The nights are cold. There is never enough warmth from the others. There are times when I think that they must not notice me. I walk so close to the walls that I have become accustomed to mixing with shadows. The kiosk man sees me.
The boy came on the second night of the falling. He moved in with a swathe of the frightened; a grey mass that inched along the walls and dared their way forward. He was alone. They were all alone.
I usually smile. It’s what I do. A smile can light up the thickest darkness, someone once said. I find that a smile is what keeps the loss at bay. It is a shrug of the shoulders, something that suggests moving on and getting past the worst of it. And, at the moment, that’s usually when the worst of it starts. No matter how far down we are, the thuds of the giant’s boots reverberate upon our dream of safety.
“How are you today?” I called out to him.
His head was down as if his only path was on the floor. We had never spoken although I had seen him and had known of his journey. He had become as much a part of the wall as any other thing, but the years had not dulled his outline.
“How are you today, young man?” That hooked him. “Yes, you.”
I made sure that my voice rode the eddies of the underground. I stood tall and pointed my entire attention at the thing that was trying to disappear. He stopped tracing the wall and the other shadows flowed through and around him. It was then that I saw his face.
Sometimes we don’t see ourselves. It’s probably worse than not seeing others.
She had left the bathroom. Condensation had settled upon every surface, making the mirror only a mocking reflector. I had a feeling that I had not shaved in days. Running my hand across my cheeks and chin confirmed my suspicion. It was a rough ground of neglect. My intention was to rid myself of this bristle and to soak my skin in hot water. She knew what she was doing. There was something clinging to me that needed to be washed away. I tried to wipe away the cloud from the glass but it only made matters worse.
I had soap, a sink full of hot water and a razor in my hand. It was one of those old-fashioned ones that open out into a big blade and look like the clams we used to find on the beach after the tide had receded. Now I was holding one to my throat, ready to scrape it across the naked flesh in order to remove the hair. It would be tricky without a mirror and I would have to use my fingertips to guide me along.
There was an outline of my head staring back at me. I couldn’t see the eyes. That could be anyone there. Just some face peering through the mist at somebody who happened to mistake it for their own. I can remember when I used to narrow my eyes and then stare at myself for an infinity. After a short time, the face that I thought belonged to me began to change. It slowly shifted, undermined certainty, made assumptions think again. By the end I was looking at a thing that was not set, something that changed with the tides.
My first sweep over exposed neck brought more than a thrill of satisfaction. My fingers touched the path that had been cleared and wandered on virgin skin. My next movement would be trickier. I would be scraping up and over my Adam’s apple and a false move could be painful.
“Be careful not to cut,” a voice at my shoulder whispered.
She lay a palm upon my shoulder whilst a smaller one reached up towards my elbow.
“It is almost time.”