The block of flats in front of him was newer than the rest of the road, it was more grey, more solid, and one could say it had less character, but one could also say it had simply none. It was just tall enough to make it look uncomfortable. Like it was placed in the wrong spot in some kind of workplace error, but when they came looking for wherever it was they had left it, it was just too plain and inconspicuous for them to notice. So they walked straight past, and there it had sat, amongst strangers, looking wrong in some intangible way.
The ground floor housed a large family, he could see them eating dinner together, passing dishes at awkward angles and perfecting the art of talking as politely as you could manage with food in your mouth. There were photos on every wall, photos that appeared to be mainly of the same people seated at the table, accompanied in most of them by other friendly, smiling faces. There were some that were obviously from weddings, not photos of the newlyweds alone, but photos of the whole family all together, their various heights potentially amusing under the right circumstances.
The light bill, he decided, must have been quite a deal for them. There seemed to be lights on in every room, illuminating cream corridors through which flitted multiple tiny children, holding toy planes in their hands and whisking them through the air. He was sure there must have been sound effects too, not that he could hear them from outside. As he watched, an elderly woman appeared around the corner and began ushering them back into the main room, pointing them toward various empty seats, some on the sofas, some on the floor. Then she returned to where she had been originally, shaking out a napkin and replacing it on her lap, receiving a grateful hand on her shoulder for her children herding abilities.
The first floor housed another family, this one smaller but appearing no less content. There were two of them, sat on a sofa together, and he thought it would be amusing to stay and watch them through the window for longer, to see them try to stand up from that position without dropping the other on the floor. The walls were seemingly a deep purple, the cushions on the chair a bright red. He wasn’t sure that was what he would have gone for, but it seemed to work. It seemed to envelop them, clarify that right here on the sofa was where they belonged, and where they would stay. A small bundle of fluff was curled at their feet. From this distance he couldn’t be sure whether it was a cat or a dog, or maybe it was even a blanket and he was completely wrong. He didn’t think it mattered.
The television was on, or at least he could make an educated guess that it was. From where he was standing he couldn’t see it, it was evidently tucked away in the corner of the room. It left flashes of different coloured light on the lovers’ faces, sometimes leaving no light at all. Those were the moments he could appreciate the calm, the rapport, if you could have rapport in a romantic relationship. He wasn’t sure you could, now that he thought about it.
The third floor, he admitted, was harder to see into. Although he was stood on the other side of the street, his view was still restricted. Nevertheless, he could see the windowsill and its contents. From here it looked like it was mainly plants. Some were drooping their leaves over the edge of their pots, some were stood up straight as if vying to prove themselves better than their siblings. Some were too small to really have an impression at all, they just squatted and waited their turn to be bigger. He could see the top of the wall opposite the window and he could see its sole inhabitant, a blue clock, probably with characters of some sort on it, not that he could see them well enough from here. He couldn’t even tell the time.
The fourth floor was not worth spending long observing, and he didn’t appreciate it for that. The area of the ceiling that he could see was lit with a light similar to the one of the floor below, and, after some consideration, he made yet another television-based educated guess. But apart from that, there wasn’t much else he could tell. Thick brown curtains were pulled to either side and seemingly tied with a rope around their middle and he wondered why they were even there. They evidently didn’t have much responsibility if mere height meant he couldn’t see in the window anyway.
But the next window was special. The legendary fifth floor. The floor for which the man in the road was here in the first place. He could see nothing at all through this window from his position in the road, but he knew that behind this window stood a man. He would be alone, probably with a drink in his hand whilst he sat on the edge of his seat on that burgundy sofa that suited him to the extent that a sofa could suit someone. He would not be expecting company. He would be expecting to drink himself to sleep, to awaken in the small hours of the morning aching all over, to shuffle to the bedroom and to toss and turn until he eventually drifted away again.
He would be expecting to go to work again tomorrow, as he did almost every day, but this time he would be expecting the new challenge of avoiding eye contact with his best friend at every turn, trying to best judge how to apologise, whether it was even worth it. The man standing in the street wasn’t going to allow him to wallow any longer, he just didn’t know that yet.
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