Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Alley

This is a scene I had to write as an exercise for my Creative Writing paper.  I didn't end up submitting it for the paper, but I liked the scene enough to share it here.  It's not quite long enough to be a story, really.

***

The cracks in the footpath make strange hieroglyphs.  You wouldn't think a city only an hour's drive away could be so different. The last time I was here, there was a Chinese bakery on the corner I just passed - now there's a bottle shop.  Or was it a different corner?  The mosaic on the building across the high street looks familiar, and it's unusual enough that I'm sure that Craig's house is around here somewhere.  Maybe it's one street over and I've gotten turned around somehow.  But I'm not certain this alley is a suitable shortcut.

Drifts of rubbish and piles of leaves from the avenue of trees on the high street erase all the sharp angles on either side of the alley.  The leaves deaden sound: it's like stepping into a forest or a church, it's so quiet.  The roar of traffic from the high street has faded to a soft murmur, like people whispering secrets in an adjoining room.  The alley is draped in twilight, but I can see light at the other end where it opens onto the next street - Craig's street, I tell myself.  I pick my way carefully along the alley floor, watching for used needles from drug addicts and used condoms from prostitutes.  I try to look confident, to deter muggers.  It's the middle of the day in a busy part of the city, after all: I should be fine, should be safe, there's nothing to worry about.

Halfway down the alley, one of the recessed doorways seems somehow emptier than the others, and I glance in that direction and see the door is open.  A short, dark hallway ends at the base of a flight of stairs to the second floor of the building.  There's light up there, too: the door at the top of the stairs is open.  Perhaps I can ask for directions, I tell myself as I move down the hall.  But of course that's just justification after the fact: without knowing why, I was already through the first door.

I lick my lips as I creep up the stairs.  The door was open, I tell myself.  I'm not breaking in, after all.  So why am I creeping like a criminal?  I give myself a shake, mentally and physically, and stride up the rest of the stairs with false confidence.  I can always tell them I'm lost - it wouldn't be lying!

Outside the second door, I pause, confused.  I can hear a radio playing, or perhaps a TV, but it's not in English.  I have a brief, panicky moment as my mind flits about as terrified as an injured bird before a couple of phrases jump out at me and I recognise the language as Spanish.  A moment later, music starts playing, and I think radio, before I'm startled by a voice that sounds very close by joining in with the singing in a loud, off-key soprano.  Involuntarily, I step back, and totter off-balance at the top of the stairs before throwing a hand out and grabbing the handrail and steadying myself.

Inside the apartment, the singer carries on, unaware of her enraptured audience.  She sings unselfconsciously, never minding that she's off-key or that she has to mumble along with the bits she doesn't know.  She's lost in the music, enjoying herself despite her dark surroundings, and I wonder how I could have ever been nervous about being here.  Sure, the hall and stairs are dark, but the stairs are clear of rubbish and the handrail is clean.  The walls are a dull, mustard yellow, but there are no cobwebs or damp spots.  This little patch of inner-city alley living is clean and well cared for.  I approach closer to the door and notice that it is painted a fresh, clean white, and the apartment number and door-knocker are polished shiny.  The inside of the apartment, the part I can see anyway, is similarly light and clean.  I can't see the singer, but now that I'm closer I can hear the distinctive rattle of crockery: she's washing dishes and singing along to the radio on a beautiful spring day.

I raise my hand to the knocker and grasp it, before carefully lowering it again so it doesn't disturb her.  Who am I, after all, to disturb her peace, her simple joy?  I retreat back down the stairs with a new spring in my step, and continue on down the alley towards what I'm sure is Craig's street, whistling a Spanish tune to which I do not know the words.

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