Under the street light - Rosko Tzolov
The bartender kicked his last customer - an older man, out after closing time. The man took his time, walking down the empty street. He was drunk, but it didn’t show much. The man chose to walk on the street, close to the sidewalk. He didn’t know exactly why he did so, anyway he liked walking there. Sometimes he came across a parked car, which he had to go around of. With lazy, curious, and searching fingers, the man was feeling along the cars as if he wanted to add another sense to his perception of the world around him. After he walked a few blocks down the busy street the bar was on, he swerved into a side street. The small commercial buildings from the busy street behind were replaced by family houses with small yards, with a few higher buildings scattered in between. The man walked a few more blocks choosing his way rather haphazardly at the intersections of the small streets crisscrossing that part of town.
Finally, the man stopped in front of an old three-story house where he lived in on the top floor. His niece’s bedroom light was on. The older man wondered if she was waiting for him to come back home. He doubted. She was most likely with her lover. Who would wait for him, anyway and so late at night? The man stopped under a street lamp. A light breeze blew down the street. The warm, humid air let go for a moment, then enveloped him again. Clouds covered the sky. Nights like this, either the wind would get stronger and the sky clear, or wind would stop altogether and then rain would come. It was just so in that town.
A black cat appeared from a yard, a few houses up the street, and with short, quick steps paced down the sidewalk. She stopped startled when she saw the man. He saw her too and smiled, and reached out a hand to invite her to come closer. The cat hesitated, then walked into a shrub growing in the yard next to the man. The man followed her with his eyes with regret. He than slowly walked away from under the lamp post, to the other side of the street.
The man entered the living room, slowly feeling his way in the darkness. He didn’t want to turn the lamp on. He didn’t feel like explaining why and where he had been. He just wanted to go to sleep. Then he tripped over something and fell on the floor. He felt around with his hand. Men’s shoes. His niece had a guest.
“What the heck was that?” jerked the man lying in the bed. He raised himself onto his elbow and stared towards the door of the room. The man was smoking a cigarette which he dropped on the bed. He hastily picked it up, ashamed he had showed fear and put it back between his lips.
“My uncle must have gotten home. Probably knocked over a chair,” the woman lying next to him said. She was young and pretty, with long, thick black hair, an attractive face, and beautiful brown eyes. Her body was still sweating as was his. The man lied on his back again. He was tall and had a beard. He scratched it now, wondering if he could go or stay. He didn’t feel like staying. He didn’t feel like getting close to her, emotionally. Anyway, the next day would be a busy one for him. He needed to get a good night sleep.
“The old fool,” the man responded, “He must have gotten drunk again.”
“Maybe he did,” the niece said softly.
“Why does he have to go to the bar and get drunk? What a waste of money! He only wastes money in that way. Can’t he just get drunk at home and get the drinks worth of his money at least?”
“Maybe he likes the company. It’s not the same getting drunk at home. I think he goes to the bar to be around people, not as much to get drunk.”
“Even so, he is just wasting his money. Doesn’t he have any friends?” the man asked. He definitely would rather go to his home, but he didn’t know how to tell the woman next to him that he wanted to leave now, without her getting upset.
“I don’t think so. Just me. He’s very lonely. I just moved here. Got a job, and I thought it would be good for him for me to be around him.”
The man thought about what she said. He finished the cigarette and extinguished it in the ashtray on his chest which he then put on the night stand. “A man should be able to say that he wants to sleep alone and go without getting anyone upset, right?” the man thought, but instead he continued the conversation.
“He is better off finding a friend his age. Lots of old folk at that senior center. Why doesn’t he go there and meet someone?”
“He is almost deaf. He says it’s hard to communicate with people, more so to make friends.
The man thought about the older man going to bed at the other room across the living room and his loneliness. That made him sad and when he realized he’d gotten sad on account of a stranger, he felt even deeper resentment for the uncle.
“What does he have left to live for? At this age? Alone and deaf, can’t make friends. If I was him, I would hang myself.”
The woman glanced at him and laughed in a strange way. He looked at her surprised.
“He tried…hanging himself on a rope tied to the hanger in the hallway. I came home just in time. I had to cut the rope with a knife.”
The woman fell silent. The man didn’t reply. He felt her laughing, when she mentioned her uncle’s attempt to kill himself, weird.
The older man was lying in his clothes on his back in bed in his room. He thought that the building was old and probably creaking, and the crickets were probably singing outside. He could only speculate, though. He could only hear the beating of his heart, which was not really a sound but more of a feeling. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. He was lying for a while with his eyes closed but the sleep wasn’t coming. At last, he opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling. The street lamp cast yellow light. He felt a desire to be outside in the light. In the dark and quiet room, he felt like he was in a coffin. He rose slowly from bed, trying to make as little noise as possible and crept out of the apartment.
In the niece’s room the young man at last mustered courage to leave. He got up and started putting his clothes on in a hurry. The woman watched him from where she was lying in the bed. She didn’t do or say anything to stop him. She could care less and felt a little amused as she had sensed the man’s wish to leave and his fear not to upset her. “What was there to get upset over”, she thought to herself? She was perfectly capable of surviving without his company. She wouldn’t feel lonely if the man left. Rather the opposite. She would also have a good sleep if he wasn’t with her.
After he finished putting his clothes on, the man went to the bed and kissed the woman’s mouth. Then he left the room, closing the door quietly, not to wake the uncle. The man found his shoes, put them on and descended the stairs. Once outside, he was startled by the person standing under the street light.
“For God’s sake!” exclaimed the young man. The uncle saw the man coming out of the house. The old man couldn’t read the lover’s lips in the darkness. He took what’s been said for a greeting and politely nodded in response. The young man nodded back and got hastily in his car. He drove away. The older man looked long after the car until the red of its rear light disappeared into the night. Then he sat on the sidewalk with his back against the lamp post and stared in front of himself.
The young woman in the room upstairs turned off the night light and looked through the open window, hidden in the darkness. She saw her uncle sitting on the sidewalk under the street light. She thought he must be feeling lonely. She wished she could help him somehow, but what could she do? It was so hard to talk with him, especially when it was dark. Nobody could help him. He had to help himself, she thought, then went back to her bed.
The same black cat from before came out from behind a shrub trying to cross to the other side of the street. The cat saw the man, stopped, went to the center of the street . The man smiled and stretched out his hand to invite the cat to come closer. She hesitantly approached and the man pat it. For a moment he felt happy. Not lonely. His happiness was, however, short lived. A drop fell on the man’s head, and another one. He realized that the slight breeze had died out a long time ago. It was starting to rain.
Rosko Tzolov is a nurse during the day and a writer by night who writes fiction and non-fiction. Mainly prose.