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SHORT STORY: Window-Watchers

Reading time: 6 mins


The sky was clear and the sun was smothering this particular street in a crisp white light; from where the two boys were perched, it may as well have been snow. It was the sort of winter afternoon where you could see the wispy breaths of each passerby. After a while, the two boys likened them to stuttering chimneys. ‘The Great London Care Home for Orphans’, wasn’t a grand building, despite its rather conceited title. It was barely wider than the corner shop situated next to it, and chunks of bricks had browned a sickly shade, as if they were rusting. It was, however, a tall building, and the two boys had escaped from their rooms to seek out one of the higher, more secluded windows to spy from: their own secret vantage point. Five months ago, when the boys had first arrived at the establishment, this sort of unruly behaviour would have been stamped out immediately. Now, the two boys were the only orphans that hadn’t been taken, and so both the number of caregivers, and their enthusiasm to enforce discipline, had dwindled. Sometimes the younger of the two would wonder whether the orphanage had forgotten their existence – he was sure the world at large had, at least – and no form of comfort from his older brother would satisfy him. Despite his smaller frame, he was afforded the larger space on which to rest his knobbly knees and peek out from the window. While he gazed, preoccupied, his brother was the first to speak.

‘Let’s play a game.’
‘A game? What sort?’
‘A fun one. Easy one, too. Pick a person on the street. Make up a story for them.’

There was a long pause following this sentence. The younger brother was staring intently at a particular spot across the road, and his sibling had to crane his neck at an awkward angle in order to mirror his viewpoint. All he could see, however, was the swift vanishing of hurried legs. 

‘Ok,’ said the youngest, at last. ‘I’m done.’
His brother groaned. ‘Alf, it would help if you said it out loud.’
‘Oh! Oh, I didn’t know! It’s too late now, he’s gone.’
‘Well, now you know. Let’s try again. And move over, Alf, I need to see too. I’ll go first, actually, show you how it’s done.’

Alfie was all too keen to share his space with his brother if it meant that their game could go ahead. The two boys smiled at each other before turning their heads, simultaneously, to the left corner of the window, in the direction of the courtyard.

The Girl With the Ball

Mary was bouncing- 
‘No, Emily, Emily’s a much prettier name.’ 
-Emily was bouncing her bright red ball absent-mindedly against the tar-black fence, as if she were waiting for something interesting to happen. Her coat ma – 
‘And suddenly an eagle swooped down and plucked her from the ground!’ 
‘No, no, let’s not get ahead of ourselves Alf. Try to at least make it sound plausible. Anyway.’
-The ball matched her coat, a scarlet, feathery strand coasting on harsh wind. A figure approached. She turned around, smiled a wonderful smile, and it became impossible to discern whether her cheeks had rosied from the cold or from her giddiness. It was a boy, face barely visible behind a thick sheath of scraggly wool, and he was holding the most beautiful flowers- 
‘Isn’t she too young to be have a boyfriend, Ed? She’s barely older than I am.’  
‘But that’s what makes it so interesting! She’s mature for her age. It’s good storytelling.’
‘I’m not so sure… I don’t like it, Ed. Can we change it?’
‘…Fine. What would you change it to?’
-and with him he had brought along all their many friends! She threw the ball hard against the ground, and as it bounced, the group ducked and weaved and a game of dodgeball suddenly broke out. They each took turns throwing the ball at one another and watching it soar and it was glorious and it was wonderful and they were so, so happy, and-
‘Ok, that’s enough. I don’t like this story anymore.’
‘But that’s unfair! I hadn’t got to the part where-’
‘No, Alf. You were allowed to veto my luvvy-duvvy story, I’m allowed to stop your friendy-wendy story.’

Edward hurried away from the window before his brother could respond, and scampered downstairs to leave Alfie alone. Alfie looked out the window sullenly, eyes drawn back to the courtyard. The little girl was still there, red coat and all, and for a brief, brief moment, she looked back up at him curiously. Her head turned back just as quickly, however, to the shrill sound of a mother calling for her. Ah, her name was Gilly. Alfie preferred Emily. He saw the mother now, as she threw her arms up in the air loudly. It was as if she had been looking for her daughter this entire afternoon. Maybe she had. Gilly, or Emily as Alfie had decided for her, was whisked away into the fading light, and her disappearance from the window’s view signalled Alfie’s leave. The two boys didn’t return to the window until the sun had faded.

The Shop-Owner With All Those Pockets

The shop-owner across the road took an arduous amount of time fumbling around his coat with all those pockets, before at last pulling out a tangled mass of keys. He allowed himself a wry smile, suggesting a well-fought victory, before mulling over the various keys in an overdrawn manner. The wind had picked up again, and just as it seemed like he was about to discover the whereabouts of the key he needed to close his shop door and end his day, the skirt of his coat swept over his arm, casting a deep shadow and evidently causing the shop-owner enough discomfort to then drop the metallic web. To any onlooker, this would be a profoundly hilarious situation, furthered by the audible ‘Damn it!’ that the shop-owner bayed in angry defeat. Yet to the shop-owner himself, this was a plain and clear punishment for raising the price of his gobstoppers, disgracefully weasling out every penny from any orphaned boy in desperate need of a fleeting portion of sugar. The evidence was stacking up: every time the shop-owner crouched to pick up his keys and motioned his hand towards the door, his coat with all those pockets would thwap-thwap-thwap in his face, agitated by the wind, relentless up until he would drop his keys and begin all over again. It wasn’t long before he gave up, and, after looking around with a rushed approach, he pocketed the keys and hurried on towards his parked car, as briskly as his frozen little feet could take him. A bearded figure had been watching this event unfold from the warm comfort of his own car, and when the shop-owner with all those pockets drove away and disappeared from view, he slipped out silently and crept towards the shop. If anything, he deserved to have a go at pilfering – to stifle one’s laughter while watching the shop-owner’s hapless endeavours had been a feat of assured strength, and to take from the shop now should be seen as an earned, albeit perverse, reward. He looked behind him, thankfully with more care than the shop-owner bothered to use, and stepped through the swinging doors. Then, suddenly… then… then…- 

