The only window that wasnt boarded up was the upstairs bedroom at the front, which is why I liked it. At night, you could look out at the blackness, see the stars. All the other sleepers stayed downstairs. They were just lads, really, lads with nowhere else to go. Lads afraid of ghosts. They said they could hear Hewitt bumping about, and one of them told me he saw him on the top landing, holding an iron bar above his head. Describe him then, I said, and the lad puffed himself out big and made a roar. Well, that wasnt Hewitt; he was small, with a face like a ventriloquists dummy and a voice to fit, as if hed got a tiny man trapped in his throat. So perhaps the lads were just trying to scare me off. They couldnt know, could they, that Hewitts ghost wouldnt frighten me one bit; it wouldnt hurt me to think of his restless spirit. But I dont like to think of Hewitt at all, if Im true not of him, or his time. I used to call it Before, like BC but without the Christ. Then I stopped calling it anything, and the past didnt trouble me. This is the only time there is, I used to tell myself: there never was a Before. Id got to thinking it was a fact. That was how I managed.
Its not as if I was a derelict. I knew what I wasnt, even if I didnt know what I used to be. And I can remember things if Im pushed. The Sisters from the House had found me a place. Let me out the side door and put me on my way. Run by nuns, they said, as if I hadnt had enough of them already. I might have gone there, but I knew what they would want; they would want to cleanse me. Start with my soul, Id say, but they wanted me clean from the outside in, pulling at my clothes like a clutch of thieves. They said I was an Object. An Object who had fleas. They said cleanliness is next to godliness. Well, I know thats a lie. I wasnt having that, lying nuns and thieving to boot. And it was me who was supposed to be the thief, me the liar.
When the Sisters decided I could obey the rules, they let me go. I took my case and walked. And when I found Hewitts place again, I stayed. Theyd laugh at me now, the nuns; now that Ive lost everything to a sly girl in the dark.
The day she came was ordinary. Sometimes theres an event, like a snow, or a funfair, or Christmas lights going on in the city, and it reminds you how the year rolls over.
But mostly theres no edge, just tumbling days, which is how I like it. I have a routine which is rarely spoiled; it stops me having to think. I go down to the open market in the morning to fetch boxes. I like the colours on the fruit and veg stalls, and the men there never change. The stalls are on one side, and a row of shops on the other with girls dresses bits of rag more like on dummies in the windows. They wear smug, eyeless smiles, expensive clothes; some of them are bald, some naked. Theyve nearly all got bare feet. I stay on the stalls side.
They call it The Walk, this street, and it is like a place to promenade, with the castle on the mound, and the market with its awnings, and the two grey churches crouched like dogs on either side. At the back of the market is the city hall, which Ive been to often enough, and round the back of that is the police station. Ive been there too, if Im true.
No, there was nothing exceptional to the day, unless you count the pumpkins. All the stalls were orange with them, piled up on each other, glowing like a monstrous hatch. They were for cutting into faces. Some of the stallholders had made their own lanterns and hung them over the displays, grinning and twirling in the wind. The thought of them at night-time, lit up and jeering, was horrible to me. I was lucky with the firewood. There were lots of crates, on account of all the pumpkins. I found some broken bits, and the boy on the flower stall gave me a bin liner to carry them in.
Copyright © 2004 by Trezza Azzopardi. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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