A short story by Kathryn Crowley.
Shoes and starlings
A roar emerged from Sabirah’s throat as she hurled a shoe through the air with all of her might. She had stood up too quickly and a dizzying rush to the head made her unsteady, so she reached out with one hand to support herself against the back of the sofa. Nibbles-who had been purring contentedly between two plants on the sunny window ledge-ran for the door. The floor felt as if it was moving under Sabirah’s feet. She felt seasick and shuddered at the sensations, then gave her hands and legs a little shake to ward off any memories. She would not go back. Not even mentally.
The shoe landed on the draining board, cracked the side of a mug and smashed a drinking glass. Sabirah sat down to examine her second shoe. The smell caused a lurching in the pit of her stomach. She would never get used to the damp. The smell of it assaulted her nostrils every time she opened the front door, and in Winter when mould started to appear on her clothing, the stench was always magnified.
Powdery turquoise growths clung to every part of the shoe except the sole. Even the laces were infested. The mould looked like craters on the moon’s surface. Not that she had ever been, of course. Trips like that were only for the likes of Richard Branson and his friends.
Sabirah slowly shook her head. More footwear destroyed. These ones had cost her a fortune too. She had worked hard for that money by ironing day and night for the wealthy residents of Regent Street. Sabirah always saved up to buy things that would last. All of the cheap crap from China ends up at the bottom of the sea, “…and what if our water supply gets poisoned from all this pollution”? she had asked her friend Chanelle one day. “Don’t care”, said Chanelel “I’ll be long dead, so it’s nothing to do with me. Don’t worry Sab. Here, have another biccie love”.
Photo by Anu Karakaya
It had been one thing after another that week. The landlord had finally sent a plumber around after four months but the shower remained unfixed. The thermometer on the fridge was still bonkers, and two cupboard doors were askew: they looked as if they could fall off at any moment. No wonder Sabirah had been having vivid dreams about being a passenger in a speeding car with no steering wheel. Still, these issues could be endured, and compared to her previous accomodation in Mount Kenneth, life was good.
In that apartment block Sabirah often had pains in her back and neck. The icy draft in the bedroom was bad, but even worse was the constant stream of people calling around at all hours to see the local drug dealer who lived in the block opposite. Her sleep had been disturbed at least four nights a week in the city. Yes, things were better now.
Sabirah lived at ground level and the damp had not been noticeable at first. When she moved in, the owner had told her that the fresh paint was for her benefit. He liked to decorate every few years, he said to “keep it nice”. Sabirah throught that the sunny primrose yellow walls were pretty, but within weeks the reality dawned on her. After a long day’s work she got home only to be greeted with a smell that made her retch. She kept the windows and doors open most of the time to air the place.
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya
The landlord had promised to fix the dripping pipes as well as sorting out the black mildew and broken radiators. What a liar. At one stage he stage he said that he would gut the entire bathroom in the Summer and put in a new one. An engineer came 9 weeks later, but nothing else was done. Any day now Sabirah would ask about the repairs again. What nonsense would he spew this time: a pledge to install a jacuzzi maybe?
Sabriah giggled at a mental image of a bubbling hot tub then sighed as she filled the kettle and squirted some detergent into a basin of water. From a cupboard she pulled out a few cleaning rags. Another day, another mildew-scrubbing session. Ah well. At least her neighbours were sweet.
Peadar was lovely. His daughter Chelsea often chatted to Sabirah outside the flats and told her about school, the new subjects she was taking, and her efforts at sports. They were a friendly family. It was just a pity that Peadar walked his pet around the common area and saw nothing wrong with the fact that his dog opened his bowels on the grass every day. Sabirah was shocked the first time she saw it. How could Peadar not know about the dangers of parasites and disease? The local neighbourhood committee had told him to clean up after the dog, but that did not go down too well. Peadar did not like to be told what to do by anyone. “The ex-wife did plenty of that” he had remarked outside one day as he ranted about the committee.
The sound of an engine brought Sabirah back to the present moment, and she went to the window to see a man moving across the grass on a ride-on mower. As he turned, she recognised him as one of the council workers who had sprayed some weeds along the footpath kerbs last month. Two local cats had become very sick afterwards. The council had ignored her Emails and phone calls: nobody would answer her questions about the use of ‘Round Up’ and glysophate. Heat crept up from her stomach to her neck, then into her cheeks at the memory of Nibbles frothing at the mouth.
Tiny pieces of grass flew like splinters in all directions, and as the lawnmower crunched and sliced through a little toy tractor and some daffodils growing a boundary hedge, Sabirah realised that the driver would have to clean the machine’s components very soon. It sounded like it was clogging up already.
She turned away from the sounds of grinding metal to get water so that the flowers in her outdoor containers could have a drink, then stepped out into the sun to see four speckled starlings in a tree at the other side of the building. Their sweet, vibrant song, along with her mental images of soft dog shit smearing the blades of the lawnmower, made her smile.
Kathryn Crowley lives and writes in Kerry, Ireland. She is currently working on her new book.