Liam Shannon

I watched from the balcony as the bright lights fell to earth. None ever reached the ground, but a few got close. On the street directly below, the figures of a woman and a boy emerged from the building holding hands. A pop, and then more falling stars. The boy jumped and reached up as if to say “Here, here, here is safe to land,” but the weight of the air near street level choked them and they died high above his outstretched fingers. His mother, his other hand in hers, pulled gently, her face hidden by a shroud of dark hair. The rains were weeks late, and it was hot. Like miserly giants exacting a cruel toll in the dark distance, the mountains forebode any moisture from passing. One day they would stumble to a knee, then both, and release their deluge. From my balcony it was cooler, where the air didn’t feel like a blanket, and I spent many hours in the evening sitting and smoking, watching the tendrils of smoke curl and knot in on themselves under the weight of the air. In the balcony adjacent sat Samih, also smoking, his hand and cigarette never floating too far down from his face. A flash illuminated his gut and moustache and the condensation in the glass near the gold rings of his non-smoking hand, and a bang followed quickly. He wore shorts and a hand towel around his neck. Our neighbouring balconies were the only forum in which we existed to one another; two ageing, nicotine popes emerging for the masses to decree our smoke into the thick night air every evening. Once in a while we’d share a comment or a light. Samih, like most everybody in the building and even city seemed to sleep by day when the heat was at its most suffocating, whether glued to wooden desks or in beds drenched in sweat. As the sun fell, they emerged from that empty chrysalis to trade and eat and drink and live. The city at night rippled with pent up, complex energy. 

Another small airborne explosion lazily illuminated the stationary, fading wisps of the one before it. The ash of my cigarette fell under its own weight. Music wavered up from below, rising valiantly through smoke and the city’s night breath, all spice and shit and baked things. I was shirtless and the sheen of my chest caught the various hues of street lamps and neon signs. The flesh of the city market below had swallowed them and I could no longer see the mother and her son. A woman quickly pushing a cart loaded with sesame bread weaved through a crowd expertly. Behind me, through the glass sliding door smudged with fingerprints, a pot simmered, still missing a few cloves of garlic and paprika. I had been so sure when I’d said we’d still had garlic and paprika. I felt the ghost of a dinner yet uneaten and lit another cigarette. A loud, lightless pop shot from a rooftop two blocks away. When the rains eventually fell the city always would lay dormant for a spell afterwards. In the strange, frenetic staccato of calm that was the monsoon, lone, lawless children would run like dumb calfs through the downpour and parents would beckon them back under awnings or into doorways to dry and be lovingly scolded. Books would slowly mildew in their shelves unless wrapped. The nights would cool drastically and the curtains of the downpour would insulate the space around you from those spaces further away; a few million personal event horizons colliding in the flooded streets. I loved the beginning of the rainy season deeply. It was very late. 

Out of the corner of my eye, Samih lit another cigarette. From off my shorts I picked a single, long black hair, curled towards one end. Leaning forward on the overworked plastic chair beneath me, I dropped it over the balcony into the ether. It waltzed down and away, as if underwater. On the railing a lone fly dragged along, the molasses night clinging to its wings, grounding it. Vendors bellowed from the market. I gazed over the balcony’s edge into the middle distance ahead of me until it assumed form, a humming reverie made up of cigarette smoke and light and smell. It was an old friend, one I could all but cup and hold in the palm of my outstretched hand. My mind fell blank. 

In the distance of my unfocused vision another, bigger, faster light shot into the sky, promising an impressive display. Shouts rang up from the rooftops around me, and began to erupt on the street too, and I stood to get a better sense of them. Abruptly to my right Samih stood as well with a gravelly gasp, spilling his drink and breaking his glass. The arc in the sky grew towards us, betraying itself through the melting stratos around it. I let my cigarette fall and prayed for the rains to come faster as the heat of the evening reached its most stifling then. Faster please come faster, as the light reached its zenith and began to fall sharply. Faster I need you here, as the unwatched pot bubbled inaudibly through the glass behind me and I began to yell. The street erupted in movement, the shimmer of its panic suspended in the humid amber air encasing the city. A tiny hand reached up to me from below through the madness and haze. I fell down to meet it, and the world followed.