It always surprised him, the life that never ran out in the dead of night. A whisky bottle at hand, he walked to the open balcony of his tiny apartment. A breeze cooled the air, rustling leaves somewhere, whipping trees a distance away to HISSes.
He leaned against the balustrade, looking over the lane that cut through the blocks of apartments. The night was both full and empty, like a graveyard. Blasting music, curses, cheers, whistles, laughter and yammers emanated within the residents’ nests.
A wicked generation, he thought, taking a swig of his whisky from a bottle. He was 23 and felt old, tired, like he had seen and explored all there was to in life and grown fed up. But there were another twenty, thirty or forty years to go, should health and fate remain good-natured.
He took another swig, acknowledging his surroundings. For a while, he gazed at his former apartment across, with drawn curtains and dimmed lights. It had been the same day, yesteryear—his birthday. He did not have plans to celebrate it alive and yet had somehow survived.
She then emerged from the apartment and walked to the balcony. She leaned against the balustrade, a cigarette between her lips, struck a match and smoked. He watched. For a while, she just inhaled and exhaled. She gradually noticed his gaze; he did not shy away.
He liked her. He liked her very much. But they never maintained meaningful eye contact. He was shy and she had a man. There was also the “loss” factor. Love had left him there, alone, feeling inane and drinking himself to oblivion.
He did not want eyes that would turn to a smile, probably a kiss, then attachment and definitely heartbreak. But not locking eyes had not prevented either from looking or looking up the other. And he liked her, alright. A distance away, but she grew in him.
This night, the two locked eyes for longer than usual. With the whisky swirling in his veins, he could see all the possibilities of a life with her, right there, before him. Beautiful, smiley mornings. Beautiful, angel-like children. Warm, beautiful nights. Myriads of beautiful memories. Beauty, beauty… o’! Then she smiled and everything came crashing down.
Taking more puffs off her “rod of death,” he thought, she smiled at me. She smiled. She has Moses… I have dried roses. Scars. Memories. She will be one of them if I smile back…
He took a swig and she puffed, then stubbed her rod out. He took another swig, thinking, one year ago, I was dead. I still am… I still am.
He looked at the bottle. Half-way full, he thought, smiled, 40 per cent… could it be too much for my liver? My mind? Am I seeing things? Re-living death? He looked up and she was gone. Huh, like the wind… he thought.
With heavy eyes, blood-shot and lifeless, he checked his wristwatch. 12.30. Midnight had come and passed so stealthily. Not many even noticed it. It was not like Christmas or New Year’s eve. So quiet. So empty. So far… so far…
Placing the bottle gently on the floor, he turned and staggered back to his crib. She has Moses, he thought, I have dried roses…
He raised a foot, smashed it on the bed and looked. He was going to drop his back after it but came a knock on the door. It was so soft that at first, he thought it was the whisky. But the consistency… the person outside struck him as both patient and relentless.
He staggered to the front door and stopped. For about a minute, he just looked at the door, quiet. Then came the knock again. From that close, he could almost hear the tiny knuckles merely scratch against the hardwood.
It can’t be, he thought, of course, not. It’s impossible. Why would it be? The knock came again. He sighed and opened the door.
Engulfed in the dark, stood she from the balcony across. He could not make out much of her before she stepped closer and stretched out a slim, light hand. They had never come that inches close. For the first time in a while, his blood raced incessantly.
He took the packet of cigarettes from her hand and she turned to walk away. He had to follow. He wanted to. Every part of him itched to.
Smoke? He thought, shutting the door behind him, I feel high as a kite already! But this was a rare chance to spend time with someone he liked. Moses, he thought, dried roses…
She stood at the staircase, a few steps to the right of his block of residence. The moon-light out in the open was sufficient—it was full and brimmed with life.
He walked to her. She looked beautiful, exquisite… her smile was steady, distant but uncomplicated. Her skin was smooth, face young and lips fresh. She bit them as he looked her up and down; the cascading black hair, long neck, long, light dress; it was not exactly a see-through but her features begged to be touched through it.
“Mmh…” she said, sitting along the staircase.
She titled a gaze to the sky.
We have never spoken before, he thought, and her first word is…
“Look at her!” She went on.
He joined her. Wow, he thought, wow.
“The moon… all alone. Quiet. Peaceful. Empty. And yet…. glooming.”
She turned to him and their eyes locked. Seated only breaths away, their hearts raced, eyes searching.
“I know at least one person with a striking resemblance,”
He tried to sound as casual as possible, and she seemed to love it.
He thought of her Moses, asleep, oblivious, and didn’t care. Maybe it was the whisky, maybe he just didn’t care. Everyone knew Moses; everyone knew he got what he wanted. Nobody cared that somebody else too deserved a breath of life!
“Smoke with me tomorrow,” she said.
He thought of why he didn’t smoke, but remembered his whisky, his depression and instead thought, what if this brief moment of happiness is all that matters?
“Not today?” He asked.
She shook her head.
I had one year. One whole year. Same results. No pressure but same results, man. Here could be a chance… no attachments, nothing too serious, eh? Just friends… friends…
“Tonight, I would like to leave you to your thoughts and wish you…”
She leaned so close that her breath tingled him with desire.
“A happy birthday!” She whispered.
A spontaneous smile stretched across his face. How did she know about him? They never talked, or by any chance, shared nearly half as much.
“I could write you a poem but, you know… I read better,” she said.
She knew him! His mouth had gaped for half a question and in part-surprise, when she went on.
“Write me a poem. Right now. Can you? Say “yes”!”
He quickly thought about what she was asking of him. He realized that he could be on a train he did not see coming but was glad to board and all too aware of the chances that they’d not make it to their destination in one piece.
Smiling, he stood and walked before her.
“Talk about anything. Simple is my go… what about, “A Girl On The Stairs…” and, um… hm… “A Writer’s Muse”?” She said.
He breathed as he gathered his thoughts.
“My! I… I did not anticipate all this progression in one night,” he took a step down, then back up, “you know me… you know I am a writer, a poet…”
She looked up, her steady smile on, distant but simple and present.
“You have written many poems in those eyes. I have read them. Now, I want you to write me one that I can hear before I head to sleep. The rest of the world is dreaming, and most drunk men are out.”
He was not just excited by the thought; he felt that he understood every word. He cleared his throat and out came the words…
“She looked breath-taking, under the light of the moon;
Her body, at home with the night and her smile… O’!
The smile that reflected her glamour, her elegance—
She wore its gown and it whipped his brows…
The girl on the stairs, so beautiful like the sky
And a man; a man, without a head…”
Two were in love.
Did you enjoy this story? Let me know🙂
For nearly a year, I have sat on a short story idea titled, The Girl On The Stairs and A Man Without A Head. Summarily, it tells the story of two lonely souls who come together in the dead of night and put the world aside. Moses and Dried Roses is a similar idea but a slightly different story. The Girl On The Stairs and A Man Without A Head will go into the kitchen soon!
Join me tomorrow for another wave of exciting stories.
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Categories: Short Stories
Benson Langat is a poet, fiction writer, and freelancer. A dreamer, he realizes a world of possibilities through stories and explores life in poetry. Benie is a dad and lives in Nairobi, Kenya.