I squat down at my newest find.
A pair of hooded eyes observes my casual saunter towards its burden.
I light a cigarette, and a perfumed stream of nicotine escapes through my pursed lips. My hand phone rings, and I struggle to retrieve it from a bag that seems highly offensive to people for some reason. I wrestle with several dog-eared books, a half-empty bag of chips and my tangled headphones. After some minutes it stops ringing and lies dormant in my hand. I look at my phone, wondering who on earth it is. Nobody ever deigns to call me, so this disruption comes as a rather pleasant surprise. And then I catch sight of my own reflection – a face; grim and armed, with a convenient, laconic smirk stares back from the greasy screen.
Well, hello there, I rasp drily to my own reflection.
I unlock my phone, and as my eyes dart across the illuminated screen my eyes involuntarily roll towards the dingy ceiling of the smoke stop staircase.
The boss needs me back in ten minutes.
My unwashed hair is starting to itch. I’ve always disliked the attention it gets from strangers and familiars alike. It is always waging an endless war against the efforts of every hairdresser that has been compelled by this strange bush – cuts, blowdries, straightening, fringes – nothing seems to tame this hideous wilderness of nature, a tangle of bristly hair the colour of brassy, bright-eyed chestnuts. Or the ambiguous hue of flowing ditchwater, glassy-jawed and open-mouthed, in the mossy canals during the September monsoons.
I’ve given up trying to explain myself too. Like how you adjust yourselves to an uncomfortable chair after some time, my awkwardness doesn’t seem to bother people anymore. Or my own perception of myself, at least. Who the fuck cares? Just simply being becomes so baffling after a while. One of my friends used to say, “Stop thinking so much, Laura, you know you’re good enough, just do it.” I think she’s got a point or two there. Well, actually, I’m not very sure whether I’m good enough. All I know is that I grit my teeth and get down to the dirty job. If it works, that’s great. The only problem is when nothing works, and you can’t do anything to correct it, and then you get sucked into the crevasse of in-betweens. I strongly dislike in-betweens. How does one deal with greys and lavenders, azure blues and sapphires? I’d very much like to handle blacks and whites, red and blues, good and bad. This is why I dislike rainbows as well. What does one exactly do with a multi-coloured loom handle? A myriad of options and a variety of disappointments. Where do I start to choose? Hope and despair are but one and the same, albeit on different sides of the coin.
I crouch down to take a closer look, well-worn jeans scrunching at my knees, wrinkling the tough, indigo fabric; my curiosity has been ignited by this insect that refuses to take flight. Such bravery, for a little midget that flits among the flowers trying to catch their attention, but forgetting that flowers cast their heads down, and only wink at the butterflies and bees. I laugh and an uneasy, artificial hollowness radiates throughout my body that gathers at my fingertips, emptying me of the alienating brevity that sobers my mind.
Such impudence, indeed.
Nevertheless, I am still intrigued. My hand involuntarily reaches out, sparked by a wonder that hums and unfolds, letting go of the doubt that curdles my limbs – wanting to touch, explore, feel. Then, as suddenly as it happens, a disturbing thought blazes in my mind, and it shrinks back again, as if it had been slapped away by an invisible hand.
I peer at its large saucer eyes, lit with some compelling mystery that I can’t quite pin down, by a solitary fluorescent light that flickers with fatigue. Its eyes glow with the temptation of promises. I am led to a thousand mirrors, in which I can see myself slowly traversing a spinning atlas globe with luggage bags in hand, which soon picks up speed. A papyrus boat drifting down the river Nile. Reading a copy of Baudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil in an empty street, the grounds full with plush, faded blossom. Mum stirring a pot of curry at the stove, as the wan light filters in through the plastic curtains, staining her skin a frangipani pink.
The simpering odour of washing powder, fried chicken and the smell of motor exhaust permeates my nostrils even as the rubbish cascades out of the litter bin, a glorious tide of spent human excesses, an ironic ode to the perverse joys of consumerist greed. A stray can rolls out of nowhere, teasing my foot with the guilelessness of a frolicking Persian cat. I give the can a stunningly vicious kick that dents its aluminium body with no effort, and a strange feeling wells inside me.
The smoke issues from my half-burnt fag, its insouciance revealed by the manner in which it drifted. Jagged precipices of wispy smoke reached out to caress and stroke the dusty parapet, weaving itself artfully amongst the muted leaves of the overarching rain tree, never quite grasping anything in its charming, slippery hold. Almost as if it were bored with the blatant normalcy of the neatly lined cars beyond the filthy, half-chipped door –
I look to the door and through the square panel of glass that offers me a view of the grotesque.
Primary blocks of black, red and white on wheels; as compliant and frustratingly ordered as settled life; yawning and stretching its long, pale legs cocooned in sheer black stockings, winking at me as it beckons.
To what, exactly? I do not know. Would I ever want to know?
I could try, I guess.
But I’m so tired. I look at my watch again, my hunches aching in the awkward position that I am cocooned in. I crush the cigarette with my scuffed sneaker shoes. It burns the dragonfly’s left wing, a silver coin of hope that crinkles into a charred burnish.
Time to go, Laura. Work beckons.
(This was originally part of a poem, but some little bird told me that I could take this a step further and I did.)
© Zelda Reville