The sounds of singsong anger and general tautness. But in little girls’ voices, voices that have somehow been wrecked for the adult world. That have receded or regressed somehow.
Out the window, then, two women seated on the stairs leading into the building across. They are squabbling, it seems, but then the squabble turns into a sort of sexual rubbing, the one frantically rubbing the crotch of the other.
Are they both women or not?
One jumps from the stairs and darts between two parked cars. She drops her trousers and squats and a circular puddle forms on the street.
Passers-by do not look, do not stop to look, even though assuredly they can hear what she is doing even though they do not stop to see it.
She moves back to the steps, to her companion.
On these steps, each a week just before the weekend, a couple – posh and white, tenants of the building – sit and await the arrival of a delivery. He repeatedly checks his phone until two others roll up on bicycles – a man and a boy. There is some small talk, some awkward attempts at customer-service and good-customership in the form of feigned racial cross-toleration, and then an exchange of goods for a wad of cash.
But today, the woman in the flat across the street and one story down leans out of her window to look. She is blonde, in her late thirties, and a window peeper without the excuse of smoking. Normally when she sees that she is seen in her peeping she pulls back and yanks the curtain across. As she does now.
More playground noise. They are in the course of a transaction of some sort. Then one of them – not the one who peed on the street – pulls tight to the area railing and from her hands comes a massive flame. Though she is smoking crack, she sits back to chat as she tugs on the pipe. Casually, like an office-worker on her break, chatting with a colleague.
Another arrives. This one, unlike the others, is white. And apparently elderly, or at least looks that way. She is wearing enormous fluffy slippers on her feet and she walks with an injured shuffle. She shuffles down the middle of the street toward the pair on the stoop and stops to complain or cajole and then begins to weep. The tears of a little girl.
The curtain across the street is drawn again and the blonde woman reappears, extends her head out the window, as well as an arm whose hand grips a mobile phone tightly.
The tears of the old-looking woman continue as the pipe runs out and is returned to the smoker’s backpack. There are more faces visible at more windows. A man – overweight and of a certain age, but still in his way dashing in his way – exits the door behind them. With arthritic difficulty, he negotiates the steps and then heads south on Great Titchfield Street.
Now the two black women are taunting the white woman. Laughing at her and then laughing harder when she extends an open hand toward them, palm up, imploring them to share with her. The tears continue; the black women embrace wildly, again as if to show the other her place in this association. A man passes, and then a well-dressed woman. Someone is setting up tables outside the pub at the corner.
The woman at the window across draws the curtains again and disappears. She will not reappear during the course of this vignette.
The women on the stairs stand and begin to walk down the sidewalk, past the puddle and below the window of the woman who just now was watching. More tinkling taunt talk, more weaving and some rail-grabbing for steadiness’s sake – and more tears from the white woman who shuffles slowly in her slippers, too slow to keep up.
Only when the two in front turn to taunt does she make up ground on them. If they were to walk normally and ignore her they would quickly leave her behind.