Adrift in the Ghetto
Somewhere in this city there is a cafe with a statue of the Venus de Milo on a shelf, I don’t know where, not having taken note of its name or the street it was on. I recall stepping through an archway, and down a cobbled alley, a conduit between a torrent and a placid pool. The cafe had large windows looking onto a lonely tree in a court yard that was monastic after the turbulence of the streets. The eyes of the statue stared at me, luring me to a peaceful haven, somewhere far removed from the river of carne viva shimmering in the heat like a shoal of consumer-fish.
It seemed to me that mad people were in the ascendancy. Every corner spilled a madman, and I began to question my own sanity and moral turpitude. Was I a pessimist, even a nihilist? A visceral radiation seeped out of my bones and out of my blood like a fume that repelled people, the brush of a million different pairs of eyes over my face. My orifices opened and toxic smoke issued out. I imagined that blood began to drip from my ears. My left nostril felt larger than my right nostril.
The dark side had power over me as well as things that did not exist. I would spend hours brooding over chimeras such as this black spot I now paused to observe in the sky. It seemed to be moving. I spent fifteen minutes looking at it directly. I bought an apple from a stall and resumed my observation of the black spot, another fifteen minutes, time to eat the apple and note that it drifted between two tall buildings. It may have been a hot air balloon but I tended more towards it being a spot of doom. One day the sky will fill with such spots and crack open like a crumbling stage set. The cracked tapestry will reveal the sun and moon falling to earth, God and Satan at last in collusion to put an end to the show.
It is easy to make a crowd in the ghetto. Even when a chicken escapes from a butcher’s yard and is pursued by three burly men with flailing arms, it will draw passers-by to a standstill. Look, a live chicken on the street. It won’t be alive for long. It’ll soon be cooked. Everyone wanted to see it being recaptured. I stood amidst the mirth as the men ran around in circles, until to the cheers of the crowd a youngster threw himself upon the frantic fowl and came up with a flutter of wings and feathers.
It was a day for unusual spectacles. Shortly after the escaped chicken incident I came upon two people on display inside two separate cages, one a young woman, the other a young man. They wore orange boiler suits and had black tape covering their mouths, hands tied by chains. A group of youths stood in line behind them holding a placard saying, No to Oppression, a very solemn group, especially after the hilarity of the escaped chicken. I stood for a while to have a look. The cages were made with thin strips of alloy that could be broken without effort. Some tourists took photographs, then moved on. Once you moved on your place was taken right away.
I walked around at no great pace. I crossed streets, avenues, and boulevards with names that conjured distant parts of the world. A group of girls with halos on their heads danced along, as light as fairies, as ethereal as angels but not angels, just a group of girls on a hen party. As I passed the zoo I saw a rhinoceros through a gap in a fence and a gorilla sitting in the shade.
A sign on the wall of an arcade advertised an art gallery, entrance free. I walked through glancing at portraits of people sleeping or dying and portraits of desperate people. The alcoholic sneers of a seventeenth century duke seemed contemporary. He looked like he had an inflated opinion of his own importance. There were portraits of people suffering from fatal wounds inflicted in duels and portraits of people lost in an excess of vanity. What is the boy on the chair thinking about, the skipping rope lying idle, his feet thrown upon the arms of the chair? Some heavy books have fallen on the floor, a glass cabinet to the library open behind him.
Cherries, fresh, juicy cherries, a vendor appeared before me, offered a cherry from his basket. I crossed an open space where there was a ferris wheel glimmering in the stifling heat, to a street where it was more people living by any means, inside the buildings, outside the buildings, out and in, all day, all night, one moment in, next out, the moon slipping behind a church illuminated by spotlights, the red roof, the green bell tower, people living by any means and every means. A man pushing a rusty moped with a device for sharpening knives blew a whistle to attract the attention of any one in need of having a blade sharpened. A seven foot black giant pushed a cart laden down with broken bits of machinery. People lived in little places made comfortable and neat, accessories and tricks to deal with the day to day managing of things. From the open window of a second floor apartment I saw the marble head of a woman gazing out with scary eyes behind which was a psyche that might have been trying to deal with anything.
