To my own surprise I’ve settled into high-rise living. It’s been more than six years and I find it fascinating to live so peacefully in close proximity with so many people.
There is another high-rise directly behind mine, which means that I can see closely into the lives of some very interesting characters across from me. However, I have a terrific view to either side. On one side I can see the whole downtown skyline lit with fireworks on those days when we are celebrating. I can observe the weather downtown before I go there. On the other side I can see toward the Woodbine beaches — so, more fireworks and the best full moons and sunsets.
The first time I taught a yoga class in my apartment, one neighbour across brought out his binoculars. He looks like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Now, it seems he’s become used to me. The cast of characters includes The People Who Wear Yellow Every Day and Have a Collection of Fishing Nets (new development, they’ve added a chicken coop full of cabbages), Naked Guy, The Metrosexual whose parents moved in with him, The Opera Singer and the Aging Drag Queen — who may be one and the same — and The Speckled Balcony, which is full of boxes completely coated with pigeon droppings and seemingly uninhabited by humans.
Perhaps the most compelling character for me is Smoking Guy. From what I can gather he is a guy, and he likes to smoke. A lot. He sits out on his balcony to smoke in a green chair, many times a day, even in inclement weather. He’s always alone. He doesn’t seem to have a job that he goes out to. He’s always at home. Occasionally he puts on a buttoned shirt and some Dockers and seems to have a meeting to attend during the day. Otherwise, he’s home in his plaid pyjamas.
It’s a bit of a Rear Window situation, obviously. Although I don’t know him, Smoking Guy has been perhaps the most steadfast presence in my life for years now. When I get up early morning to meditate and I switch the light on, Smoking Guy is out smoking and his head turns, observing that I have woken. I can see the lit end of his cigarette and the bright screen of a phone or tablet that he is reading. He observes me teaching yoga and must, by now know the class structure as well as me. When I come in from wherever I’m coming in from, he’s there to notice. He wakes up early and sleeps early, like me. We don’t acknowledge one another, or wave or nod; however, there is a very palpable awareness of each other. We know we are observed and we are at ease with it. There is a security, both peculiar and comforting.
I imagine quite a bit about Smoking Guy. I like to think that he is writing the Great American Novel, or Great Canadian Novel, or a novel. I like to think that if anything untoward ever happened to me that Smoking Guy would call the police. He would say, “I haven’t seen the woman on the seventh floor in two days. Something has happened. I know it.” I wonder if he has been in a relationship in these six years that we have observed one another. Why does he have a child’s wagon on his balcony? My life has certainly changed a lot in the last year or so. Does Smoking Guy notice? … that I’m home a lot more, resting? … that I don’t teach as many yoga classes? … that I don’t use my balcony or that I haven’t planted flowers this year? Does he wonder why?
I saw Smoking Guy in the street one day. Or, it seemed like Smoking Guy, but he wasn’t Asian! I returned home and sure enough, soon after, he popped out for a smoke. Yes, it was him, with a green plaid shirt and cargo shorts. He’s just a guy with black hair.
Yesterday when I woke up, Smoking Guy was out smoking as usual. However, as I started to get ready to go out I could see that he was packing. Bed frame upended, drapes taken down. A flurry of activity was taking place inside, however the green chair remained on the balcony as usual. All day I felt a sense of loss, unsteady and unprepared for this change. At night the windows were dark.
Early this morning I woke to see the lights on again. Smoking Guy was pacing. A burly guy joined him; the first visitor I have ever seen, and they were moving things out. Something unwieldy wouldn’t budge. They stopped and looked at it, tried again without success. As I made my tea I realized that I needed to tell this story, so I sat down at my desk in the window and began to write.
The green chair was the last item to be moved out. As he left the apartment for the last time, Smoking Guy stepped out onto the balcony for his lighter, looked across and saw me at my desk. Then he closed the door and the windows went dark.
Janaki Jill Stock, Toronto, Ontario, Canada