Shoes and starlings

Photo by Ben Sharples

Shoes and starlings

Sabirah let out a roar as she hurled her 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. She reached out with one hand to support herself against the back of the sofa. Colonel Nibbles, who had been purring contentedly on the sunny window ledge in a nice warm spot between two plants, ran for the door.  The floor felt as if it was moving under Sabirah’s feet. She felt seasick.

The shoe landed on the draining board, cracking the side of a mug and smashing 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 assault on her nostrils every time she opened the front door, and when mould started to appear on clothing the stench was always magnified. Powdery turquoise-coloured 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, and she had worked hard for that money, ironing day and night for the residents of Regent Street.  Sabirah always saved up to buy things that would last.  That cheap crap from China all ends up at the bottom of the sea anyway “…and what if our water supply gets poisoned from all this pollution”? she had asked her friend Chanel one day.  “Don’t care”, said Chanel “I’ll be long dead, so it’s nothing to do with me.  Don’t worry Sab.  Here, have another biccie love”.

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 fast-moving car with no steering wheel. Still, these accomadation issues could be endured, and compared to her time 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 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.

Here, Sabirah lived at ground level.  The damp had not been noticeable at first. When she moved in, the owner had told her the fresh paint was for her benefit.  He liked to decorate every few years, and Sabirah throught the sunny primrose yellow walls were pretty. Within weeks the reality dawned on her. Now, every time she opened the front door she was greeted with a smell that made her retch.  She kept the windows and doors open most of the time to air the place.

The landlord had promised to fix the dripping pipes and other bathroom problems as well as sorting out the black mildew and broken radiators, but he was a liar.  At one stage he stage he even 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 she would ask about the repairs again. What nonsense would he spew this time: a pledge to install a jacuzzi maybe?

Sabriah giggled, then sighed as she filled the kettle before squirting some detergent into a basin of water.  From a cupboard she pulled out some 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 the 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 her back to the present moment, and Sabirah 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. 

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 a new collection of short stories.

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