I tried to turn my energy to seeing the good in people. I tried to shuffle some optimism out of the deck. I saw beautiful, cheerful expressions and even came upon a girl with a saintly face serving in a cafe. She had dark hair tied and held behind in a red bobble. Her eyes were soft. She was as light as air, a real halo around her head, a celestial aura radiating from her. I asked her for the bill.
I saw mothers with children and people smiling and pausing to embrace each other. I saw friends shaking hands, happy to be alive, in love, friendship, unaware of the hydrogen balloon of doom suspended above them?
I paused outside a theatre advertising a pop-opera about the end of the world. The box office was closed. Anyway, I knew after about five seconds I didn’t want to go to that show even if the sales were open and once more I was back in the apocalypse of which I was director and producer, here we go again, this is more like it, rolling with the derelicts rummaging in the street skips and fellows singing in scary voices, faces consumed by insanity. Couples openly argued and threatened each other with physical violence. The air was saturated in alcohol. Men with emaciated faces, bludgeoned by brandy, wine and beer and schnapps circled the bars, the cafes, the bodegas from morning to morning. An alcoholic mist hovered around them.
I rolled along with it all. I had my haunts. There was Ernesto’s and The Tombs. There was L’Oreneta and The Centric.
I myself was a seagull in another life, a man told me. It was very hot in that bar, no air conditioning, not even a fan to cool the afternoon drinker, the all day toper, sitting at the counter with octopus, hake, squid, prawns and mussels among other creatures of the deep. They say the lobster understands the secrets of the deep, said the man who had been a seagull. He was willing to discuss everything about himself, even money. The best thing I can say about money is no-one ever . . . A maniac stood in the door and gave a blast from a trumpet that he must have inherited that day, such was the vigour with which he blew into it. I didn’t get the end of your sentence. It was too late, his imagination had moved on. Now I’ll never know what words of wisdom he had to impart concerning the best thing he could ever say about money. No-one what, I wonder, no-one is ever what with money?
In a bookstore I held the gaze of a sales assistant who reminded me of my sister. She sat behind a desk and a computer, wearing glasses with green frames. Her glance fell on me for more than a second. I browsed, picking up a book, flicking the pages, reading a line, replacing it. I felt the weight of expensive hard covers and smelt the aromatic ink of cheap paperbacks.
I saluted a vendor on a hot dog stand and another behind a souvenir counter. They were familiar. They nodded back, wished me a good day but wouldn’t be too bothered if I was killed by a bus or falling piano.
I paused before a shop window which displayed enormous rat-traps among other hardware. The rat traps were made of red timber and metal bars designed to snap off the head of a rat. The next window displayed a model village, the railway station, the church, a street of houses and a fairground complete with ferris wheel and roundabouts, bumper cars and carousel and a skating rink.
I ordered a bacon and cheese sandwich and a coffee in a cafe looking around for the statue, another statue maybe, any statue but it was hopeless, not too many cafes had statues, religious or otherwise. The people beside me were talking about a friend of theirs who had been killed by a train and another who was burned in a bonfire. He tried to jump through the fire but fell into it. Then they began to speak about the holidays.
Near the railway station I came face to face with an indigent who was wearing a heavy overcoat and thick beard despite the heat. He paused before me with out-stretched hand.
I saw a girl with a hamster in a cage and another with a sausage dog. This dog had the longest snout I ever saw. The girl with the hamster entered the Metro followed by the girl with the dog. The dog might get loose and swallow the hamster.
I went back to my room and fell down behind the brown shutters, stretched out on the ancient tiles of the apartment. I had a fan on a long black leg that revolved distributing the hot air. The furniture was cream-coloured. There was a couch and an armchair. The ceiling was high with lights embedded in it. There was a tall white lampshade that resembled some animal I could not name. Somewhere in the building they were renovating. Even the sound of the drill boring into concrete and tile could not keep me awake. I dreamed I bought an elephant. The vendor stirred himself from behind his counter where he had been comfortably perched. He didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the sale. I led the elephant along to the Metro and got on the train where the elephant crushed both the sausage dog and the hamster. The girls were broken hearted.
When I woke again the drilling had stopped but not the eternal flow of traffic. An indignant cicada scratched its legs in the tree outside the window. I live in a room with a thousand mirrors, each one throws a different reflection of the central subject. The subject is reflected in a thousand postures, his face in each showing signs of mutilation. What a load of nonsense. The longer you go on with such things the worse it becomes, this I knew, after all my years in institutions dealing with men in their rawest state, seeing the tears of the toughest and the indifference of the frailest, the same story over and over. No man could surprise me now.
