Type
Fiction

Plumburn

My phone buzzed and I rolled over to pick it up from its little docking station on the bedside table. The text message read, ‘Weak move, Nasra.’ It was my boss. I was trying to get fired, but Bruno was determined to drag things out for as long as possible. I had sent him a message last night telling him that I wouldn’t be coming into work this morning and that I didn’t feel like finding someone to cover my shift. My phone buzzed again as another message appeared from him. I turned the phone away without looking at it. I decided against getting up, and as I sunk back into bed, I began to seriously consider that I might stay like this forever.

At the other end of the house, Yusuf got up and his heavy footsteps shook the light fixtures in my room as he made his way down the hallway and to the kitchen. In the backyard, the wind was picking up, and the large gumtree outside our kitchen window stretched and creaked, its branches thick with dry leaves brushing against the back of the house. My bedroom was originally supposed to be the living room of the house, and as a result had wide sliding doors that opened into the hallway from the front door. I usually kept these doors open in the mornings; it could get stifling hot due to the large east-facing windows, even with the plane tree out the front of the house to give some cover. A message from Ali finally roused me out of bed, and he arrived soon after with an empty McDonalds coffee in one hand and a hash brown in another. Soraya emerged from her room in her running gear after I let Ali inside.

‘Is Yusuf up yet? We were supposed to go for a run,’ said Soraya. I was about to respond when we heard a happy shout from Yusuf’s room, and he appeared a moment later with a bright blue polyester shirt over his head, his arms searching for the sleeve-holes. Yusuf greeted me with a light tap on my shoulder and gave Ali a quick hug before he turned to Soraya, who was attempting to put one shoe on while upright and balancing on her other leg. ‘We’re doing my Cher playlist this time,’ he declared, holding up a slim water-botte sized Bluetooth speaker. Soraya began to shake her head vigorously, which almost sent her falling. I wished them both luck and ushered Ali into my room, which was bathed in the cold morning light. ‘This is yours,’ he said, handing me the hash brown.

‘Thank you,’ I said. Outside, I could hear Yusuf singing along to the chorus of Cher’s ‘Believe’. A moment later they passed my bedroom window facing the street, the two of them waving at us as they jogged by.

There was an empty plate with a dry piece of toast on the couch near the window, and I skipped around Ali and moved it before he could sit. I hid the hash brown underneath the plate when I set it down, and as I turned around, we brushed past each other and his hands momentarily settled on my hip. I leaned into him, feeling the sudden need to both hold and be held. It felt strange to want even the most incidental touch—it wasn’t a burning desire, more a gentle suffusion of feeling. Ali sank into the couch, stretching himself out. His papaya orange McLaren Racing-branded jacket made him look like a giant tulip. I wanted to take his hat off and ruffle his hair and kiss the top of his head, but I knew he wouldn’t like that. He took a deep breath and looked around. His eyes were wide, and when he took his hat off, his hair was all messed up. I sat down next to him and took his hand and leaned my head against him and closed my eyes. The other night, Ali had come over and we were watching season three of King Priam when he paused the show and told me that he felt that sometimes I heard him, but I didn’t listen to him. When I asked him what he meant by that, he told me that he didn’t mind our thing—our thing, he called it—he just felt like we’d stalled, that we were in a rut.

‘It’s just that, we always talk about going for a trip or spending a weekend away but, like, when was the last time we actually did anything?’

‘So, you’re bored? Is that it?’  

His thick eyebrows, impossibly mobile, wrinkled up towards his forehead, kissing the highest point of his nose, almost meeting in the middle. I can describe the qualities of the calluses on his hands, the small mobile wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, the faded pimple-scars along his left jawline, all in minute detail.

‘No! I’m not saying that at all!’ he said. He then sighed a little, and a thick silence descended on us. I felt like I was missing something vital, something momentous. I know I have trouble reading people and picking up on non-verbal cues, and I don’t do well with mental images—the school psychologist I went to as a child said that it was perfectly normal—but it makes it hard to know sometimes what others are thinking or feeling, and I struggle to find meaning in an uncertain glance. I didn’t think Ali was upset, though. He seemed sad more than anything else. I tried to think of something to say to Ali that would reassure him, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything, which was frustrating. And, you know, now I was upset, which didn’t help at all. In my quest to know myself through those around me, I feel that I’ve spent an age collecting searing fragments, but when the moment I’ve been preparing for makes itself known to me, I’m helpless in the face of it, and I suddenly feel foolish. I put my trust in fragments, but I forget that these fragments are not themselves signs.