‘Oh, don’t stop! It was going so well! I’m hooked!’
‘I can’t think of anything Alf. There’s not much point to this one, is there?’ 
‘Oh, but I much preferred this one to the girl with the ball! If you insist though. Let’s look a-’
‘No, wait, nevermind. I’ve thought of something.’

-and into the shop. Several moments had passed, the bearded man taking great care to steal as quietly as possible He was still in the process of looting, when, suddenly, the shop-owner returned! Much of his resemblance differed greatly to ten minutes ago: his coat with all those pockets was torn, his knees bloodied with scarlet, and his hands were beginning to blacken with the frostbite one would expect to receive on a winter’s night if you took too long, say, trying to lock a shop door. He had crashed his car, as if his judgement was somehow clouded, or fueled, by unbridled fury, and he was returning to the shop, now, in order to find shelter for the night. His quickening pace was halted, however, by the beckoning light of an unmanned car parked across the street. The door was slightly ajar, and the shop-owner took a suspiciously short amount of time making his decision before racing to the car and driving off into the distance. The bearded man left the shop stuffed with tacky souvenirs and overpriced gobstoppers, just in time to see his vehicle sailing past. To any onlooker, of which there were two, this would be a profoundly hilarious situation, furthered by the audible ‘Damn it!’ that the bearded man bayed in angry defeat.

‘What was the moral of that story?’
‘I suppose… I suppose that ripping off people is bad, but there’s a reason why we still don’t steal from the shop-owner.’
‘But we don’t have cars to get stolen.’
‘No, Alf. It’s more of a metaphor, I guess, for what could happen.’
Alf nodded, pretending to understand, before yawning. ‘It’s getting late.’

The Welcoming Parents

The bleak winter setting looked inappropriate next to their warmth. The couple were wearing an inoffensive shade of washed-out brown, that bled into the cosy shack-like appearance of the cafe behind them. The man put down his cup of coffee, looked at the woman, and fell just short of opening his mouth. His second attempt was more successful, but only a cloud of breath, rather than words, came out. Stuttering chimneys. He glanced down at his cup before looking up again. The woman was still staring at him. Her eyes glittered, and the night stood still. She was the first to speak.

‘So are we ready?’
The man raised the coffee cup to his cracked lips and took a big gulp.
The cup clattered sharply against the slab of the saucer, breaking the silence. The night resumed. ‘Can we just wait a while longer?’
‘It’s time. You know it’s time.’ She took his bleaching hands, her scarlet lips forming into a smile that smeared her face with expression.
He nodded distractedly, not as if he was agreeing with her but as if he was reassuring himself that it’s fine, it’s fine, this is the right decision. 
‘This is the right decision’, he said, finally.

Somehow her smile managed to grow even larger in size, overcrowding the rest of her face. She leant forward to kiss him, but he embraced her with a trembling hug instead. ‘This is the right decision’, he repeated. Her eyes glittered once more.

In electric silence they sipped the last of their coffee and paid for the bill. Despite it being a winter’s night, the air grew warmer as they stood up. Their hands didn’t once part as they strolled across the street, footsteps crumpling gently against auburn leaves flattened in the road like prints. Their eyes left each other and looked onwards, towards the towering building. Knock, knock, knock. They knocked three times. Edward and Alfie looked at each other and looked out the window again. There was no view of the couple; frost had bordered the rim of the glass. Knock, knock, knock. There it was again! The two boys looked at each other once more before hurrying down the stairs, two leaps at a time. They were laughing while doing so, an echoing pulse matching the thundering of their footsteps. They reached the landing, out of breath, and there they were! Two figures, a pale man and a woman with scarlet lips, each dressed in coffee-coloured clothing. She was scrawling on a form, her partner, along with a caregiver, watching on. The man caught a sudden movement and darted his eyes in the direction of the two boys. Now his eyes were glittering. The caregiver noticed this and turned around.

‘Shouldn’t you boys be in bed?’

Alfie and Edward couldn’t retort, their sprawling smiles glued onto their faces. 

‘Never mind.’ The caregiver was smiling too. ‘You rascals have somehow managed to find parents who want you!’ The two boys ignored the playful jab and simply nodded. 

The paperwork breezed by. The couple introduced themselves, the boys likewise, and that breezed by too. Before too long the four of them said their goodbye, and were out the door. They trailed along the path outside, none of them daring to interrupt this perfect silence. The boys never looked back. Holding hands, they walked further along and away from the window’s view, their coats billowing like sails in the midnight air.

-Gus Edgar-Chan

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