I sat at a table beside an electric fan. For hours during the day I holed up there, leaning on the windowsill looking out, frying up some tasty morsel. It was very noisy at lunch-time. I could hear a woman next door shouting in her kitchen as she clattered plates and utensils all around. I never saw her but for some reason imagined a face formed during an ice age, the fissures and crevices gouged deep and I imagined her man like a bull-bison, hair dark-gelled, with animal tattoos all over his back. I also saw a child, a boy with the teeth of a beaver and troubled eyes buried in pale skin. I have no idea why.
When it fell quiet I heard the melodious chime of a clock in some neighbouring apartment counting each quarter hour. Every day at four o’clock I heard what sounded like a girl’s footsteps clattering on the narrow marble stairway as she spiraled downwards at alarming speed. There was so much energy in this sound, the flip-flops clattering against her heels and then reverberating around the stairwell.
Sometimes I felt the urge to sing. It was a subconscious need like that of a little budgie in a cage. I’ve always been tone deaf but in the privacy of my own room I can give it a blast.
It seemed to me, on first appraisal, that my landlady was an angry, nasty woman who left her charms at home when she called for her rent. One day she heard me singing before ringing the doorbell and could not contain herself when I let her in. The tears, tears of laughter that is, filled her eyes. What a lovely voice, she said through her laughter. It broke the hostility between us. From that day on I considered her a friend, the bracelets rattling on her wrists, her flashing teeth, her mane of unbridled curls flowing from her shoulders. I told her I’d been a sculptor back in my own country and that I had sculpted things out of marble that were still standing in prominent places back there. Well it’s easy knowing your weren’t a cabaret singer and she indulged herself once more until the tears flowed. Some might say that she was a bit of a wreck, but I don’t know. When she asked me to sing again, I refused. I can’t sing; I’m tone deaf. You only want me to sing so that you can have a laugh. The sun slipped behind the buildings. It was time for her to be on her way.
On weekend nights, the building was an inferno of noise. People had parties and people fought and argued into the early hours, glass shattering, timber cracking, objects making dull thuds against the walls and floors. Wild cries of sexual pleasure, not easily distinguished from cries of distress, rang out. The police cars and the fire tenders and the ambulances wailed around the streets. Then towards dawn when everything fell silent for an hour, my thoughts became my own again, able at last to hear the chime of the neighbour’s clock.
Occasionally, I indulged in strange fancies such as when I got the smell of a hippopotamus from my skin. I saw myself slumped in the stench of the pit in the zoo. This had to do with a dream in which I was metamorphosed into a hippo.
I parted the shutters with a finger to look across at the opposite building, at an elderly couple who lived with their windows wide open as they sat around all day reading by daylight, he in his vest, she as always in her house dress. They had no electricity. The woman sometimes leaned on her balcony looking at the movement below on the street. When they retired, it was into darkness broken only by the dim glow of a candle or oil lamp.
A man sang to himself while towelling himself dry on his balcony, above him a woman watered her plants on a regular basis, the water dripped down onto people passing below on the street. A student lived with two girls across there on the fourth floor of the building, so that their window was directly facing mine. You could see the foot of a bed almost protruding onto the balcony. The girls took turns coming out onto the small space to read. They’d sit in a chair, legs propped on a second chair. One of them had the habit of standing in the window wearing only a ribbon. I hung out my washing. The one with the ribbon saw me looking across and said something over her shoulder. The student came out and leaned on the railing of the balcony staring into my room.
Only once did I go inside another apartment in this building. It happened unexpectedly. As I stepped from the lift, closing the steel cage behind me, I heard a voice: Hey, mister, our air conditioning machine has broken down. The green light comes on but nothing happens.
I followed her into a hallway that led to a living room. A glance around showed a place overcrowded with heavy pieces of furniture and plants. One wall was taken up by a shelf covered in souvenirs. Another was covered by an enormous television screen. A full-length grandfather clock stood against another. At that moment its bells sang the time. So there’s the clock with the melodious tune. I tried to coordinate its location in relation to my flat.
Well sir, can you do anything?