 

I got up and put my slippers on. I wasn’t wearing much, and it was cold. Our house was an old weatherboard, riddled with gaps and very poorly insulated. It bled warmth in the winter and was stifling in the summer. I found a comfortable purple bathrobe I stole from a hotel in Sydney last year and wrapped myself up in it.

‘Your new housemate is very pretty,’ Ali said, ‘maybe I will marry her?’  

‘You can marry her if you like,’ I said. I turned away from him to reach for a hair tie at the top of the bookshelf by the door and caught his eye in the reflection of a small mirror on a stand on one of the shelves. I could always tell when he was looking at me, even from across crowded rooms. His eyes crinkled slightly whenever we locked eyes, the beginnings of a smile. I wondered what it said about me, that my instinct in moments of feeling was to go completely still, as if the barest movement could disappear the feeling in an instant.

I walked out the room and into the kitchen and Ali scrambled to keep up behind me. I pulled out two mugs from a cabinet while Ali turned on the kettle on pulled out peppermint tea bags from the container in the pantry. When the tea was ready, Ali stirred it with a teaspoon before he handed it to me. Ali’s beard was becoming thicker, which I thought didn’t suit him very well. Instead of making him seem older or more mature, it had the strange effect of highlighting his most boyish traits, such as his tendency to fidget and the way his eyes lit up when his attention drifted.

‘Thank you,’ I said and set the mug down. I pushed Ali lightly against the fridge and kissed him. He immediately leaned down, meeting me halfway. His beard felt funny against my skin, but it was nice. I decided in that moment that I liked his beard. He smelled faintly of sandalwood and fresh linen. We broke off after a busy moment, and he looked at me intently, as if memorising something. Ali had the loveliest eyelashes, little black crowns around his dark-brown eyes.

‘I’ve changed my mind,’ I said. ‘You’re not allowed to marry her.’

Ali gave me a faintly serious expression. His nose was scrunched up at the bridge. His face relaxed and gave an exaggerated sigh.

‘All right then. If you insist,’ he said.

 

It was almost midday when I checked in on Yusuf and Soraya, who had yet to return from their run. Yusuf texted me back: apparently, they had stopped at the new Pandarus store that had just opened on Station Road. I was in bed again, and with the large bay windows open to the breeze and the sounds of birds, it occurred to me for the second time that morning that I may never move lest I break the pleasant spell of comfort I’d found myself in. I had my laptop out, resting on my knees. Yusuf had sent me a link earlier to a video compilation of all the times the Victorian Premier was caught on camera joking about consuming blood. It was titled, ‘THE PREMIER IS A VAMPIRE!?’ It was an evolving scandal, with credible accusations being made that the Premier, in his time as the state health minister, had diverted an urgent blood delivery bound for the Alfred Hospital to his residence in Mulgrave. In one clip, taken during a visit to a hospital, the premier was seen gazing at a refrigerated cabinet full of blood transfusion pouches, and saying something to an aide. Expert lip readers have suggested that it could have been, ‘Yep,’ or ‘Yum.’ It all added up, and this video laid the facts bare in one place for the first time. Yusuf texted me, ‘these motherfuckers literally out there drinking our blood.’

Ali was sitting cross-legged at the other end of the bed, wearing only his red boxers. He was staring at a small house spider that was dangling by a thread from his index finger, an empty glass in his other hand. Outside the window, our elderly neighbour was attempting to cut the damp grass on the median strip with a push-mower. Even from this far away, I could tell it was an exercise in futility. No sooner did he clear a patch with his mower than it sprung back again, heavy, and wet.

‘Hang on, I’ve got to take this little guy outside.’ He covered the glass with his hand and the spider, perhaps fearing the worst, began spinning about frantically inside. Ali leapt off the bed and a moment later I heard the back door opening and closing loudly. When he returned, he sat by the foot of the bed and picked up the novel I was reading, the second book in the Plague Blade trilogy, and briefly examined it before he set it back down again.

‘I had such a long day at work yesterday,’ said Ali, ‘I came in for one thing, ended up not being able to leave.’

