You can’t go through that alley there, you know” she said. Actually that was the very first thing she said to me.. And straight off the bat, 2 things struck me before I even turned to give her my supercilious eye [I’ve been told I’m quite good at that]. 1: She had the kind of gravelly voice which only drunken sods in back-of-beyond speakeasies find sexy and 2: How Know-it-all were we?!. I turned and gave her the once over.. Didn’t need two. She wasn’t particularly easy on the eye. She was tall, lanky [the kind of lank that comes from not knowing where your next meal is coming from] grey-eyed [surprisingly clear and limpid] and clearly hadn’t rubbed shoulders with a manicurist since the turn of the century. I locked eyes with her, impelling her with the full force of my personality [another thing I’m told I have a lot of… actually, maybe too much off]. She raised an eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder and dropped a lopsided grin… I matched her lopsided grin with a sardonic glint in my eye as I turned away purposefully and walked into the alley, taking a moment to kick an errant stone out of the way to indicate my irritation. Behind me, I heard her let out a snort, which I now know is her version of a laugh. Humorous or sarcastic, either way, it sounded offensive. I thought for a second whether it was worth my while to turn and give her a quick set down, but my attention was riveted at the dead-end wall in front of me. The alley was a one-way street. It extended side to side, up to down, solid brick and smelled suspiciously of humble pie. I don’t do humble pie. One look at me and you’d know that. But then, you don’t quite know me. We’ll just rectify that. Considering that I’ve got the time [I can’t possibly retrace my steps and run the risk of running into a Smug-you-know-who and you?.. well, you’ve gotten this far, so I’m guessing you’re easy as well].
I’m Jack. Just Jack. I’ve got this fancy lineage, but my mum kind of wrecked that. She married early. And badly. And me coming around didn’t merry it along for either of them. Didn’t merry it along for me either. I hated him for about 2 weeks. [that’s about all the time he hung around] And her? Well… she sure could pick them. And pick them she did. Well, that’s about it for me. And you can wipe that sympathetic look you’re getting on your face right about now.. In fact, you can just stuff it. I’m a survivor in the truest sense of the word. And in any case, it’s about time I moved that survivalist backside back into the dank rancor that is my neighbourhood.
I made my way to the apartment block I live in. Its one of the better buildings around here and my landlord is a pretty good guy as landlords go. His credit facilities are quite unmatched around here. The downside? I live around the back; the part that no one really looks at. Suits me. No one looks at me either. I’ve never really been easy on the eye and with the scar that runs down my jaw to the end of my ribs, [an old war wound] most of my relationships are tinged with wariness. I’m just stating facts here. It might sound tragic. But it’s not, though. Life was really good – and getting better by the second. I’m dining with my landlord tonight, and he’s an outstanding cook. I took the stairs two at a time and was just about to knock at his door, when there it was again.. That snort! You’ve got to be kidding me!. I gingerly pushed open the door and walked smack bang into Ms. Snort-a-lot with her fingers elbow deep in what was meant to my be my steak and fries. What?! Old Sammy [my landlord] smiled at me broadly and waved me in. I shot You-know-who a look and hugged the old man. He was in a great mood – and so was she. Why wouldn’t she be? She was wolfing down half of my dinner!
We were introduced. Shelly smiled broadly. For those of you who are experiencing the same mind-numbing disgust as I am, and are thus slow on the uptake, Shelly was her name. I couldn’t even begin to crack a smile. But the crap was yet to come. The crap that turned the steak in my mouth to gravel. She was to room with me! What?! A roomie! Avec Moi? [Pardon my French. My mother is French] I’ve never roomed with anyone. That’s why I live around the back. It’s because no one else would. And now I’ve been lumped with Ms. Cant-afford-to-live-anywhere-else-Shelly!. I was furious. But then, I knew I didn’t have a leg to stand on [not having paid the rent for about 5 months now]. She was a pill and I was just going to have to swallow her. But dang if I went down courteously though!. I sat there dressed in a tight smile as I listened to Sammy going on and on like a drone [never realized how irritating his voice was before this] about how I hardly used any space and she could pretty it up [oh God!. I’m going to vomit!] a couple of pretty curtains, a fresh lick of paint. Shelly shot me a smile [She really shouldn’t smile. Not with that set of teeth!] She thanked him profusely and Sammy jauntily throws me a line “Jack and Shelly – I like the sound of that!” She snorts back at him. I can’t because I’m struggling not to gag on my own tongue that I’m swallowing before it can say something that I will regret forever. Kill me now is the speech blurb in my head. They hug; Old Sammy and Soon-to-be-strangled-Shelly as I begin to precede her out the door because honestly all this ‘women’s lib’ stuff just sounds like tripe to me. She grabs her worldly belongings which is all bundled up in a gritty backpack and followed me out.
We had had sleet last night, so the path around the back was wet, damp and quite puddled. I accidently-on-purpose tried to splash in quite a few right about the time she was stepping over them. She didn’t seem to mind. Drat and Damnation. She’s going to be a hard nut to break. But break her I will. I kicked my door open in a proprietary way taking impotent pleasure in the fact that she had to stoop a bit to get in. She stared around the room. I stared at her. Honestly, the first sign of disdain and she was out the door. No way was I going to stand for that! She found the only place to sit [My evening armchair, I might add] and then leans back all ready for a conversation. “Shall we get to know each other?” she said. “As if” I implied with a steely glance. She shot that same lop-sided grin at me and said: “Ok. I’ll start with you.. let me guess? You’re er…er… French!!!” Now, that really got me. Because, quite honestly, I’ve always been told I resembled my dad and he was as Aryan Nation as they come. I was about to snap something dry and cutting her way, when she did something bizarre. She leaned over and scratched me under the chin as she whispered in my ear “You’ve got the face of a French Poodle. And I’ve always loved Poodles”. And then she kissed the top of my head [No one has EVER done that to me before]. I looked deep into her lucid eyes and just like that, it was over for me. With all my barriers leaving my body like rats from a sinking ship, I climbed into her lap and she tucked an arm around me. I fit. We fit.
I was home.
Althea Kaushal is a part-time screenplay writer(with Happy New Year being her last film), amateur editor and full time mum and dog-lover. She lives in the Jumeirah area with her husband and her two daughters.
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