How was she to know that I was hopeless with mechanics, that I had no mechanical skills at all? I could take things apart but not piece them back together. I pretended to gaze into the machine as if I knew what I was doing. I fiddled around with the remote control device, held it to my ear and gave it a few gentle taps.
Are the batteries ok?
They’re brand new. I got them from the Chinaman.
Well, looks like something inside is blown, a fuse or some little cog in the apparatus.
I could see trains rolling in and out of the railway station from her window as they had a view right onto the platforms.
I placed my eye against the machine. The green light was on but the fan was silent. I pressed a button. I pressed another button. The green light flickered but the fan remained silent. The sun was slipping behind the buildings, but still it was stifling in there.
This machine has broken down.
I know that, can you fix it is what I am asking you?
The ceiling had timber panels on it.
These machines have minds of their own. You better call in an expert.
She thanked me and offered me a cold drink.
Her mother was watering the plants, vegetation of every kind covering every spare bit of space. I sipped a glass of lemonade. A tall vase full of sunflowers was placed on the counter that separated the kitchen from the dining area.
You have a very nice apartment. And as far as I can make out the noise of the traffic is not so loud here.
An elderly man with a face like cheese was staring at me.
His parrot had died last year, aged twenty-eight.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
No, not at all, the old man wheezed. He was eating too much. He was costing me a fortune.
I searched his expression for signs of dismay or unease, for contentment or a carefree attitude. His eyes depicted something I could not decipher.
In the hallway the old man’s daughter whispered that they were going to get him a new parrot, a real beauty with blue and yellow feathers.
Later that afternoon I ran into the girl from across the street, the one who stands in the window wearing only a ribbon. Removed from her balcony and fully clothed she looked different but she recognised me easily enough. It was in a fairground where she was admiring an antique carousel. Her name was Seraphine. She was studying music in the university. She was engaged to a young man in Chile. She wrote him letters everyday. I spoke to her about my homeland. It felt strange standing around there talking. She had beautiful, clean green eyes, as clean as an Irish breeze. Her skin was soft and without blemish. Luckily she had a class in the university. We shook hands and she said that I should come up for dinner sometime. I wandered along, almost run over at a junction when I didn’t pay attention to the red crossing light.
I found myself seated at a counter beside an upside down pig’s foot. Someone had placed an enormous shark’s tooth in a glass case behind the bar. The shark’s tooth and the devil’s toe. I was once more in good company. I was approached by a prostitute. Her eyes were dull. Her face had deep crevices gouged into the skin. They resembled glacial moraines ground out by dark hour debaucheries. She had nothing secret to offer me. Her clothes were too tight, the colours gaudy. I offered her a drink. She ordered a Chispazo, a Coca-Cola with a dash of Martini. I asked her did she know of a cafe with a statue of the Venus de Milo in it, which made her display a line of jagged teeth in a rare smile.
Too many cafes, too many corners. Too many side lanes leading to inner courtyards. You made things up, or dreamed them up. It made no difference in the end. The only thing that mattered was not to fear death. The worst thing of all was terror of death, this horror of being obliterated.
I stopped at a busy junction. I turned and retraced my steps. I leaned against the doorway of a motorbike garage. They were mending everything from Harley Davidsons to little scooters. I saw an elderly lady licking the inside of her coffee glass as she sat on the street outside a cafe. She had death in her handbag. She took him out every now and then to have a little chat but at that moment licking out the remains of her coffee was more important.
In The Tombs the student from across the way introduced himself. He was Leghorne, an American, studying politics. After a drink he invited me up to their place for dinner, he did a great fish soup, a bouillabaisse, but there were too many questions and in my experience when people want to know more about you than you know yourself it is time to avoid them, not in a humour to invent details or brush up on facts or make a cocktail of invented details and facts or convince myself that invented details were facts or lose sight of the difference between facts and invented details. The social network, if that’s what you call it, wearied me, people looking for reasons, for explanations, who felt that their intelligence earned the right to a steady, explicable existence and that you too should have a steady, explicable existence with state approved linearity, that is forward in a linear motion, and who mocked anyone who could not explain his existence, one day to the next, in a categorical manner, except that he somehow survived on a paltry inheritance or pension or whatever it takes, day to day. I was very hard on Leghorne. He was a practical moralist, I surmised, who saw all loose ends neatly tied and everyone fulfilling a social duty, probably a false deduction, and I felt that if he looked inside my head he would be critical of the untidiness. When I walked in the ghetto my route was never linear, the trajectory of the light ever changing, a prismatic effect created by so much glass and metal. I saw myself in Leghorne’s apartment with Clio and Celestine, a bowl of boiled fish heads before me, pandering to his curiosity and ego, inventing some kind of semi-normal history for myself, in short, apologising for my existence. The best way out of an invitation to dinner is to accept but let the date undecided. Sometime next week, perhaps, or in September or January maybe.
