The smoke from my cigarette hung in the air like a thick and heavy fog. It clung to the dingy hotel walls like the water stains that lapped at every other ceiling tile. I took a sip of my cheap wine and cringed at the bitter taste that nipped at my tongue. It tasted flat and sour, but it did the trick. It dulled the edges of the world around me and took away almost every ounce of my ability to care. Almost.
3:21 Am. The bright red numbers stared at me. It was as if each minute reached into forever before it passed to the next. I cursed sleep; I hated it with every fibre and longed for it just as much. Why was it so elusive? Why was it that night after night I would lie there with eyes gaping out into the darkness, restless and unsettled? You would think that after spending the entirety of your day doing and saying and thinking and being, the end of it would bring you nothing more than sleep. A lapse into nothing that pushes yesterday away and drags in your tomorrow. You would close your eyes and drift away and dream a thousand dreams, waking the next day recharged and ready to do it all over again. But, my yesterday was still here, my tomorrow stuck somewhere in limbo.
3:22 Am. I heard the far off wail of a siren. Probably carrying away the wreckage of some domestic dispute of a drunken he said/she said rampage that escalated into plates and punches thrown, and most likely a threat or two of death. The sound grew louder and then trailed off as it passed and raced away to whatever emergency was beckoning.
I sighed and walked over to the patio door, stepping out onto the balcony into the night life. It was like stepping into a different world. It was a world of secrets, a world of smoky mirrors and the underground coming to life, where the midnight wanderers still bustled in the shadows.
Some mutt skulking in a back alleyway across the street caught my attention. It was hoping to find some morsel of food. He stopped and sniffed at a dumpster whose contents were spilling out over the sides and on to the cracked and worn pavement below. I watched as this nameless scruff began to gnash and scarf down the prize he had found amongst the spoiled waste. His ribs jutted out with the stark reality that he had nowhere to go and no one to love him. He was as unaware of his tragic existence as everyone else was.
I saw a group of kids not even out of high school, tripping on the latest drug trend. They were walking in and out of the light of the street lamps, laughing and stumbling over one another. I guessed that they were probably all from broken homes of alcoholics and wife beaters. Most of the kids in this town usually were. They passed the vagrant on the street living in his Maytag box and kicked over his cart, spilling its contents into the street. He rolled himself up on his side, too drunk to get up and he belted out a slew of slurred curses at the rebellious teenagers. They only pointed and laughed, indifferent and oblivious to their own indecency.
No one jumped to help him. Not the boys playing basketball in the park. Not the two hookers on the corner with their thigh high boots and gaudy miniskirts. They just carried on with the who's and what's of their own lives. Nobody cared about a ruined beggar living in a cardboard box.
Across from the hotel was an expanse of apartments and at night they were like an abstract picture book all lined up and ready to read.
First there was the old man that sat every night watching old movies of him and his wife. I knew them so well because I watched his memories flash over the screen right along with him. Even from here I could see his shoulders shake as he sobbed. He laid his head in his hands and stayed that way, weeping and probably praying for end. Begging for some angel of mercy to come and whisk away the last beat of his broken heart.
The second window brought me the life and times of a drug addict. An array of pills and bags and pipes were strewn across a dirty table. A guy with pasty skin and matted hair sat hunched over his next fix. His hands shook as he rolled up a dollar bill, ready for the dive into his rails of coke. He closed off one nostril and each hit was like a bullet to his already fried brain. He wiped at his nose, tilting his head back catching the high almost instantly. A bottle of whiskey and a full shot glass sat beside him. He gulped down the burning liquid, poured another and chased the first, then finished off with a few tokes off his pipe before focusing on separating some pills into small piles. He readied them for his customers that were waiting in the shadows on the street below, waiting to get their fix.
When I looked in the next window all I saw was darkness and it looked like I would have to skip this page. But then the room flooded with light and I saw two grown men walk in and close the door behind them. The two embraced each other with greed and lust, nipping and licking at each other’s lips. The man dressed in black pulled away, rushing to the window and closing the curtains, but not before I saw the tell tale sign of his clerical collar. There wouldn’t be any praying happening tonight, I mused.".
Each night was the same, looking in these windows at the stories and secrets that they held. Everyone was so consumed by their own lives; nothing else around them seemed to matter. Because nobody cared, nobody ever cared. People just turned their heads and looked the other way, choosing to be blind to the silent sufferings of those around them. Those with outstretched hands, pleading for food or money went ignored and were soon forgotten. The ones beaten by the very hands that claimed to love them were shrugged off and brushed aside. Everyone had their own heartaches and heartbreaks to tell.
I turned my head to look at the clock, hoping that by some small miracle the numbers would show me a glimmer of hope for a soon to come sunrise. But there they sat, rigid and unconcerned.
3:24 Am. I glared at them, hating the little black box that measured every tick of this eternity. Hunching my shoulders, I tightened my grip on the cold and faded cast iron rails, watching as my knuckles turned white. Hanging my head, I exhaled through pursed lips and looked up into the sky. I stared at the moon, frozen on its giant stage. Time was not a friend of mine. Sleep seemed like a far off dream, like something rare and unattainable. I took another sip of my bitter, bargain box wine, hoping to numb the edges a little more.
I looked down the street into the city, with all of its shadow lurkers and closed doors and I wondered at the secrets and stories that they kept.