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Hitting the streets

Another short story by Dan Byrnes

She'd hit the streets again, come out of a door and moving fast. The long hair falling from her shoulders was the wake, or slipstream, of a constant bad mood. Years ago, swift gliding on streets of many greetings with so many other people she had naturally imagined she would feel a harmony with.

As she'd grown up, drifting towards a seat, or to a cafe, talking, her dark liquid eyes when falling on someone's mouth had begun slowly to be appalled. Then she'd burst out with her own torrent of words, sometimes twisting aside a swatch of black hair with her hands, because she did listen and she did hear.

The people in this country did not respect people of her background. It had all been so inevitable, until her rage had become ungovernable. She'd begun to espouse rebellion, and to want freedom.

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She walked with her arms folded hard against her chest. She glanced at the flats rising scarifyingly against the sky from nightwet grass. She saw the bored look on the face of an alsation dog peering over a first floor balcony. A guard dog in a housing commission flat. What a life!

She felt contempt. Some people gave in to fear. She preferred hate.

The asphalt was darkening even more for this coming winter from the drizzling rain.

She went across the street, avoiding traffic. With a shorter girl, her walk would have been merely a clatter of annoyance tumbling over a gutter. Here, past the faded shops, it was a silent sort of magnificence she displayed because she was tall, it was a determined walk through the depths of an old suburb. Her face seemed much older than any suburb. Her face belonged to a woman from ages past staring over rocks sunbleached grey as she waited for the wait to end.

She would not be a woman who gave in. Men had become far too obvious. They would not despoil her the way they had despoiled the life of so many of her friends.

Somehow, her eyes were almost too dark to flash. One day a very deep vein of coal had been struck by lightning. A certain politics smouldered in her and the smoke had suffocated even small and innocent happinesses.

There were miles of streets she had hunted down in moods like this. She was convinced there was some "rotor" to things and she wanted to speak to whoever controlled the angle and the speed of the rotor.

When you look different, people assume you are different. She had often looked at maps, photographs, pages in books. With her looks, she knew she would look less different in Algeria or anywhere in North Africa. Being anywhere in North Africa, lying down curved by hashish.

Otherwise, she read about New York and Greenwich Village. To be right in the centre of The American Happening! The snow there would not be Lebanese, and certainly not Australian. The snow would be cooling. Amongst other conspicuous people she would be less conspicuous. Her conviction was growing; rest could only come from travelling.

At 9am she walked up brick steps. As it did every day, her reflection in the glass doors showed her the strain on her face.

She helped in a library. She liked to work out the reasons why people read the books they choose. A friend of hers had once written a book on a forgotten god that Herman Hesse had mentioned. But when someone had borrowed that very book, this little event had been too distant to be kind. It was unsatisfying, and this had unsettled her.

This had been another lesson. In the library she watched people and made sure the radical magazines stayed on the reading tables and were not stolen by people who felt the way she did.

Often at night her thoughts forced her to hit the streets. She had come to hate asphalt, and therefore cities. All cities had asphalt, but only one city can be home at a time, if you are that lucky.

On the way home she sat at a bus stop. Her long fingers drew a loaded cigarette out of a packet. She lit the cigarette and burst into tears. Without touching her eyes she held the match out and watched it burn down to a twisted black stump. She had learned to let tears flow, to not try to wipe them away.

The man leaning on the fence near her looked at because she was a woman, not because she was different. She could feel waves of desire streaming from him, yet she knew his curiosity was indifferent to personality. She threw the last of the match into the gutter. It was a gesture of hopelessness.

She blew smoke from a deep vein of burning coal. The bus and the man waiting for it spending his time looking at her could go to hell. She would walk home. As the darkness fell a prowl car eased by. Walking. Thinking. Being forced to think again. The streets of this city were too much like the city where she had grown up. It was all the same.

She walked on. Reflected headlights and green neon fell across the olive skin composing only part of her difference. It was as though some appetite of the loner for the blackness of streets kept her long legs moving past the closed doors of terrace houses.

She knew all these streets by now. She swept on in a wide arc to where she rented a room, where the other people didn't think like she did. She ate and then she read for hours. She found it impossible to sleep because there is no room to think inside a rented room you hate because the building it's part of won't become a home no matter how hard you try, and a city can only grow from a room.


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