‘Come lean against me,’ I told him. He rested his head on my chest and I held him against me, my arms wrapped around him. Ali made a humming sound, and I noticed that he was tapping one finger against my thigh in-time with a heart-beat—mine, I realised. I could tell Ali had closed his eyes. We lay there in a warm, pleasant silence for a while, listening to each other’s presence, as well the presence of the wind, the trees, and distant traffic. The house was so quiet without Yusuf. I had grown so used to the sounds that my brother made as he moved through the world: his heavy footsteps on the wooden floors, the television he always kept on, the music from the Bluetooth speaker he took with him into the shower, his habit of walking up and down the house whenever he was on the phone—without all of that sound, the house became strange again, like no one lived here.

‘Tell me about your day yesterday,’ I said.

‘It’s pretty boring,’ Ali said. The sound of his voice reverberated through his chest and into mine. I held him tighter.

‘That’s okay,’ I said.

‘I’d only come in because Allan had finally dropped off a sway bar mount,’ he said. The thing about working on a Tarago, he explained, is that you accessed the engine bay from under the driver’s seat, so you spent a lot of time inside the car while you were working on it.

‘The Tarago belongs to a Somali family who lived in Carlton. You could tell that the car was central in their family life: the back row of seats had crayon and Texta marks on it, and the middle row was clean, but it had old stains from spills and stuff. They even had a tiny Qur’an hanging off the rear-view mirror, with a zipper holding the covers shut. If you unzipped it, you could just about read it,’ he said. He wormed his way out of my embrace and stretched out on the bed, setting his head on my lap. I began to stroke his hair absently, but he gently caught my hand in his and linked his fingers through mine.

‘I once went out with a boy who picked me up in his parents’ Tarago,’ I said. Ali gave me a funny look and smiled to himself, and when I asked, he explained that he found it hard to imagine me as a teenager.

‘Well, I was a teenager,’ I told him.

‘Yes, you were,’ he said. He held up our intertwined hand, our fingers locking in perfect dovetails, and kissed the back of my hand. The man who’d brought the car into the shop, a tall Somali man named Abdi, explained that the car had completely lost stability on the road, and there was a knocking sound coming from the front left wheel.

‘The good news is that sway bar parts are pretty cheap,’ said Ali, and when he’d actually had a good look underneath the car, he’d been pleased to discover that he didn’t have to replace the whole sway bar bushing as he’d thought; he’d only have to replace the mount. Ali laughed, and he looked away. ‘I’m sorry. I can tell I’m losing you with the car stuff.’

‘Only a little,’ I said. He reached over to the edge of the bed and fished out his phone from his jeans.

‘I found a blue called Clair de Lune, that I thought you’d like,’ he said, turning his phone around to show me a pretty teal. Last week, Ali and I found out that the paint shop across the street from my work had a website where you could upload a photo and match specific colours in the photo with paints they had available in-store. The colours all had the most abstract and evocative names, which we’d gathered was part of the marketing. I immediately gravitated towards rich, earthy browns and oranges. ‘I think I still like Plumburn the best,’ I said.

Ali then said that he was split between two favourites: ‘Potted Pink’ and ‘Yard Bird’. On a whim, I uploaded a photo of Ali and found that the closest match for the colour of his eyes was a deep earthy colour called ‘Ancient Bear’. I could see it, though I felt that ‘Yard Bird’ suited him better overall. When I tried the same for my eye colour, it told me that the closest matches were either ‘Jackal’ or ‘Coal Mine’, which I thought was rude.

We stayed in bed for another hour or so before Ali realised that he was late to see his cousin, and frantically dressed himself as he apologised over the phone. He ran out of the door, before doubling back to kiss me goodbye as I saw him away. The sweet domesticity of the gesture thrilled me, even as I found myself immediately suspicious of the feeling. I didn’t want to ask myself if I wanted this; I just wanted to enjoy it.

 

Yusuf and Soraya’s return from their run was a whole production, with the two of them locked in a passionate argument about perfume.

‘I just feel like you can’t be—allegedly—using wildly different scents,’ said Yusuf as he walked in.

‘You don’t know what allegedly even means, you gronk,’ said Soraya.

‘What’s he talking about?’ I asked Soraya.

Before she ­could respond, Yusuf interrupted her. ‘Soraya mixes perfumes,’ he said.

‘Listen, I’ve got a system—’

‘—she’s got a system. It’s so crazy. And she’s calling me a gronk. Soraya, baby, you need to stop inventing new perfumes. They already did that,’ he said.

‘What’s your system?’ I asked. We made our way to the back porch, where we gathered on the sofa. Yusuf was on the opposite side of the couch from me, trying to light a durry. He’d completely lost interest in his argument with Soraya, as I’d expected.

