A WORLD ABOVE
The tiles were wet today. The light grey slate had taken on a darker hue, and the city as a whole had blackened under the downpour. The storm had thoroughly soaked the streets below, unleashing its fury, before rolling onward and leaving them behind, damp and huddled. Traffic crawled between the buildings, and people trudged beside it, hidden beneath a barrier of bubbled plastic, the domes of their umbrellas bobbing and pitching as they weaved between one another.
She had mixed feelings about the rain.
On the one hand, whilst the city looked maudlin and sorrowful during the storm, it came alive when the final drop fell and the sun returned. The buildings glistened, and every precious molecule of water held untold promise and potential; for new growth, for nourishment, for life.
If the rains happened to come only in part, you had the glory of the sun shining through, the city bathed in a kaleidoscope of colour. Nothing looked more beautiful.
However, this transformation came at a price. When the rains swept in they made every handhold more treacherous, every foot placement more perilous. Her grips were looser, more precarious, and her travels were slowed.
She moved cautiously then, each step precise and calculated.
Could she have made quicker progress if she’d descended to the streets below?
Undoubtedly she could have, but she preferred her world above. She was blessed with her own perspective, private and unique, which no one on the streets was privy to.
She knew she was different. She knew that no one else would ever truly understand why she did the things she did, why she had left the secure and well-worn path below, and moved to the haphazard and ill-suited above.
She’d taken her first steps from her window. She’d spotted a cat perched on a ledge just a few feet away and had taken the creature to be stranded. Her arms could not reach the isolated feline, so she’d swallowed her courage and stepped out.
The wind had whipped at her face and filled her lungs. She’d felt the world drop away beneath her, isolating her on the ledge. She’d frozen there, staring down at the street below, the fall that awaited her if she miss-stepped. She’d felt her blood chill, the colour drain from her face, and her heart leap into her throat. It had felt like an eternity before she gathered the courage to move, her first step small and frail, barely more than a centimetre from where she already stood. Her blood had positively hummed, beating as if in her ears, her stomach rising. She’d forced her nausea away, and taken another step; this one had been easier, though just barely. However, with each subsequent step she felt her confidence grow, until her progress was undeniable, the distance between her the imperilled creature gradually shrinking.
The cat had watched her as she’d slowly approached, seemingly impassive and indifferent to her attempts to provide rescue and succour.
When she’d finally had it nearly within arm’s reach, the creature had stretched, yawned, and deftly leapt to a ledge above.
Determined and resolute, she’d hauled herself up to join it, dust and dirt skittering beneath her hands and feet, tumbling to the pavement below. Again the cat had moved on, keeping just outside of her reach.
By the time she’d made it to the rooftop, she’d known the duplicitous creature was in no need of rescue, however she’d begun to find a thrill in the climb. As she crested the final gable, the sun was beginning its descent beneath the horizon and she was greeted with an ocean of gold, the light alive and magical across the city’s skyline.
Overwhelmed, she’d looked around her and realised that she was alone, experiencing a sunset like none she’d ever before, and it was all hers. The rooftops were deserted, the other inhabitants of the city scurrying about their lives, trapped between the buildings, smothered by their bulk.
A quick search told her that the wayward feline had disappeared, vanishing out into the mass that was the city without her, the pursuit at an end.
She’d taken a deep breath, drinking in the regal light, and kept climbing.
She’d climbed every day since.
What surprised her most was how no one ever looked up. People kept their eyes buried to the ground, weaving amongst one another in the sea of humanity below, their surroundings grey and monotone. No one took the time to gaze up at the sky, to peer into her world. Instead they simply rushed to and fro, trapped like mice in a maze, endlessly pursuing the promise of a morsel of cheese.
She no longer looked down at the streets below, the world she’d left behind. The sights were bland and uninteresting to her in comparison to what she had above, and the sounds had fallen away as well, muffled and confined within the walls of steel and concrete that imprisoned all below.
So her private world remained her own, shared with just the city cats, who moved and flowed around her in yet another world, a plane of existence which was entirely theirs. She had occasional glimpses into it; when the pack journeyed alongside her, when she was permitted to follow them.
She saw them fall from time to time, though the instances were rare and never fatal. The cats were confident and sure of foot. They leapt with speed and grace, surmounting obstacles in mere moments that took her far longer to overcome.
She had taken the occasional tumble, lost a handhold, watched a tile go skittering away from her.
Had she come close to losing her world above to a fall? Once or twice perhaps, but she would keep going. Every time she fell she learnt. Every step she took she grew. Every roof she scaled opened her world even further.
Maybe one day she would reach the world of the cats. Perhaps when she did she would start to look sorrowfully at the world of the birds, as she sometimes felt they did.
And maybe, just maybe, one day she would have a pack of her own.
She had yet to see another like her, but perhaps it was just a matter of time. Maybe someone else would venture out to join her, another soul, invited in by the cats to partake in a part of their world.
She was in no rush. For now, she had the world to herself, her world above, and it was hers to enjoy as she saw fit.
David Whitaker is originally from the UK, but travels quite a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in journalism, but has decided it should be a resource rather than a profession. He has pieces published by Collections of Poetry & Prose and The Writers College Times, and has work forthcoming with Uprising Review and Longshot Island. His website is wordsbydavid.com.