The following days moulded Esme into a routine of lazy mornings, cooking, eating, further attempts at meditating and pouring over plans in her mind at what she should do next. On occasions she would notice the whirring of the air con’s motor, it’s increasing speed as a sign that she was pointlessly thinking about too many things – how to escape, contacting Darren, making amends with Chloe, what her mother would be doing. Was there a connection between her mind and this fucking air con unit? Was it reading her mind? There was evidence that it was true, and if so, could she then use this to find a way out of the building?
When Saturday came, she woke up early, got up, dressed in a pair of faded jeans and a rock concert t-shirt, brewed her mug of tea and prepared a bowl of cereal. She held the cereal pack in her hand and froze. She had been eating from this packet for almost a week now, yet it felt full. She put the cereal box down and picked up the pack of tea which also felt new even though she had been drinking three of four cups per day. It should have been half empty by now. She twisted her head and scanned the apartment. She threw the box onto the floor as hard as she could and growled. She took her tea and breakfast and went on to the balcony. She stared up at the moon that was still visible in the cloudless sky. Esme considered what it would feel like to be the only person walking around on the moon, discovering a lone rock whilst everyone else was getting on with their day down on planet Earth below. She could neither eat nor drink, read nor talk, laugh nor cry. When she had first moved in she had felt a hunger for the city, to parachute in the middle and find her way out, then do the same each day until she knew the roads like a taxi driver. The city boasted a dark cloud above the skyline, the roads and buildings below expecting a rain that would nourish the ground when the clouds released, and the blue sky and a fresh perspective that would inevitably follow. Summer was almost over. Esme and her mother had once driven to the coast at the beginning of Autumn last year. They had walked along the beach and eaten battered fish and ice cream. Her mother always spoke of how the Autumn wind filled her with energy and empowerment.
She admitted to herself that the stay in the apartment felt like a hotel stay; no bother from other people, the chance to read some books, to savour the passing of the day and to experience time differently from the rest of the world. She chatted once with Darren from across their balconies after one of his ‘marathon-gaming sessions’. He enjoyed telling Esme all about it, even though she had no interest in video games. She did enjoy listening to the storytelling that ensued and the liveliness in his eyes that she envied. What concerned Esme after her chat was how things were becoming normalised. Darren had succumbed to staying in the building. If there were other residents in the building, she hadn’t heard anyone else complaining. In some moments it felt like she had been there a year already. Perhaps the building distorting time too, as time was a lump of baker’s dough constantly been stretched and squashed together.
Sally came out of her apartment as infrequent as Darren, at which point Esme would stand up immediately from her chair, go into her apartment without saying a word and sit on her sofa until she heard Sally’s sliding windows being shut again.
On the Friday evening of the second week Esme took the blanket from her bed, wrapped it around her and went outside to sit on the balcony. It was dark and Esme turned off the amber light to reduce the light pollution. She noticed the faint sound of traffic that emanated from the city. The buzzing of car engines, the faint pounding sound of disco music, the passing sound of voices from the main street one block away. She sat there almost an hour, letting her mind drift, wondering where the stars in the sky would guide her and what would she be doing in the city if she were able to leave, at which point her mind went blank as if it were a blank canvas. Was this really her destiny to live here? Was she just a country mouse at heart? Wouldn’t she ever break away from the kind of village life that she was accustomed to? Perhaps this was the city’s way of chewing her up and spitting her out, a test to see whether she could endure the loneliness of being surrounded by thousands of people, but never truly connecting to anyone.
As Esme got up to go inside and go to bed, she turned round to see Sally’s face, her arms resting on the separator wall. She was wearing a woolly dressing gown that was tightly tied around her waist. Esme predicted that the grey bikini lay hidden underneath.
“You startled me,” said Esme, grabbing her mug and book before heading inside.
“It is a nice view this evening,” said Sally. “It does not always look so beautiful, only so when the residents here are at peace.”
“If you truly wanted peace, then you’d let us out of here so that we can get on with our lives.” Esme considered swinging for Sally’s face, punching her or whacking her with the ceramic mug that she had in her hand. Sally probably wouldn’t even flinch, and maybe with each blow that Esme were to land, the energy in Sally’s evil smile would increase.
“All I ever want is for my residents to have the best view.”
“What’s the point in having an amazing view of the city when you never get chance to explore it?” replied Esme.
“If you were to leave the building right now, you would not go to the city.”
“How do you know what I want?” Esme scoffed, walked into her apartment and started to slide her window shut. Just before it closed, she heard Sally’s voice call out, “All my residents find their gift of peace once they realise what gift of peace they have to offer.”
Esme put her mug on the table and went to the bathroom before getting into bed, starring at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth, the question that Sally had just posed still buzzing around her ears. Sally seemed to have a knack for asking questions that jabbed her deep in her ribcage. She questioned whether living alone and far from her mother was the right thing to do, and at first it seemed as though Sally’s question had knit-picked at Esme’s insecurity about moving out. She remembered the dream with Sally and then drown in memories of her and her mother. She knew her mother was difficult, like a strict teacher that nobody likes, yet gets the job done and delivers the results at the end of year. She could often be cold and relentlessly stubborn, but the one thing that Esme had learnt in the last couple of days was that her mother had always been there for her. They seldom had a heart-to-heart, and even then there was never a shred of girlie time in there, moments of deep connection came around as often as Christmas, but it was ironic how her mind had started to tune out the rotten times and was now pushing those precious mother-daughter moments to bubble up to the surface. Both of them knew they were different people – “So what,” thought Esme. Her mother didn’t offer much in the way of free advice, but whenever Esme had tackled her mother with a problem, there had always been a selection of options to choose from, alongside sackfuls of help until the issue subsided.
Before going to bed Esme picked up the jewellery box from the dresser and rested it on her lap as she sat on the edge of her bed. She opened the little wardrobe-like doors and slid each of the inner drawers in and out in succession. They were still missing a boast of precious things inside, but Esme felt the value of holding something that countless people had held in past generations before her. She missed her family and before putting the box back on the dresser, whispered, “Love you, Mum,” before lightly kissing the top of the box. She took off her jeans and t-shirt, folded them into a pile by the side of her bed and put her head on the pillow. In the quietness of the apartment a low hum emanated from the air con unit. Esme heard a sudden loud click, a sound of a metal snap that echoed around the apartment. It was hard to ascertain where the sound originated from, as if all the locks in the entire building had just unlocked together. Was this a signal? Her opportunity to leave? She quickly dressed again and went to the living room where she noticed the silence of the room – the air con’s motor had completely stopped. Without further thought, she grabbed her rucksack, phone and purse, wrapped the jewellery box inside a jumper to protect it and walked to the apartment’s front door. She took the stairs to the ground floor and pushed open the main front door that led to the grassy quad area. The door swung open gently and a waft of cool breeze flowed inside as Esme heard an owl toot in the trees that overlooked the entrance path. She left the complex area and crossed the road and looked back at the apartment building, refreshing her perception of what the building looked like from the outside. Up on the first floor she could see Sally and Darren on their respective balconies, both looking down at her. Darren gave a smooth and short wave. Sally crossed her arms and walked into her apartment and out of view. Esme waved back at Darren, turned and walked towards the south-side train station that would be around a ten-minutes walk away. She texted her mother to tell her she was getting the last train home and she was looking forward to telling her about the apartment building that she had been living in since moving out.
Photo by Sean Mungur on Unsplash
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