‘It all hinges on the energy I want to exude that day,’ said Soraya. Yusuf looked up as if he were about to say something in response, and then his phone buzzed and he said, ‘Sweet. I’m out. Bye bye, ladies.’

‘Where are you going?’ I asked him.

‘Meeting a gym cutie for a workout sesh,’ he said, miming exaggerated squats and bicep curls. He walked into the kitchen humming a Weeknd song and soon I could hear him mixing up one of his smoothies that were delivered to him in chilled containers once a week. I reached for the bong on the small table by the couch, and caught a whiff of Soraya’s perfume. She smelled like oranges and teak, or maybe maple?

‘You smell nice,’ I told her. Yusuf and Soraya seemed to be joined at the hip lately and though it gave me a lot of pleasure to see them spending time together, I wondered if I would have to eventually step in to defuse one of their many arguments.

‘Thanks. Yusuf wouldn’t believe me when I said that I make my own perfume. He thought I was hiding the brand from him,’ she said.

‘Do you really mix perfumes together?’ I asked her.

‘No, I just said that to mess with him. Even if I wanted to, I could never get those little jars open,’ she said.

Soraya then began doing yoga poses and stretches on the grass, using the hills-hoist to balance herself as she extended a leg. She had long and thick hair that curled into large ringlets just past her ears, giving volume to her long neck and narrow shoulders. It made me run a hand through my own hair. It was a struggle to keep my hair from drying out since I took down my braids, and I had yet to find a leave-in conditioner that didn’t irritate my scalp. Yusuf had suggested I try shaving all my hair off, which he assured me is something reasonable people do from time to time. When I told Soraya this she snorted and laughed.

‘There’s this customer at the cafe near my work who has the most amazing hair,’ said Soraya. ‘He wears a bright blue jacket some days.’ She then mimicked a shockingly credible sexy male voice, vaguely European in cadence.

‘Uh, hello. May I … uh … please,’ she breathed out softly, deepening her voice, ‘have a coffee … latte.’

‘Soraya, he sounds hot.’

‘He’s cute, but I’m taking a break from white boys, you know?’ said Soraya. She sat down on the other end of the couch and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She was glistening with sweat, her face flushed. She was completely still as she sat, with her legs held against her chest by her arms, facing me.

 

My plan to quit my job, vague as it was, hinged on Bruno firing me. I’d started small: I’d open the cafe exactly on-time a few days a week, waiting until the customers started queuing in ones and twos outside before opening our take-away window, instead of aiming to open before the first customer arrived like Georgia did. Bruno, to his credit, cottoned-on quickly that something was afoot, and when he called me in for a chat after a shift last week, I was sure that I’d be fired on the spot. But when I went over to his cramped little office next to the kitchen, he had a funny look on his face that I couldn’t decipher before he started speaking.

‘You’re dropping the ball, Nasra,’ he said. My name sounded unfamiliar to my ears coming from his lips. Usually, Bruno avoided saying my name, often finding ways to flag me down or get my attention without addressing me at all, but lately he seemed determined to use my name at every opportunity.

‘I need to know what’s wrong. How can we get your head back in the game?’

‘I don’t know,’ I told him.

‘You know I believe in solution-oriented thinking,’ he said. His expression was grave, as if he weren’t paying me below award-wage. He had bulbous, wet eyes that made my own water in sympathy and wore his head closely shaved even though, as far as I could tell, he had a full head of hair. I could see a swirling tattoo peeking out of the neck of his shirt, and his right wrist was decorated in several beaded bracelets.

‘I guess you could say I’ve been feeling a little bored lately,’ I said.

It was even true: my heart wasn’t in cafe work anymore. I’d been shot through with every minor wound this gig had to offer, and I wasn’t interested in finding out if there were more.

‘You’re under stimulated,’ he declared. ‘Maybe another role might suit you? How would you like to drive the van?’

‘I didn’t know we had a van,’ I said. Bruno smiled like he just had a great idea.

‘That’s settled then,’ he said, and explained that, instead of opening on Mondays and Tuesdays, I would now be ferrying supplies between the three cafe’s Bruno owned in the inner west. As he ushered me out of his office, he asked if I had a driver’s licence, and for a moment, I considered lying, saying that I’d never gotten round to getting one. But instead, I said, ‘Yeah,’ and Bruno gave me a wide grin and said, ‘Good girl,’ and shut the door to his office. Georgia looked up from the bagel sandwich she was making in the kitchen.

‘What was that about?’ said Georgia.

