“I can’t remember if the world has always looked this way… Dirty, static and dark. There was light once. There had to have been”
She looked out the fogged window, raindrops running wavy shadows down her arms. She pulled her sweater closed.
“Was it always this cold too?” She shuddered, even though she wasn’t cold.
The bell rings.
She remembers the first time she heard a bell like that. She was five, maybe? She was running, and laughing. The sun was bright. So bright that it illuminated everything else from inside, and the sky danced with every color.
“Mana, excuse me. Class has been dismissed. Can I help with anything?”
She looked at the professor for a moment, the colors and sunlight fading into her peripherals and revealing the bleak institutional face of Mr. Henry.
“Uh, no- I’m sorry, I was uh… Just leaving.”
She gathered her books into her bag and zipped it shut. Swinging it over her shoulder, she stood up and started for towards the door.
As she crossed the threshold, she paused and leaned back in.
“Do you think the sun is, uh… Less bright than it was 10 years ago?”
Mr. Henry, who had been tapping away with chalk at the blackboard paused to consider her question and chuckled.
“You know, I’m a history teacher, so I don’t know much about the sun.”
“But you know what they say about time right? The older you get the quicker it seems to pass.” He said, pointing his stubby chalk at the clock. It was 3:25. School had ended ten minutes ago.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that. Thanks, Mr. Henry.” She turned and walked away.
Well that made no sense. She thought as she waded through the dispersing sea of chittering school kids. She looked from face to face, each buried in their phones. They all had different emotions. They stood or walked in groups. They looked like they were happy, but no one looked at eachother.
No one looked at her.
They all shuffled toward their destination avoiding bumping elbows and blindly following the shoes of the one in front of them. Mana saw a sea of pale blue faces, all hunched over their hands, and felt the room drop a degree.
She managed her way through the front doors of the school towards her route home. The sky was heavily overcast and threatened to rain on her. She zipped her hoodie, hiked her bag and crossed the street.
Kids smoking outside school property sat in a cloud of nicotine, laughing at unseen images on their phones. As she passed, the smoke burned her eyes and she coughed. A cigarette flew past her head, and the kids laughed even harder.
She rounded the corner of the last road, her boots soaked through the toes dampening her socks. She looked at her kicking feet.
Left,right, left, right… The left was wetter… it made a squish sound when she stepped.
Squish, right, squish, right.
The puddles darkened the fabric and gave lustre to the gritty roads. Neon lights danced across the pavement like the moon over the surface of the ocean, illuminating her steps. She looked up at the signs that hummed and made naked ladies dance and bottles of booze empty in tandem. For as bright as those lights were, they still seemed grey.
Squish, right. Squish, right.
The sound was less than hypnotizing. She longed to get home, remove the offending sock, wrap up in a blanket and watch the rain come in. She always watched the storms. The rolling grey blotches gave the sky life and character. She imagined the she could see creatures and fields of mysterious hills. She loved hearing the light taps of drops on the rooftops and imagining the families that shared the warmth and meals together inside. Siblings that played games, fought and grew together. Parents that embraced in the glow of their loving family
.“Hey baby, want to party?”
She paused for half a second, forgetting where she was and realizing just as fast. Her pace quickened as she still had six blocks to go. Three blocks peppered with bars full of men who loved to watch young women walk by.
“Look at me sweetheart! Let’s see that smile.” A few of them pushed away from the bar where they were smoking and began trailing her.
She adjusted her bag stealing a glance at the men following her. They were at least a half a block behind, tendrils of smoke rising from them like a steam locomotive.
“I see you lookin’! We don’t bite, come on baby! Let’s get wrecked.” The two behind the speaker gestured to each other, laughing and throwing play punches.
Squish, right. Squish, right. Squish, right.
‘They better be gone or my family will kick their asses. I’m not too far away, I can run and make it.’ She thought clenching her bag strap and taking a few deep breaths.
Two blocks from home, she hit the crosswalk running. Her hood flew off and her hair erupted as she beat the pavement.
One block. Nearly there, she whipped past the shoddy familiar flats she grew up near. Sprinting past trees she climbed, bushes she’d hid in, the fire hydrant they played at, making mavericks out of puddles with her heavy boots. Rounding the final corner she stole a glance behind her. No-one was there. She paused to catch her breath and watch down the road she just ran. For blocks, the only movement was the streetlamps beginning to flicker on. November nights come early. Readjusting her bag, she walked the last few feet to her door.