Too many corners, too many high-rise buildings, too many taxis, too many lives to invent.
Having left Leghorne I began to walk. The spray from a broken water main cast rainbow colours across the path. The street ahead constricted, buildings falling towards each other. Hundreds of un-coordinated shop signs and advertising hoardings and television antennae strained to touch across the narrowing space. Everything fell silent for a moment as though I was suddenly struck deaf. Then the clamour returned, a cacophony of every element that could make noise. Where are you from, what do you do, and did you do, have you children, a profession, where are you going? Inquisitive Leghorne sought ownership. I folded my eye inwards. I let my head fall towards the counter, towards the glass of golden beer and feigned amnesia.
All I know is that I must return to Ireland again soon and then everything will be different. Leghorne was not familiar with Ireland, didn’t know much about it, only that it was a small island in the North Atlantic, adrift in some Celtic mist, shrouded in mythology, more unreal than Disneyland.
If a piano were to fall out of a window from five floors up and land on me as I walked, it would surely kill me. I wouldn’t know much about it and I wouldn’t like to know anything about it for any time in advance. And if I was killed by the falling piano or run over by a bus I would merely be an anecdote at the dinner table of those who happened to be passing at the time.
I had come to a street with an imposing palatial building. There were five archways visible from where I stood. I sat in a square under twin red-bricked towers. A guitarist struck up some classical tune. He was bent over his instrument, lost to the world. A group of French girls in miniskirts crossed the square. It was a breezy day. It entered my head that maybe sometime soon I would see a rainbow again or a waterfall or even the wide expansive waste of a bog under mountains with one man digging there.
Sometimes when the mood took me I went uptown, out of the ghetto for an hour, away from the pickpockets. Having climbed to a high point over the city, I paused before a camera set in the rock wall of a park, pointed down over the terrain. This was a web cam. It beamed a live picture around the globe. I don’t have much to add about this phenomenon, only that feeling like a visitor from another century I don’t have anything to add. The street now wound over the side of the hill upon which this district had been built. Suddenly the gradient rose at an alarming rate and I found myself in a quiet place that had an air of exclusiveness about it. Gated mansions with CCTV cameras seemed funny to me for some reason. It was as silent as a cemetery. Most of the mansions were hidden behind high walls and rows of trees. The light of the air seemed brighter here. I recalled reading something about the texture of daylight in these parts being precious due to the lines of latitude and longitude, its location on the globe in relation to the equator as creative of a certain ambience, an atmosphere that turns greyer the further north you travel. Colour is the sign of life, the architect of these parts said. I found myself agreeing as curvilinear arcs of translucent yellowness made the hill ahead glimmer in a blinding haze. I came to a park with the statue of a little mermaid seated in a fountain. She was aged by green time, in need of a brush up though still retaining something of her original splendour welcoming all to that arbour of hers. There was no-one around. I sat by the fountain with access to nothing but vague, interior voices speaking of solitude. I had no access to the thoughts of anyone else, my neighbour with the broken air conditioning machine, mister, can you help, Maria slaving in Ernesto’s cafe or her husband Jose, Seraphine playing her piano in the evening. Trapped in one solitary psyche, with no gifts of telepathy, I could never have access to their innermost thoughts, confined to my own imagination with no ability to engage in astral projection. I asked the mermaid if she knew in what cafe the statue of the Venus de Milo was? The sound of my own voice made me restless. I wanted to move on, to begin the search as if from scratch.
I came to a bar near a bus stop on the heights over the city. I drank whiskey as the buses came and went. There was no urgency to jump on one, though I decided that the downward bus would be for me. The whiskey calmed me for a time. I could take eternity to guess the fabric of the barmaid’s thoughts and her father’s. He sat outside smoking a cigar, staring off with a steady look. It began to rain, a sharp steely rain, not the soft rain of my homeland, the soft, peaty rain that has lasted for centuries until at last the turf is ready to be cut from the bog.
