5 mins // 03 TET 18
She folded her scarf into her coat, having only wrapped it loosely around her neck in a rush to get out of the office. Not that there was anything to rush for; she knew she didn’t want to spend any more time there than she’d already wasted. She pulled her brown hair from underneath the folds of fabric, and let it fall across her fake-fur lined hood and onto her shoulders. At least it was starting to get long again.
They sky hung over her like some odd curtain in a cheap stage play. No clouds in sight, but no stars out either. Too much light pollution, she thought. They sky simply was, even and flat, starting right where the skyscrapers ended yet of course tremendously distant, all the same shade of navy blue.
She pulled her phone out of her bag. She had a text message pending, but she never quite felt comfortable with the format. Somehow in writing she never knew what to say. She decided to reply with a phone call.
“Hey… how’s it going?” She put her hand in her pocket, turning away from the door to talk, more out of courtesy than privacy.
“That’s good. Sounds nice. Yeah, I’m just heading out now.” From where she stood, she could see a sliver of water just below the horizon, the lake barely distinguishable from the sky. The wind whipped in hard, but the sky remained clear.
“Should be home in… 20 minutes? Sure, sounds lovely. Okay, see you soon. Bye.” She sighed as she dropped the phone back in her bag. Even though she continued placing phone calls, they always exhausted her.
A breeze blew across the street, and she shuddered. She didn’t have the right coat for this, but she never did, each year making do and putting it off to the next. She closed a few of the snap buttons over the zipped zipper. It’d have to do now.
She started making her way across the street, dodging a cab — wait, no, a ride-sharing driver. She walked under the warm lights in front of a hotel, swerving between guests and employees eager to help them with their bags. A long pool of people huddled around the metal framed shelter of the bus stop on the corner. They spilled out from the seams, like water finding the lowest point, all clumped around the curb on the intersection.
Even though it wasn't quite spring, she had taken to walking home. She only lived a few miles from her office, and after spending almost ten hours a day looking at a computer, she was eager to feel the air. Despite how cold it was.
Her path took her along the highway, which was always inundated with cars, the rides of others who’d commuted from farther, trying to get home. The path branched off, as all good paths do, into a much quieter neighborhood, one of the richest in the city. She loved looking up at the lavish apartments, too decadent to close their blinds. She’d look in and see what they were watching on TV, observe their furniture, their decor. Whoever was in must not keep the same hours she did.
When she had been a girl, her father had taken her to see a set of miniature rooms at a local museum. One of the craftsmen who had made them was from the same town he was, so he felt a certain affinity to their tiny worlds. She loved the way they looked; like doll houses, without any dolls. Each one featured a different style of architecture, a different era, a different country. Walking through those halls, you could almost feel like you’d seen something of the world, of time beyond your years.
It was this same feeling she got looking into the big bay windows of the apartments she passed now. Each with their different stylings, different decor; reflective of who lived there, or at least who had done their interior design. There was something so comforting about the small spaces, so wholly themselves.
Was it voyeuristic? Sure, but she didn’t mean any harm by it. She was just window shopping. No different from the thick glossy magazines laid out in the lobby at work. Maybe one day she’d see the view from the other side of the glass.
That day was not today, though. She paused before a stone apartment building, transfixed by the Christmas lights they had out front. By this time of the year, the lights had disappeared from this neighborhood. She guessed it was the same service responsible for most of the buildings here, so when one went down, the whole chain did.
Oddly, this building still had theirs up. A few very plain strings, bright golden bulbs, the old kind, not new LEDs or anything. They were wrapped around a few bushes in front of the door to what she could only presume was the lobby. It was probably because of the darkness of the night, but the bushes —and subsequently the lights wrapped around them — looked almost perfectly round.
They were like fireworks, or bomb blasts, frozen in time. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, or what had made her look so intently, but when she finally snapped out of it, she felt slight embarrassment, perhaps as if her gawking had gone on long enough. Yet, there wasn’t anyone watching her to know this. She had spent enough time here either way.
The path opened up onto the park, which was all but empty now. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pass a runner or two, even out this late, or someone walking a dog. Perhaps it was too cold for either of these, even amongst the most diehard. The only thing familiar were a few statues, old generals on horses. She remembered how her father had told her that if a statue on a horse had their feet on the ground, they had survived combat. Was that true?
She walked into a long tunnel, going under the highway, lined by lights every ten feet or so. She walked, almost subconsciously, her thoughts just beneath the surface. This, most of all, was what she relished about the walk back. Uninterrupted time to think, to perceive. She stopped for a moment, eyes closed.
The scene unfolded before her senses; the curtain lifting on the stage. Here, under the road, the sounds of the cars all blended into one, becoming a low roar, never building or falling, always the same. It would probably be like this for hours. She breathed deeply. Something brushed gently across her leg, and rather than reacting sharply to it, she opened her eyes and looked down.
It was a single leaf, from a ginkgo tree. Were there any ginkgo trees in the park? There must be, she thought. She turned around, back the way she’d came, and saw a small parade of leaves, all flowing into the mouth of the tunnel, in a row at first, before spreading out like waves. It wasn’t just ginkgo leaves, she saw: there were leaves of all types. She began to walk back, against the current, still holding the cool green leaf in her hand.
Some of the leaves swirled like a mini cyclone around a wall before continuing on. There weren’t very many entering, now. She made her way back to the start of the tunnel. Peering up at the sky, still blue as before, she felt a few drops of rain land on her face. She didn’t remember whether it was predicted to rain that day, but either way it was happening now.
She stepped back into the cover of the tunnel, listing to the sounds, unconcerned by the small puddles forming and flowing by her feet. She watched the curtain that fell in front of the tunnel, making the space seem small, cavernous as it was. She knew it would be a while before she was home, and that was okay. This was where she was supposed to be.