‘I’m trying to get fired,’ I said.

Georgia looked intrigued. ‘How’s that going?’

‘Not well,’ I said.

‘Oh wow,’ said Georgia.

 

It was almost midnight when I called Ali. He picked up after a few rings. There was a loud ruckus in the background, with several people laughing. I asked him what he was doing.

‘Nothing,’ he said, ‘I just have the boys over at my place. We’re playing a FIFA tournament.’

‘I’m sorry to interrupt,’ I said.

He laughed. ‘No, no, no. Please. I’ve already been knocked out. You’re not interrupting anything.’

I felt acutely embarrassed, as if I’ve just been caught midway through enacting a plan that sounded better in my head. Blood started rushing to my head. I wanted to hang up, throw the phone away, and curl up in my bed.

‘Hold on,’ said Ali. ‘Let me go somewhere quiet.’ There were scratching sounds on the line, as well as some distorted hissing.

‘Are you there?’ I asked.

‘Yes, I’m here. I’m listening,’ said Ali.

‘Well—’

‘—I’m sorry. Hold on, one second.’ There were more unidentifiable sounds, followed by a rustling sound, and some voices. Finally, there was a silence, punctuated by faint muffled sounds.

‘Sorry. I’m back,’ said Ali eventually, startling me. ‘That was weird. Two pizza guys from different pizza places at the door, both for the house next door.’

‘Why would they …?’

‘That’s what I said!’

I told him that I was drunk. ‘Okay,’ he said.

‘No, I mean, I’m drunk. I’m about to go to bed.’

‘That’s great,’ he said.

‘Great,’ I said. I wanted to say something to him that would surprise and delight him. I wanted to say something that would make him laugh. I felt this deep need to communicate exactly what I was feeling in that moment to him, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. It was a source of continuous frustration to me that I could never find the words to say what I felt; it was as if feeling robbed me of language, which made me liable to getting caught up in things I had no name for.

‘You should probably get some sleep, habibti,’ said Ali.

‘I will,’ I said. A thought occurred to me: this was only the second or third time Ali and I had ever spoken on the phone. We almost always communicated via text message. I told him that, and he said, ‘Huh, you’re right.’

‘Isn’t it interesting?’

‘Do you want me to call you more?’

‘No, that would be weird.’

‘I’d like to call you more.’

‘I’ve changed my mind. I’d like you to call me more,’ I said.

‘Of course, habibti,’ he said solemnly. As I hung up, Bruno’s earlier text message popped up on my lock-screen. I opened the message and began to read it. It began with how disappointed he was in me and how I was letting the whole team down as well as an invitation to have a ‘pow-wow’ regarding my ‘current vibe’. His text message was so long that I had to click a little box that said [continue] at the bottom, and it took a few seconds to load. I only got a third of the way through it before I skipped to the end and wrote my reply. It was much shorter than his message. I thought about it and then deleted the part where I apologised—and I sent it. The message took a moment to be delivered, and then it was gone.

 

The next day I went to the cafe to make sure Bruno wouldn’t try to get out of paying me for my last couple of shifts, only to find that the cafe was closed, the windows shuttered and the tables and chairs inside still packed away. There was a white woman out front who was wearing a long coat over a grey box-pleat dress. She looked lost.

‘Excuse me,’ she said, walking toward me as soon as she saw that I was standing outside the cafe.

‘The cafe is closed,’ I said to her when she approached me.

‘Yes, I can see that,’ she said, ‘but do you know why?’

I shrugged. ‘I used to work here I think. I wasn’t actually fired but I’m pretty sure I quit.’

The woman joined me in staring at the cafe. I was hoping to see some movement inside, perhaps Bruno skulking about in the back. I had messaged Georgia earlier, to ask her if Bruno was in, but she hadn’t replied. The woman cleared her throat and told me that she thought the cafe would be open.

‘Do you usually come here?’ I asked her, not recognising her. Then again, I only really had a memory for our less pleasant customers and a few of the nicer locals.

‘I used to live around the corner with my ex-fiance,’ she said. ‘Back then this neighbourhood was a lot rougher than it is now, I can tell you.’ She waved her hand to encompass the row of neat little stores across the street: a bustling cafe, cocktail bar, yoga studio, two restaurants, a florist, and a paint shop. She then told me that for the first time in years she’d found herself back in this neighbourhood, and she was led, almost unconsciously, to this very cafe.