I came to an alleyway which resembled the place I was searching for. I looked through the dark alley and indeed there was a courtyard beyond, a little oasis in the city, cut off from the thoroughfare and there were people sitting in there at a table. I didn’t see a tree but it was possible that there was a tree behind them. Awkward and shy I set only one foot in the alleyway before thinking better of it and stepping backwards, back onto the street, the busy junction, the sea that swallows me up.
I sat at my kitchen table as quiet as could be, both my arms pressing into the bare timber. I felt empty, all the interior voices that never shut up, somehow quietened for a moment. A feeling of total lethargy descended on me and I felt the need for futuristic mechanical devices such as electronic arms that come out of the wall to tie your shoelaces or buckle your belt. I would choose an artistic robot who could turn his attention to interior design, placing suitable works of art on my walls and timber or wooden sculptures in the corners and dust them on a regular basis. I would ask him to purchase the model village I had seen in the window of a local shop; the railway station, the church, a street of houses and a fairground complete with ferris wheel and roller coaster, bumper cars and carousel and a skating rink. I would switch on the mechanical model of the fairground and gaze at it, trying to think of nothing else for as long as possible.
It would be nice to get out of town for a while. It would be nice to have some candles and sit around in candlelight for a change. I sensed the sunset drifting over my balcony and the moon rising to illuminate the temple on the hill. The vendors pulled down the shutters on their shops. The longer I sat there, getting more numb by the minute, the more box-like my empty head, my empty rooms, became. I thought about putting my head on the table and going to sleep there. The previous day I had helped a young mother get her baby and baby buggy into the lift. I could see immediately that she would never have to ask herself what her purpose was, it was all too clear, as clear as the sweat on her furrowed forehead and the tired catch in her voice as she spoke to the baby and thanked me for my assistance as it was a risky act. In my awkwardness I might have tumbled the baby out of his pram onto his head, causing a contusion to the cranium or worse.
That evening I didn’t get further than Ernesto’s. I nibbled at a bowl of olives and pickled gherkins, the accordion player once more trying to defy Maria’s scowl, Maria once more baring her broken teeth to send him on his way. It was one of those days. Jose forgot to put his teeth in and furthermore he forgot to put the parrot out in the sun in his cage to amuse the passers-by. In his dark corner he barely musters a twitter. I recalled the strange day when Maria was so happy she tried to sing. A funereal dirge escaped through her jagged teeth. Her head nodded twice in slow motion to the tune. Caribbean music hammered along next door where working men read the sports paper with their brandy to the rumba of vendors shouting prices, a falling house of cards of voices all along the street, everything for a fiver, or all for two euro, two euro. Maria, Maria, talk to me. Maria, another beer, and a smile. How about one little smile, a smirk, even a sneer will do me, Maria. You have no idea what one little sneer in my direction would mean to me. Skinny and frail as I am, I feel I’d wallop Jose in a fight. Just push me in a corner and let him try one cheap shot below the belt. The man who is prepared to fight to the death is the winner. He can’t lose. I saw him in the portrait exhibition. He had a sword wound to the side just below the heart. Come on, Maria. Maria, will you slip away and have dinner with me. I know a little place by the central post office.
When I spoke to Maria she ignored me as if I didn’t exist. There were ladies in that tavern with tough countenances made deviant by drugs and sadistic sex. The lizard eyes registered knowledge of darkness, the unrestrained libido, the cruel garters, the whip, the blood dripping from the flesh. Poor Tom Dacre dreamed that thousands of chimney sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned and Jack were all of them locked up in coffins of black. This little song gained the attention of my neighbours for a moment. Some of them encouraged me, always ready for a diversion or a laugh. Even Jose in his second hand suit, a tatty fedora and that lost look Maria has never managed to clean from his face, smiled, rather smirked for a moment. I repeated the verse for them before leaving, a little embarrassed, a little shy and awkward.
Somewhere in this city there is a cafe and on a shelf in that cafe there is a beautiful statue of the Venus de Milo. I came to an alleyway which resembled the place I was searching for. I paused by the archway that led to an open courtyard along the cobbled alley. There was an unfamiliar looking orange tree near the doorstep. The heat was stifling as I stepped under the archway.
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