This Is What I Own
Everyone needs a home, to rest in a nest away from the world and its noise and crowds. The swarmers and the bumpers and pushers exhaust me. I'm so lucky to have found this place, to be here reclining on the couch eating a piece of toast and jam, watching the big screen movies.
I invited Adam to visit tonight. I haven't known him all that long, but I've heard him many times busking on the street. His voice is soft and he talks well and often. "Sasha," he said, "I will make beautiful music for you," and he lifted his trumpet and improvised my favourite song, "Morning Has Broken," right there at the corner under the shadow of the biggest most towering banks in the world, the cathedrals of wealth. So many people's values and time caught up in the payment of mortgage, the climb to ownership.
The sound of Adam's music drifted up towards the towers' glass windows as I listened to him this afternoon. I looked up too and heard the flying notes echo. I'd spent all day working, walking my usual route, and had dropped all my articles off for payment. Adam stopped his playing to help me with my shopping cart, lifted it over the curb.
I forgot to shop today, though the cart's still parked outside. Luckily there's food in the cupboards. Muffin mix, granola, raisins. I pulled out all the ingredients and baked up a dozen cookies. I used to think these gas stoves were difficult to light, but really, you just toss a match in. It felt great to watch the cookies heat up and brown behind the oven window.
Adam's here now. When he arrived, I poured him a huge cup of coffee and passed over the cookies on a glass flower pattern plate. Only the best for Adam. He devoured the baking; said he very much appreciated my generosity. He pointed to some of the photos on the stairway wall and wanted to know if I appeared in any of them. I said my memory's not great, but I think I almost always took the pictures, "that's why you may not see my face." Then again, that smiling sunlit black-haired girl in a few of the pics could be me. She's on the beach in one, holding a conch shell. As a child, I lived by the sea. I wandered alone, and spent much time watching magic shows on the beach. I found it amazing how the magicians could make objects disappear, or pluck them out of thin air. These skilled conjurers practiced over and over again for weeks or months to learn their tricks, to make us believe their illusions were true. After many trials, a new trick mastered, and it became real. No more rehearsals.
Adam plays his trumpet in the living room, while I let the gas fireplace billow. I adjust the low lighting. We turned the TV off, the ambiance is mellow and warm. Adam asks how long have I lived here and I say I've been away for some time, trying to make a living, and in fact just returned this morning. I think about good times in the old family home. We arrived from Bulgaria as refugees. The first thing I recollect about the house is many yelling children, the doorbell constantly ringing, and the smell of cigarette smoke and sausages. These images are long ago history, though. It's where Adam and I are now that matters. I pour a wine for him and I, into the fancy thin glasses from the kitchen's top self. He lifts his glass in a toast to us both. I laugh "Cheers!" while gazing out the open side window at the rose bushes. I did not have the key this morning and had to slide up and climb in. A rather tight gap, but I am a very small person, and I have learned over the years how to make myself smaller.
I see there's someone out front, a flash of hair as I glance through the squares of glass set inside the door frame. Maybe someone selling girl guide cookies, they're in the neighbourhood today. Is that a key I hear in the lock? I don't think I gave it to any of the neighbours when I was away, but I haven't been able to find it.
The door opens just as Adam raises his wine glass to make another toast. It's a flaxen haired young girl who takes off her purse backpack as she bursts through the door. I notice her green and blue hair, pants with holes in the knees.
"Who are you?" she says. She gasps and steps back, holding her backpack in front of her. "What are you doing here?"
"This is where I live," I tell her. "And who might you be? How did you get the key? It's not nice to break into other people's houses."
"I'm not breaking in," she says. "I'm the Sanchez's house sitter. I'm supposed to water the plants every few days."
Adam puts down his glass. "Sasha hasn't been away," he says. "She's not on vacation, either, as you can see." He nods over at me.
The girl backs to the door ledge. "I don't know you guys." She sees the counter, where I've been making cookies. "Are you friends of Lucy and Ed?"
"I don't know Lucy and Ed," I say. "I live here."
The girl darts over to a square piece of electronics on the wall. "Wow, the alarm's off!"
"Of course," I say. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Omigod!" the girl clutches her backpack, almost doubles over. "I think I forgot to turn it on when I left last time." Her face turns red. "Omigod, I'm going to call them!"
"Could you please go outside?" I tell her. "This is my home and I won't have any disturbances."
She turns and runs, leaving the door wide open. She almost trips down the stairs, staggers for a second towards the lilac bush, then takes off down the road.
"What's eating her?" Adam asks. "She really didn't know you."
"I think she mistook this house for another one," I tell him. "All the houses around here are similar."
"I like you, Sasha, but I don't want any trouble," Adam says. "I should go now."
"Always in my life something happens to spoil my happiness," I find myself yelling a bit. "Why did that little tramp have to interrupt?"
"It's O. K., Sasha," says Adam. "It was all kind of weird anyway." He stands and takes my arm. "You're a good person," he says. "Come down outside the bank tomorrow and we can sing together." Then he turns and walks out the door, carrying his trumpet in one hand and the case in the other. "Maybe you better leave too," is the last thing he says as he opens the white picket gate.
