stupid boy, to get her another drink, to tell her when she has had enough to drink, to remind her that she’s not fat, to dance with her, to smack her ass and help her feel sexy, to talk about feelings and the causes of them, to tell her she is right even when she is wrong, to make sure her lipstick is still there, to make her laugh when she wants to cry, to surround her with friendship without the confusion or threat of sexual advancement…
The taillights and the headlights of the Volkswagen came on, red and yellow and white, and white respectively, then the white brake lights dissipated and the interior light faded down and only the light colored hair glimmered in the darkness, and suddenly, the girls sped off farther away from me.
For a few moments, I started to think again. About the past, the future, and the fantastic reality of the present. The light in the hallway of the building went out, but the warm red orange of my cigarette was still shining bright.