A few short weeks ago the sun would only be setting at this time, but now it is deep night. Today it turned bitterly cold, as though the old gods are reminding us that it is nearly winter. There is no wind, and the pavement echoes with the sharp attacks of my boot heels.
I am walking aimlessly. I left the house with the intention of walking around the block to stretch my legs and clear my head, but now I seem to have set out for the city centre. There is a tearing feeling in my heart like thin fabric being ripped. If I keep walking, if I keep running over this knot in my mind, maybe I will reach a point of calm.
As I reach the heart of the city, I see that the Christmas lights have been erected along the main street of the south side. The sight of them makes something break within me a little more. I am irritated, it is not even Halloween yet, it is much too early for this – and still, I am thinking: “I don’t want another miserable Christmas.”
By the time I reach the university, the tears pushing at my chest and throat have ebbed away, and I have reached determination. I pass a woman whose face I recognise – the mother of a girl I used to call a friend – but I look away, afraid of being recognised. My anonymity is what is holding me together. It is allowing me to believe that I am a different person, in a different life, who will not break apart if this is unfixable. Who will not allow herself to be unhappy in this way.
Once inside the university gates, a feeling of coming home envelops me. The small flat I left only half an hour ago seems distant and alien – it has not seen me through the ups and downs, the terrible lows and the ecstatic highs that these old buildings have witnessed in me. Inside these walls, the greatest love of my life was born and nurtured. And now when it all seems to dangle over the precipice, its memory will be held safe by these monuments of time.
I cross the front square, feet hitting the ground uneven on the cobblestones, and sit down on the cold cement steps of the university chapel.
The world becomes still. I take my heart in my hands and imagine a life on my own until I can imagine it calmly. Until I am serene with the weight of it. I become tall again, my limbs stretching out into the gaps of my independence.
I watch students come and go for a time. A young man in a university society hoodie jogs past, face shadowed by the orange lights; two girls hang out of a dorm room, shouting down at someone below. Above the haze of the city lights and smog, right above my head at the highest point of the sky, pinprick stars gleam coldly. I imagine the worst – my heart rests a moment – and then the world moves on.
The warmth is leeching out of the thin film of sweat that had accumulated at the back of my neck beneath my scarf, between my breasts, under my arms. I feel as though I am sinking into the cold stone steps – or the stone is seeping out into me, turning me icy and paralysed under the Medusa-stare of the chapel. I rise, and zip up my jacket. I consider buying a coffee, and decide against it. It is time to go home.
On my way back up to the main street, I pass a woman crouched in a sitting position against a pillar outside a newsagents. She has the characteristic shabby, mismatched demeanour of all the homeless people in this city – clothes of indeterminate colour, torn and dirtied; hair dry and dishevelled.
But she is not begging; she is paying no attention whatsoever to the passersby. A large plastic carrier bag sits before her on the street, and out of the top of it, a tiny kitten’s head protrudes. It is young, barely old enough to be weaned away from its mother; a scruffy white little thing with a tortoiseshell pattern down its back. The woman dangles a black sock before the kitten, dancing it before its eyes before tugging it away again. The kitten’s tiny claws wave uncertainly, catching on the sock like needles, its green-gold eyes wide and excited.
The homeless woman is as enthralled as the kitten. Her features are tender and smiling, like the face of a doting parent. The moment catches on my heart. I wonder how often this kitten will go hungry in the long nights it faces on the streets, and tears press against the backs of my eyes again. I swallow, look away, and walk on.
Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short story or vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a little late this week again!