I'm upstairs, watching the view from the big picture window, checking out the nuthatches and especially the hummingbirds. I've always liked birds, the way they migrate over long distances, their homes in different places, depending on the time of year. How do they choose where to live? Is it some kind of instinct? I've always gone with gut feelings myself. That's why I know Adam could be the one, he's gentle with me in my home. I've been robbed and beaten up by those who want things from me, but he wants nothing but being together. I anticipate seeing him tomorrow, as I check some lottery tickets I bought. I lie on my back on the bed and am watching a red throated robin just settled in the top of the lilac bush when I see a police car pull up outside. I go to the window and the girl who broke in earlier steps out of the back of the car, and a police lady and another woman, maybe the girl's mother. She's got the same long face and puffy chipmunk cheeks. They are coming up the path. I throw on a frilly pink nightgown I see in the closet, and stand at the top of the stairs. The doorbell rings.
I walk down the stairs and see three faces through the glassed in upper door. After a few moments, I open it and the police lady asks "Are you Lucy Sanchez?" and I say "No, is she missing?"
"This is Lucy's house!" The mother sticks her face between us. "You're going to have to get out. Right now."
"I'm not leaving my own home," I tell her. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Hey," the police lady says to the mother. "Maybe let's just move away for a few minutes." She nods at me. "I'll be back soon. Maybe put on your regular clothes."
They both walk down the steps and I overhear the police lady talking on her phone. "I think we'll need a bit of backup. Maybe send in the mental health team."
Yes, the mental health team. The dream breakers, the thought enforcers. I don't have much time. Should I put on my pants and blouse and shoes and sneak out the side window? I can't decide. I mean, this is my house. Why should I have to leave? I strike poses at myself in the bedroom's full length mirror. I think I could have been a model. If I only I was a married woman, living here with Adam. He would protect me. The doorbell rings again, and I go down to answer it, taking off the nightgown on the way. They're going to rob me of my home, so let them see me for who I am, with no pretences.
My grandfather told me that in Bulgaria after the war the communists came and took everyone's house away. You had to share your own house with others, or move out and live on the streets. That's how I feel today. I've been politically expropriated. At the police station, they sent a nurse in to talk with me "How do you know it was your house?" she asked, and I told her that formal ownership is all a conjuring trick. It's smoke and mirrors, like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, but this time it's scribblings on pieces of paper. The State has no right to tell me where I can live. My question to her is "where does anyone in this world belong?" Belonging is a feeling in the mind. You have that feeling when you arrive at a place that is yours. My family were refugees and know this well. Home, the paradise you've always dreamed of, the retreat you've craved so long, after so many weary travels and sufferings. You know you deserve it, at last. I always felt sure that somewhere there was a place for me, and two days ago there it was, the sanctuary space behind an open window. It appears though, that what I believe has no validity. I'm an intruder, say those who make the crazy rules that command us all into their illusions.
The police let me go with a promise to appear in court in a couple of months, and a restraining order to stay away from Lucy and Ed Sanchez and "their home." A social worker offered me a place to stay at a shelter. I said "yes" so she would go away. I like it better sleeping up in the Mystic Vale by the University, with only the trees and stars, no police or drug addicts to interrupt my sleep. I took a tent and a sleeping bag from the generous church donations. I'm close to the library. I find relaxation in books, when I can focus, and there are free computers, on which I've created a blog for homeless people. I encourage everyone to take back the space that's been lost to them, or stolen from them through hard times or bad luck or illness. It doesn't have to be a physical space. It can be a place of thought, or feeling, of mental sanctuary.
Last Sunday afternoon I watched the family who stays in my house. From the bus stop across the street I observed the man, woman and their two children. The man has built a swing on the oak tree for his daughter, who seems about three years old. She has a lot of fun swinging on it as he holds her safe. He kicks the soccer ball to his son. I imagine his wife wearing that frilly pink nightgown as they sit together each evening in front of the big screen TV. For the last few nights, I've sat across the street and watched it flickering. That's as close as I can get now, to my home. I have allowed the family to stay. They touch me with their closeness.
The next day I am beneath the bank towers, singing with Adam as he plays the trumpet. The black obelisks loom above us, their net worth in the trillions. The people below throw dollars into Adam's empty trumpet case. The two of us find such harmony with each other. I know at times my voice is lost in the crowd, but as I stand with Adam sometimes a few people move closer and sing with us and that makes all our voices stronger. Some day perhaps I won't have to live in an illusion, where only paper money and paper laws can open up a place of love. For now, I raise my voice and sing "Morning Has Broken."
Harrison Kim writes: "Currently living in Victoria, Canada, in the first year of a five year writing plan. I worked at a Forensic Psychiatric Hospital as a teacher for 29 years, where I found ideas and themes for many stories. In the last six months, I've published at Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Fiction on the Web U. K., and in other online and print magazines. With respect to the story, housing can be very expensive and hard to find nowadays, the adequate housing question being a major political concern."