Gray. Blue. A hint of purple. A stripe of red. Yellow. Orange. The center of the sun. I catch hints of it on my drive home, only glimpses between houses and trees and power lines and the smudge of transparency that I call a window. The sun is rising in the East. A few cars are on the street: some, like me, heading home after working the night shift, others only beginning their day. The sky paints a story around us. A story of hope and of second chances. Most of us ignore it, though, too tired to take our eyes off the street. Still, each day, it tells the same story, hoping that someone will listen.
I put my car into park and turn off her ignition. I let my head fall back against my seat. I am tired, and I smell like sweat and like grease.
My car smells worse. I bought her from a neighbor, and she is the essence of used. She is clothed in dents and scratches, scars that can never be erased. She has driven far too many miles, and parts of her simply don't work the way they used to, the way they were made to. The many people who have abused her have clearly left their scent: the smell of mold from when someone left her insides exposed to the rain and never gave her a chance to dry, the aroma of cigarette smoke from all the times people have exhaled their dirt into her lungs, the scent of sweat and grease from the people who have made her walk their miles. She is worn and tired, scarred and beaten, dirty and smelly; Still, she drives.
I grab my things and walk up stained, metal stairs. They clink hollowly as I step on them. I know it is the same song they have sung since the first time someone climbed them. Clink, clack, clink, clack, clink clack. But I wonder if, maybe, the tune has changed. I think their song must sound lonelier now, less hopeful, knowing that no matter how loud they raise their voices, no one will ever look down at them. No one will ever thank them for always bearing their weight, for lifting them to higher heights. They must know this. Still, they sing.
I reach the ugly gray door that grants passage to my home. Its paint is peeling, and it doesn't quite fit the hole it was put into. It screams in agony when people force it open or slam it shut. But in return it simply gets an annoyed glance or an angry curse. What would we do without it? I sometimes question. Either there would be only a wall, leaving no way to enter the home it protects and no way to leave. Or there would be a gaping hole in the wall, a cut that couldn't be healed. People could come and go, yes, but there would be nothing to guard against the dangers beyond the home. So, the door is important, valuable. Even so, its cries are ignored; people slam it at will and lock it when, perhaps, it would have preferred to be left open. Its value is abused. Still, it does its job.
I force a key into its lock and use my strength as leverage, forcing it to turn. The lock is constantly jammed, and the keyhole will forever be chipped. You must push the door into just the right place and turn the key at just the right angle to make the lock release. He yields with a submissive click, admitting defeat, surrendering to his master. Without mercy, he will be locked again, and again, he will click with submission. He must grow weary of it, I think, of always being told what to do and never being given a chance to fight back. Still, humbly, he clicks.
The tiny four rooms that I call home are dark in the dawning light. A living room with a sunken, thread bare sofa. A kitchen with two rusted pots and a yellowed, noisy fridge. A bathroom with a toilet that sometimes flushes and a shower that weakly offers lukewarm water. And a bedroom with a hospital bed and nightstand crowded with medications. From this last room, a worn voice calls me. I go to him and whisper that it is still too early to be awake. He gives me a weak smile and a pat on the hand. I hold onto that bony hand and slip my fingertips on his wrist below his thumb. I feel his pulse, bump, bump, bump. It’s slow and weak, and a bit unsteady. Still, it bravely pushes on.
I shower in tepid water, washing the dirt and sweat off my skin. I sleep on the hunch-back sofa. The sun is high when I fill the rusted pot with water from a squeaky faucet. It takes a while, the water slowly drip, drip, dripping, before merging into a finger-thick water fall. The scent of cheap coffee brewing fills my four-roomed home. The voice from the bedroom calls me once again, and this time I tell him it’s OK to wake up. I help him walk to the bathroom and put clean clothes on his back. He rolls his eyes when I make him take all his meds, but he smiles and complies when I roll mine. Together we hobble to the sofa, so he can look out the smudged window. Our cat, with his chipped ear and rough, patchy fur, curls up in his lap with a content purr. He used to be a lonely street cat. One rainy day, though, he found his way to our doorstep and looked at us with sad, green eyes; wet, smelly fur; and a chipped, bitten ear. We couldn’t afford a cat. Still, he saw himself in us and we in him; we couldn’t turn him down.
The day wears on in its usual way. A doctor’s appointment. A run to the store. Many miscellaneous chores. A little laugh. A worn out smile. Sometimes, a hidden cry. In the evening, before the sun falls, we sit together once again. Our cat stretches out on the floor and lets out a long yawn. We smile, and then he asks me to read a passage from his favorite book. He closes his eyes to listen, and I could close mine, for I almost know the words by heart. I’m not sure what comfort he finds in them, why they bring him peace. What power do they have to heal? To help his or my grief? Still, I read.
Gray. Blue. A hint of purple. A stripe of red. Yellow. Orange. The center of the sun. I soak up its hints as I drive. The sun is setting in the West. Many cars pass by me, heading to their homes. A few others, like me, are about to begin the night shift. Our day is only beginning, and I am already exhausted. The sky tells a story of endurance, of never giving up. Each night it reads the same story, trusting that someone will listen. Most of us ignore it, though, too busy, too tired, or too scared. We look at the street or at our phones. We listen to our radios or the wind rushing by. Why should we heed you? We ask the sky with shaking fists. Everyday is just the same, our labor never ceases. Evening, night, morning, day, the cycle passes without change. Still, the sky never stops trying, never is defeated. And still, night after endless night, I listen.