I live in an attic. This means I am at the mercy of hot and cold weather, and that I am only separated from my housemate by a thin strip of plasterboard. But it does afford me the opportunity – on particularly introspective nights – the freedom to climb out onto the roof and smoke a cigarette in relative (freezing) solitude.
Tonight, in a sombre mood, I clambered out and the driving wind almost turned me right around, until I heard a voice.
‘Hello. Out for a crafty fag?’
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could make out a figure sat in the exact same position as I was, on the roof of the house opposite mine. I couldn’t give an age, or much of a description, but I could make out a man with dark hair, wearing a Parka, sat like me, cross-legged, on the eaves of the terraced house in front of mine.
‘Something like that,’ I replied, irked that my much-revered solitary time had been intruded upon by a stranger.
‘Don’t mind me,’ he said. ‘I’m just out here for some peace and quiet. Isn’t it funny how life will drive you to a rooftop?’
I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I joked: ‘Well, as long as you’re not about to throw yourself off, eh?’
And there was a long silence.
‘You lot have been living here for a while now, haven’t you?’ he said.
‘Yeah, just over a year,’ I said. ‘What about you?’
Another long pause.
‘Too long’, he mumbled, inhaling on his cigarette, and after a long while: ‘Do you remember what you were doing this time last year?’
‘I do, but only because this time last year I was pretty unhappy. Isn’t it funny how you only remember periods of contrast?’
‘It is,’ he replied. ‘But that’s my problem. All these years blend into one and there’s nothing to tell them apart. I’m neither happy nor unhappy. I’m just here.’
And as I saw the blazing light of his dying cigarette float down into the street I went to reply, ‘Well that’s better than not being here at all, surely?’, but before I could catch the words his legs had folded inside the Velux window and the lock had clinked and he was gone, and I stared after his cigarette embers for a long while, until the wind blew them into a drain.