Novellas and Poems

An untitled novella by Radi Safi – Part 1

My Aunt Hilda lives on the corner of a small street the name of which escapes me. The long side of the property consisting of a large orange brick wall, a reasonably well tended flower bed, yellow, yellow, white, red, a fence and swinging gates which lead to an old fiber cement garage all face this small nameless street. Also facing this street are several windows, two of which belong to the ground floor and three to the first. One of the three is the kitchen window and is directly above the flower bed albeit on the first floor. This window is delicately framed by two sets of simple opaque curtains which are permanently pulled to either side creating a natural arc so that only a very small section of them can be seen from the outside. There’s also a dusty fly-screen between the glass and fabric which is ignored, accepted and left as is. Both sets of curtains are white with one slightly more ornate than the other giving the impression that it is perhaps an off white. They had all been there for quite some time well before my aunt arrived.

Anyone blessed with extended family will be all too familiar in how easy it is to either love or hate them. Some are just as easily ignored but we are not here to discuss the grey. Now although my adult self is far less inclined toward extremes, I once insisted on having both my most-favorite and least-favorite of everything. This golden rule was applied across the board from food and television shows to the colour and consistency of, well, my shit. Light yellow was rare and an absolute lottery win for example. All categories were assigned a place in both my heart and mind and although I never made a list, I often wished I had.

You should mention the old Arabic calendars.

I can’t say that only the favorites brought joy (for as we all know there is always a sense of excitement and certainly gallows humor in one’s least favorite meal being served up yet again), but what I do know for certain is that she was my favorite aunt and in the same lifetime we would be neighbors not once but twice and on two very distant continents.

There is a universal law that governs the system by which a corner house is numbered and assigned a street on which to call its own. Regardless of the size or length of the aspect on either corner, a house owes its number and subsequent address to the street on which the front door faces.  And so by this governing law my aunt finds herself belonging not to the small and rather quaint street-of-no-name but instead to Birdsfoot Ave; a street that extends through four suburbs and is thought of by most who consider themselves experts on the area, a rather busy street.

Despite the fact that her house’s front door faces Birdsfoot Ave, there is in fact no way in which to reach the landing by means of the west side. Although it can be clearly seen from the footpath, there is a small brick fence about two feet high, a good sized lawn and a number of small trees in the yard. It does not even invite you to jump up onto the fence because directly behind those flat yellow bricks is a relatively deep perimeter of soil, stones and plants. These consist mainly of succulents and other hassle free evergreens. One is obliged when parking on Birdsfoot Ave (for despite its reputation as being a busy street there is always ample parking), to walk around to the side street and enter via a small cream coloured shin high gate which leads directly to some stairs and finally to the front door. This is hardly an inconvenience although I do suppose it may have caught out some first-time visitors. I do not remember my first visit.

You should. Well, you could if you tried to.

When heading south along Birdsfoot Ave there are some thirty houses before one reaches a set of permanently amber traffic lights after which the name of the street changes. Given that one can clearly hear the traffic stopping, changing, starting along the main intersection when standing on the footpath outside the house, I don’t suppose they are actually amber all the time. However such is my timing with certain things and so that is how I remember them and how they must be known. It is an uncontestable fact that this is a very busy intersection and happens to be a point where three suburbs meet. Between my aunt’s house and before these amber-inclined lights there are no additional side streets on either side. There is however a small public infant’s school on the opposite side of the street, which is proceeded by a park and playground. I knew both the school and park very well although I was far better acquainted with the latter despite the many facelifts and makeovers it had undergone over the years. I had in the past tip toed into the school grounds during weekends and holidays but this was always considered a risk and was done with much excitement. I much prefer the first incarnation of the playground which included timber see saws, monkey bars and rusty slides among other things. Children’s playgrounds have come a long way in the last twenty years and there are two periods that I admire. Thankfully these coincide with my circumstances. There is the early period which included the deadly sets of hardwood see saws and steel pipe monkey bars very similar to those I found at the park when we first moved to the suburb in which I was a boy, and there is a new generation of ergonomic, environmental and well construction playgrounds that are still quite new and were timed perfectly for the new boy.

Recycled tires should get a mention don’t you think?

It was a Sunday morning when I found myself walking along Birdsfoot Ave, Sally in toe, discussing the afternoon’s commitments right outside my aunt’s house. Yes, definitely a Sunday. I wasn’t struck so much by the manner in which we were passing her by without a second thought, (there was a more than likely chance that she would be home), but more by the fact that I did not seem to care. I had no intention of visiting her. As though I was momentarily as one often finds themselves in a dream, two people; one thoroughly engaged in the moment and another outside it, considering it and rationalizing it.

That’s not so far from the truth you know.

It is generally a fleeting experience as though the mind prefers not to take on two world-views at once and we are either roused from the dream or becomes fully engrossed. I kept walking.

This walk perhaps would not have been so strange to me had we still been neighbors with my aunt. As it happens, there is never a moment in my adult life that I would find myself in such a proximity to her house without a visit. These days we live a good thirty minutes drive away. A bumpy drive if you go my way and a really bumpy drive if you go my father’s way. Had it been my childhood, it would have been a completely different story because I once lived on this very street some three blocks north and would often find myself walking past to and from bus stops without a second thought.

There are what I like to call technicalities of the moment; things that one can easily assess and use to decide whether or not the scene we are faced with is in fact a true reality or some figment of the subconscious mind. I’ve maintained that this is a falsehood of our society and is something that both children and the elderly seem to understand all too well; the inner world is not only as real and as important upon our daily life as the decisions we make in our waking hours, but it is the source from which all worlds spring. Of course I didn’t know that at the time and right before or just between deciding one version of the moment over another I had an opportunity to make my assessment and, I can confidently say, everything was as it should be. There was however a slight shift in colour.

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Part two coming soon…