‘It was a long time ago,’ she said, ‘but I was right here when I decided to break up with him.’ Her eyes were wide and owl-like, and she wore extravagant opal earrings, a bright blue, that went well with her dress. I found her story compelling, but a part of me was still caught up in the swell of refusal that brought me here. I felt that Bruno had thwarted me again by closing the cafe and placing this woman in front of me. The woman sat down on a bench facing the cafe and after a moment’s hesitation I joined her. It wasn’t like I had anything better to do today. I’d come here with nothing but a vague notion of money owed and a sense that I should probably stop messing with Bruno. I felt strongly that he would win, eventually. His sort wasn’t accustomed to failure, to letting something go, not in this world. My current thinking was to try to get back into university, but I wasn’t so sure about that either. A part of me envied Ali, who was born wanting to be nothing but a mechanic. All I was born with was a deep fear that perhaps the costs associated with being alive were too high, too much, for what was, essentially, a chronic state of calamity. The woman began speaking again after a while. She told me how she was walking home from the train station one day after work and was about to hang up the phone with Marcus (‘That was his name, by the way’) when a cyclist shot past her on the footpath.

‘It was clear that his brakes must have failed,’ said the woman. There was a tremendous crash, and the cyclist was flipped over, airborne for a moment, before he landed sickeningly on the road. The car that had hit him took some time to slow down, clipping him a second time as he fell—it’s windscreen was smashed, and the bicycle was mangled under the wheels. The cyclist began to scream in pain.

 ‘It was the worst sound I’ve ever heard,’ she said, ‘he was reaching for his legs, which were bent horribly, and his face was covered in blood. I rushed over to him, where another man was crouched over him. The driver who’d hit him had gotten out of the car and was standing dumbfounded, watching the scene with his mouth gaping open. I pulled out my phone and tried to call triple-zero, but I accidentally redialled Marcus or maybe he was still on the line, and I had simply forgotten to hang up. He said, “hello?”, and I apologised, told him I had to go, told him that I loved him, hung up, and then dialled triple-zero. I stayed until the ambulance arrived and they took the man away. Both his legs were obviously broken, and he never stopped screaming. I first had the thought when the ambulance doors opened, and the paramedics emerged from the vehicle. I thought, “I’m going to leave Marcus.” I can’t explain it further. That was it. Three days later, I moved out.’

The woman paused and stared off into the distance, and then shrugged.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. The woman waved my words away and shook her head.

‘It was a long time ago,’ she said.

‘What happened to that guy?’

‘Marcus? Last I’d heard he’d moved to Costa Rica, to help save an Indigenous language there,’ she said.

‘Oh, of course,’ I said.

The woman gave a full-throated laugh, a long breathy sound that carried her soft voice well. It completely disarmed me in its intensity and warmth. She was laughing so hard that she had to pause several times to inhale gulps of air. Eventually she calmed down, wiping a tear from her eye. It was then that I noticed how perfect her nails were. They were painted a bright, pristine teal— ‘Clair de Lune’-blue—that looked freshly applied, at the height of their glory.

‘Oh, I needed to hear that,’ she said. She then thanked me and shook her head as if to dispel a thought. I considered telling her that she didn’t answer my question earlier, about the guy, but I decided not to. The woman then turned to me.

‘How about it? My shout,’ she said, gesturing to the cafe across the street. I considered her offer. I had been counting on making myself a quick shot of espresso at work, while I could still get away with it. I otherwise couldn’t afford to spend four dollars on a coffee.

‘Sure,’ I said and followed her across the street. I paused as I stepped off the footpath, the woman’s sickening story ringing in my head. I imagined a car suddenly pulling out in front of me and crushing my legs in an instant. Ahead of me the woman was already crossing the other lane, her head held high and straight and her long coat billowing slightly behind her. She didn’t even pause to look left or right. I hurried after her, my head whipping quickly in both directions. I tried to imagine the sight that must have greeted the woman: the mangled bicycle; the screaming, bleeding man; the confused and frantic shouts. I tried to find space in my imagination for the woman’s moment of searing revelation, but all I could do was place myself there, and I had no idea what my own reaction would be. When I got to the other side I was strangely spent, almost winded, as if I had just crossed a great distance. The woman was waiting for me and smiled brightly as I approached her. I asked her where she preferred we sit and she laughed airily and said that anywhere was fine, that she didn’t mind at all.

 

Read the rest of Fiction in Lockdown, edited by Elena Gomez

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Khalid Warsame is an arts-worker and writer of essays, fiction, and criticism.

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