78-44

I

House number is 78. Brass plate above the door says 44. There are another 19 flats like this one on the block. Adjacent ones are twice as big as mine is.

This block is part of a maze constituting a grid of straight lines, rectangular boxes and homogeneous grey shades. I see a willow squashed within the margins of a triangular lawn on which it grows. Its braids caress four tiny fur trees sprouting within the same triangle. In mid-April its geometry goes green and in early May – yellow. A red Zhiguli, parked on the gravel of a playground to the left of the willow tree is the only one keeping the tone as the seasons change.

My memory of 78-44 is mathematics, geometry and colour.

II

It is the end of June and the school is over. I drag a garish towel from the closet. Its stripes are yellow, violet, orange, white, and blue. The texture is similar to the bathrobe my mother has. I attach two of its bright corners with brown plasticine to the pebbles growing out of the wall in the balcony – just bellow the kitchen window (in autumn I make snow with other kids as we grind foam packaging onto these pebbled walls). The other two corners of the towel I attach with plastic pegs onto a washing line. My tent is cloistered within four square metres of concrete walls. If I tiptoe I can almost see over them. Sometimes I read in here. Once I played naughty games with myself, but was caught by my mother who ordered to never do it again. I obeyed until I got older.

There is a horizontal gap of ten centimetres cutting through the grey of the balcony wall, which divides my space from the yard. I feel like a guerilla waiting in ambush. The old man is walking his St. Bernards with drooling jaws again. Two of them. I imagine the scarcity of space in these blocks killing them. Through the bars of the ivy I measure the rhythm of the space in front of me. I gaze at strangers strolling along the triangle caging the willow tree and the turf carpeting it. I count the neighbours who never say more than hello to each other in the hallway. Some of them notice me (I live on the ground floor). Then I sheepishly pretend being busy and running some errands.

My memory of 78-44 is DYI, demographics and secrecy.

III

My concrete playground was invaded. Dad says next time we should leave a note ‘Sorry, there is nothing worth stealing here’. So we put up steel bars and the ivy clutches its frame as it climbs up.

I do not play here any more. Yet when I come for a visit I go to the balcony to watch how life continues to unfold presently. The willow has branched out by now and so have the fur trees. By now most of the concrete of the bottom floors in front of me has been devoured by the green of the bushes. I do not see the old man who used to walk his St. Bernards any more. That red Zhiguli is still snoozing on the gravel, though. Occasionally I see my history class teacher hastening to school past the willow, the horizontal gap of ten centimetres and the concrete perimeter of the yard. I do not feel the urge to be acknowledged, although I hide no longer. As I gaze through the rusting bars onto the yard in the heart of the block I recall the details I seemingly forgot. My memory of 78-44 is…

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