The first time I looked into the eyes of the girls who lived across the street was the last time I looked out the window. It was just past eight am, as it always seemed to be in that tiny green room, and I had my forehead pressed to the glass, trying to memorize the shades of grey that made up the walls, the street, and the sky. In the distance, someone was ringing a bell. I knew it would continue for some time. It’s sound was surer than the rise of the sun, clearer than its rays. I hated it, at first. Too early in the morning to be ringing bells. The acceptance I eventually came to was not based in love, but, rather, familiarity. I came the same acceptances over the reek of the fish market, carried through the slatted windows on a light breeze, and the taste of yellow dhaalbaat.
The girl opened her window, as she often did, and leaned over the sill, looking down. I wonder if she saw what I saw: the woman wrapped in a pink shawl, sitting on a crate by her vat of boiling oil; the baskets of tomatoes in molted shades of red and green outside the little shop; the construction workers, up to their elbows in cement, stopping to drink tea from filmy glasses. Puddles. Scooters. Pigeons. I wonder if her house also sometimes smells like smoke, the aroma floating down the narrow stairs from pans in the kitchen. Does her nose twitch too? Do her fried eggs- because of it- taste that much more real? That much more alive?
For a split second, our eyes met. A month, I sat by that window, writing stories that will never see the light of day and papers that shouldn’t have. A month, I played chicken with my mind, convincing myself to move in and out of the open door, to make myself a part, to not be so apart; to make my piece and to not force the pieces. Those moments when the puzzle fit, I clung to that warmth. That sense of belonging. I chase after that feeling like an adrenaline junkie. Like someone who is always the extra tile in the bottom of the box.
Somewhere, not so far away, a rooster crowed. We looked away. I will never see her again. If I do, I don’t think I’ll know her. But sitting now amongst pine and peaks, in sunlight and strange acoustics, I can hear the whisper of the wind in the leaves, and I am reminded of pigeon feathers.