I open the door leading onto the stone steps and check that there is nobody ascending from the Reception area below or coming down from the two cells above me. There is nobody there and I step out onto the uneven stairway and descend the thirteen steps to the small open courtyard where there is a door identical to the door of my cell. It is permanently open – a large smooth pebble ensures that it is always this way.
I enter a dark stairway and descend another thirteen steps to the Reception area and as I walk through another doorway that used to have a brown stained door but now only has the legacy hinges I step into the airy Reception area where the Japanese family are seated on my right. As I stepped through the doorway they arose almost in unison, the father, his petite wife, their son and his younger sister got up, looked away from me and walked out of the glass door across the hallway and next to the Reception desk. As they were leaving the hallway the girl who jumped hurdles around the athletic track a few streets away that the council had built on what was once a rubbish tip entered. She was pregnant. She lived in the cell thirteen steps above me. She didn’t say anything to the Japanese family. She looked straight ahead. A few metres behind her was a small middle aged man trying to look inconspicuous but watching her carefully, occasionally nonchalantly casting glances around him, but making sure he didn’t lose sight of her. She went through the door less doorway and he scurried after her. The Reception desk was busy. I went out into the warm Italian sunshine and the man with the pained expression was sitting on a stone bench in the little green area across the road from the Apartments entrance. He was sitting on the stone bench under a tree that was caked in white powder that had been blown there by the wind. The wind had picked up the white powder from the baby talcum powder factory that had been built on the site of a psychiatric hospital that had been demolished and the patients distributed to various ‘community homes’ in the city.
The man with the pained expression was thinking and worrying. He always thought and worried. The more he thought, the deeper he thought, the more he worried. And his worries played out on his face. Black shiny hair that reached to his shoulders framed a long pale face that began with deep furrows of worry lines on his forehead, deep-set dark eyes that darted around looking for something to think about, to contemplate and to worry about. His nose was sharp and angular and it pointed down to pursed lips surrounded by a black mass of beard. Sometimes he would stroke the beard but that only happened when he had thought about something and worried about something for so long that he had found an answer and an explanation.
He wore a black leather jacket, but not the type worn by motorcyclists; this was a longer length jacket that had lived up to the seller’s promise that it would ‘improve with age’. It had wide lapels and was always open. It was a lived in jacket. Beneath the jacket the man had on his white t-shirt. You could just make out the words on the t-shirt but you had to be careful trying to find out what the words were as if he noticed you looking at his t-shirt he would get up suddenly and go and sit somewhere else. The words on the t-shirt never changed. They read “Believe it when you See it”. The word ‘Believe’ was in red as was the ‘See’ word. All of the other words were in black. He sat there and fretted. This is what he did every day. His right hand was withered and twisted and held a black cane. It wasn’t a walking stick; it was a cane that he had found at the athletics track that the pregnant girl used to run around and over. It was ebony. He throttled the cane around three quarters of the way along its length which was just under a metre in length. He was always throttling the cane. His left hand was a filthy mixture of dirt and overgrown nails that he used to scratch his itching teeth now and again. He sat there and worried and didn’t pay me any attention. He lived in the cell at the top of the stone stairs above the hurdler who lived in the cell above me. The Worrier, The Hurdler and Me share the same stone stairs.
The Day After:
There was a Toob in the reception area earlier today. A toob is a cylindrical animal that can be between 2’6″ and 3′ tall. It’s around a foot in diameter and is covered in scales that have little thorns on the end though they are not thorns but pieces of sharp bone. Nobody knows how it got into the reception area because it cant climb stairs. It doesn’t have any legs but has bony bearings that it uses to roll around. It has no eyes or ears or nose – but it senses people and if it doesn’t like what it senses it charges at you. Somebody had brought it into the building and it made straight for the Japanese family who immediately got up and went out all at the same time. It started to come towards me and somebody shouted out “watch out – it is diseased’ and I managed go go into the staircase that doesn’t have a door any more. It came to the bottom of the stairs and then turned around. You sometimes see toobs outside on the wasteland – just standing there.
Somebody put on gloves and picked it up and carried it outside. You could tell it was angry because you could hear it breathing. The man put it on the road and off it went to the wasteland area. A lorry squashed it before it could get to the wasteland area. You could still smell the toob in the reception area hours after it had been put outside.