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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fire Escape

The beat of a thousand shoes rumble up through the pavement and reverberate off my fire escape. I watch the mad throng of people shuffle up and down the avenue like the red blood cells moving through my veins. They stream past one another; heads down, eyes focused on the next several feet of pavement. It is 5:25 p.m. on a Thursday, and the world is waking up.
Smells waft up amongst the buildings peppering my senses in a cacophony of sweat, gasoline, street meat and flowers. They say you have to get above the haze to truly appreciate the air in the city. My fire escape doesn't climb that high. I inhale the breath of the denizens below and exhale slowly. The air is hot. My breath is hot. I look at the pack of half empty cigarettes on my window sill and give it the finger.

I rest my forehead against the railing of my fire escape but it offers little relief from the humidity. Even the metal seems to be sweating. Looking across the alley something in a window catches my eye. Curtains waft in the ripple of an incessantly turning fan; the blades beating out a constant rhythm. On the window ledge above I make out the word DREAM in large block letters and this makes me smile. The smile is cold though. It might just be the only cold thing around on this steamy evening. Perhaps this word offers hope to the occupant of this lone apartment. I wonder what thing must have caused this person that much despair that they needed to purchase a reminder of how to simply live life?

Something moves across my field of vision. I refocus my gaze and meet a pair of eyes staring back at me. The owner of the DREAM I suppose. She looks across the alley at me and sees me without seeing me. Her focus is distant; foggy almost as if a thought has latched onto her and won't let her go until she plays it through. Perhaps DREAM has taken hold. Perhaps she's allowed it to take hold and perhaps-----she hopes it refuses to let her go. Lost in a lucid state. Lost in a dream scape ripe with equal parts wonder and terror.

I study her face from the safety of my fire escape. The round cheeks, the smooth lines on her forehead and around her eyes. She has laughed a great deal in her time---or cried. To this point I can't attest. The freckles across the bridge of her nose gives her a look of pure summer and it breaks my god damn heart to look at her for too long. Her skin, bronzed now from this deep summer bake, glistens as she stands at the window. The tiny fan pounding out hot air in a vain attempt to cool this heavy beast that has fallen over the city is not enough to cool her skin. A bead of sweat rolls down the back of her neck and she paws at it absent-mindedly. Her focus shifts ever so slightly and I realize she is looking directly at me-----and I am terrified.

There are moments in life when you know you have been caught. Whether it is stealing something out of a cash register or stealing a look from across an alleyway. Either way, when you're caught you're caught. 'Fight or flight' I think. Meet the gaze head on or break for cover and always ask yourself what if? She gives me no choice. The look is met with equal curiosity and perhaps longing. I raise my hand to wave; a friendly neighbour just saying 'Hello'. Yet I feel the pull of something much greater----more primal. She remains still; the curtains the only object moving in her tiny room across the alley. Then her lips part and she breathes out the world 'Hello'.

The belch of the street below is enough to drown out most noise even this high up. But on this day, I hear her words resound like Gabriel's Trumpet across this chasm that separates us. An old Arab proverb springs to my mind:

"The whisper of a pretty girl can be heard further than the roar of a lion."

We share an innocent smile but far too quickly her's fades. Her eyes become dark pools once again and she listlessly drifts back into some world other than this. I've lost her before I've even met her.

I see a figure slide behind her and an arm wraps it's way across her chest. A face blanketed in shadow whispers something in her ear and she allows herself to be lead away from the window----from me. In an instant, my world bleeds grey and blue as the colour washes out of the day. Every sound now becomes an inconvenience; a violation of the quiet solace we shared for that brief moment. An air conditioner buzzes incessantly below me and sirens wail in the distance.

Overhead angry clouds begin their slow march towards an ancient battlefield; where skyscrapers stand tall in defiance of the Gods above. The city watches with a cautious eye and wonders what will break first? The heat, or the people below. Another siren begins it's cry, but from much closer than the last. I look at my pack of smokes beside me on the window sill. The crumpled Camel stares back at me and wants to remind me "More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette". I bet.

The first growl of thunder rolls over my head tenuously announcing its arrival. Below me a woman screams and shots ring out. I open my copy of Tropic of Cancer and put my feet up against the railing. I still have time, on my fire escape-----at the edge of the world.

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