Mild Man and the Nude Neighbour
Joshua pulled on his socks and laced his shoes. They were grey, limp shoes, which made a noise like a child loudly sucking its thumb every time he tread on lino. He had never noticed the sound his shoes made.
He hauled himself off the pink-checked sofa, picked up his bag and slung it over his skinny shoulder. It was a brown satchel, like those Cuba Street cool kids sometimes use – not that Joshua would know that – he’d kept it from his own school days, some thirty years in the past.
He unlatched his door: the square bolt, the double lock, and the two latch locks. Before leaving his haven, his long idle face lazily stared out at him from a plastic red-rimmed mirror hanging on the back of the door. Joshua was a small man. His hair cut close to his head, hunched shoulders pulled his head and neck down, his eyes squinty and bright, his hands fluttering like a young wounded bird.
Out in the cold corridor, dankness reigned with the faint odour of cat piss and soggy plants. Joshua carefully closed the door behind him, checking every lock. He was on the third floor; there was no elevator.
Head cast down, he trudged towards the stairwell. Two doors down, his eyes fixed onto a red toenail. A red toenail followed by a large brown flat foot, with black hairs on the big toe and the ridge of the foot bone, then a square, solid shin. He couldn’t stop now; his eyes involuntarily moved up the object that had never before appeared on his way to work.
A knee, knobbled like a brown country bun, and then a thigh. A worried frown dug into his face, but it was too late. The thigh was followed by a large triangle of dark brown pubic hair and broad hips that almost touched the edges of the doorway.
There was no movement from the body, it slouched.
He stumbled and his eyes darted to the opposite wall as a flush peeled from his neck to the top of his balding head. His breathing stopped until he reached the stairwall. He couldn’t look back.
But the eyes that belonged to the broad hips watched Joshua until he was gone. The eyes belonged to Sarah. As the back of the little man disappeared, she slammed her door, flounced into her empty sitting room, dragged on a pair of pink-and-black striped flared trousers and put the kettle on for a cuppa.
Out of the building, Joshua hurried along the cobblestone footpaths. He cursed at the cars and exhaust, swore at the workmen with their crude swaggers, the suited upstarts on their cellphones, and the unevenness of the footpath.
By the time Joshua arrived at the glue factory, where he worked as an accountant, the flush on his face had calmed down, and his breathing had returned to normal.
But that evening, the image of the foot ridge and the dark hair pervaded his mind as he made his way home. Over and over his eyes travelled up the leg, his breath coming fast and short. He started to feel queasy as he neared the third floor. His eyes flicked from the floor to the wall, he readjusted his bag, looked at his watch, looked at the ceiling. As his eyes came back down from the ceiling he passed by a face. A round, dark-eyed, dark-browed, large-mouthed face.
His eyes kept moving, but then there was a tee-shirt, tied up at the waist, and there again was the pubic bone, pushed out provocatively, covered with some orange corduroy. Brown bare legs, solid and brave. He looked back at the face, pleading.
“Hmmmmm.” His feet involuntarily stopped moving, he swayed with his bag. His face puckered up with sweat.
“What are ya doing?”
“Aeeaaaaaarrrrrrrr.” He released a breath.
“Do ya wanna come in?”
“I’ve got some tea on.”
“I‘ve got to get home.”
“Because, I’m on my way home.”
“Why don’ya come in. Go’n come in. Won’t take long.” Her eyes pleaded, big brown sinkholes.
He couldn’t help himself, his grey shoes sucked towards her and she stepped back to let him inside. He scratched at his chest.
There was an old, chintzy, vibrantly floral puffy couch in the middle of the room with a dark stain down the middle and across the right armrest. It smelt damp. There was nothing in the bare room except for a poster, of Johnny Depp and his cow’s lick, blue-tacked to the crusty wall.
“Sit down. Sorry there’s not much here, I moved in last week. Moved here from way out west where my parents are, it’s my first time away from home, but with thirteen others, it was time to get out and be independent.
“I like it here, found that couch at the dump, couldn’t believe anyone would throw something like that out. Had to get a trailer to shift it here, and what a shit to move it up the stairs. But I like it, I like having something of my own. What d'ya think, do you like it?
“Suppose you’ve got good furniture?
“How long have you been here? Do you like it? What do you do?
“Have you got a girlfriend? How do you take your tea? I haven’t got any milk, so is it okay black?”
“Four years, I’ve been here four years,” blurted Joshua. He was perched on the edge of the sofa, his arm outstretched for the cup of tea. He glared into the black liquid.
Sarah plonked herself down on the puffy sofa, close to the middle, near him, with her legs crossed, eyeing him as he drank his tea from a chipped mug with Anchor written down the side. He kept his eyes on the tea, on the floor, stared at Johnny Depp, stared at the way the flowers on the sofa blended in chaotic swirls of colour. So much colour. He winced.
He burnt his mouth, gulping at the hot tea until there was none left. Sweat started to drip down his sideburns, and rounds of moisture seeped under his armpits through his grey shirt. She leant towards him. He bolted out of the seat, and shoved the teacup between himself and her voluptuous chest.
“Thank you very much for the tea. I’ll see myself out.”
Turning his back to her pained face, noticing, as he made the interminable journey to the door, a stack of She magazines – the top one titled “How to get your man in five easy steps.”
His shoes were squelching so loudly he couldn’t hear anything else. Finally, he was out the door and homeward bound. Unbolting his locks, his skin lost its peaky shine, and he fell into his haven.
Sarah watched him flee. She gathered up the two cups, and took them into the kitchen. Sellotaped to her fridge was a white A4 piece of paper with five points.
The first three words were struck through with a red felt-tip pen.
Sarah kicked the fridge, and tore down the page. Carefully, she started transcribing onto a fresh sheet of white paper.