My father convinced me to grow a tree when I was young. It fit into my palms as if I was holding the world. I watched it every day as if it was my child. I wanted to race it in height. We never stayed in that house for long. I wonder if that tree still remembers me.
My feet hung over the edge of the roof in a pendulum. The breeze of the city ran up my legs. My eyes had yet to adjust to the darkness. I wished it never did. The city roared in its business. Green. White. Blue. All of it came together in a pool of mud. Someone had left a wallet at the corner of the roof. I chuckled and closed my eyes. My pulse softened. I heard breathing behind me. “What brings you here? To end a life? A dream? A day?” My ears grasped at his words that hung in the air. I wanted to turn, but my body refused.
“Would it be fine if all of it was true?” I heard the man jump onto the ledge, making quiet strides. He hummed a quiet tune.
“In any case, If you are here to end your life, then I advise you not to do it here. I wouldn’t want to be bothered if they come.” He hopped over my legs. His jeans brushed against my face, the smell of rotting wood followed.
“Sounds awfully demanding for what I’m trying to do here.”
“It isn’t so much demanding as it is common courtesy. Your death inconveniences those you love, and those around you. Which is me by the way.” He turned at the edge and continued, ignoring the wallet.
“I’ve never heard of anyone taking residence atop a skyscraper,” I said as my mind fixated on the wallet. I rubbed my eyes to clear my head. Without a light to grasp, I held onto his words as if they were the stars.
“We all have our homes. And we all want common courtesy in our homes.” He hopped over my legs. The stench of rotting wood grew. The streets lived in its bright lights. An airplane in flight erupted the atmosphere. The bladed winds danced on my cheeks.
“Then are you going to kick me out?” He laughed.
“This is my home and I do have my rights. But so do you. I’m not annoyed, just wondering if it had to be this skyscraper. You know, value would drop if you die here.” He landed back onto the roof and circled behind me.
“And would that really concern me?”
“It wouldn’t. But if you do a good deed now maybe you won’t be left in eternal hell.” He began to pace, the soles of his shoes emitting a soft scratch with every step. Eventually, he stopped. I heard him ruffle through his pockets. Coins bounced about. My father always did that when we were walking to the store. He would play with the coins, flicking it between his fingers. I once asked him why. He told me it was comforting. “Are you religious?”
“If I’m up here I don’t think I am.” His laughter replaced the city’s air.
“Have you ever considered living?” My entire body faced him. His shirt was filled with dirt. His jeans littered with cuts. His hair seemed to be modelled by the results of a paper shredder. He held a picture. I stood and made my way towards him. It was a picture of a family. One father. One mother. One daughter. One son. All smiles. “It isn’t so bad you know, living.”
“That’s debatable — Is that your family?” He nodded, turning the picture with a slight smile.
“At least, what’s left of my family.” His words cut the air. The words in my mouth scrambled like shattered glass. “I don’t think you can tell me how hard it is to live if you haven’t lost your entire family. Have you lost your entire family?” I shook. He stuffed the picture into his pocket and turned. He began toward the other side of the roof that was blocked by the entrance. I was left alone.
My body’s pulse slowed. The light that surrounded me melded into my fingers. The city called for me. I inched back to the ledge. My hair fluttered in the ensuing winds, calling me deeper into the city. I rolled in my mind all the people in my life. They found their way onto both my hands. My face churned. My pulse matched the city. I remember a waking night when I had forgotten to close my curtains. The stars peeked through my window, exposing the slight dust that began to settle over me. I thought that if I stretched enough, that I would be able to find the source of that light in my palms. It would sit there with my sapling. The two things I could hold in my life. My body froze on instinct when he appeared giving me a raised face and a wave.
His sleeping bag seemed as if it had just been torn from the store. A duffel bag filled with bottled water and non-perishables sat with a box of odds and ends. A candle illuminated his way. He rummaged in the box, the flame of his candle nearly licking the hem of his shirt.
“You smoke any?” He asked with a box of cigarettes in tow. I shook. “At least take a seat. Unless you’re in a hurry.” He laughed as he plopped a smoke in his lips and produced a lighter. He leaned against the walls of the entrance and puffed out a cloud towards the darkened sky. It was brighter than any of the lights from the city. I took a seat opposite his candle, watching as it danced in the low winds and merged with the clouds. “Now I know what you’re thinking. I’m homeless. How do I get off spending money on cigarettes? But listen here. One man throws away a box of smokes because of a bad brand, and another man picks it up. That’s the cycle of life.” He dangled the smoke over his fingers and tapped the ashes towards his candle, letting it rest on the edges of the stick.
“Where’d you get the lighter?” He laughed. His eyes mellowed as he produced a picture from the box. He handed it to me over the flame. It was a shot of a landscape painting. Green pastures for miles with a light blue sky and tired clouds in the distance. There was a single tree planted in the middle of the painting, its bark seemed to be tearing off. The leaves were already dead.
“That’s what I used to do,” he said with a puff. He plucked the picture and laughed, the frame almost singed. “What an old painting. Must have been a few thousand?” He stuffed the picture into his pockets and drowned his hand into the box. “I got all kinds of toys here. You like toys? Even the homeless do.” The questions in my mind that escaped through my mouth fell flat with the rushing air of the city. It paraded my skin in short brushes. My hair fell into my eyes. He produced another photo. I took it through the flames. “That one’s alright. Not much going for it but it was worth a few Christmas presents. My daughter wanted the most ridiculous doll house. You wouldn’t believe it.” His smile cut the darkness.
“And even with this you made your way up here?” He laughed. With a flick and a stomp, the smoke died in a low cry. He pulled another. The clouds began to converge. He closed his eyes, and laid onto the bed roll. The candle fluttered out of existence.
“The reason why I’m up here might be the same reason why you’re up here.” He nearly swallowed his smoke. “I mean, let’s be real. Falling from a building is the first thing that popped in your mind? Ever heard of carbon monoxide? Have your car running and just sleep your life away. Or even cyanide.” As I opened my mouth, the only thing I could comment on was the candle.
“Your candle’s out.” He snickered and braced himself up.
“Thing lasted longer than I thought.” I handed him the candle and watched as he traced his fingers over its plastic body. Another plane roared in the sky, thrusting the stars out of view. The lights from another building began to cascade into darkness.
“I shouldn’t be intruding anymore.” I stood with my words.
“Hold on. I’m not going to stop you or anything. Couldn’t care less.” He rummaged through his box and produced a notebook with a pen. “But put your name down.”
“This for the cops?” He chuckled.
“If they do book me up here, I can just tell them some info about a woman who threw herself off the edge. But that isn’t it. You got a family, right?” I nodded. “They know about this?”
“I’d be locked in my home if they did.” He snuffed the smoke in his fingers and produced a palette and a brush.
“I’ll give them something to remember you by. Say I’m a street painter or something and caught you in my eye.”
“Sounds like a waste of your time.”
“You don’t have the right to lecture me on wasted time.” His eyes didn’t meet mine as he brought out water bottles filled with paint. My body couldn’t move. I told every muscle to edge off the roof, but I stood watching as he set up his station. His landscape picture was displaced onto the bed sheet in the commotion of his searching. He found a lighter and the candle came ablaze, swaying with the short winds of the night. He stretched, cracked his neck, and launched another smoke into his mouth. “So you going to write your name and jump?” My body was planted onto the roof. No means of my mind would work.
“I’ll wait for the candle to go out.” I sat and watched his brush on the paper, closing my eyes and listening to the waking city below. The image of his tree paraded me. I remember my father telling me I should visit the old house. To see if that tree was still there. Maybe it would remember me.