CITY OF GHOSTS

From a distance it looks like he’s yawning.

The road where the man is kneeling is blocked with abandoned cars. From my vantage point on the second floor of a Cafe Nero’s all I can see is his profile, his open mouth and dark hair, the lurid green of his coat.

The yawn has lasted too long. I squint and realise it’s a scream.

I break off a nail-sized bite of bread from the last sandwich I have left and squeeze it paper-thin. I place it in my mouth, then take a glass of water and tilt it against my lips until it is empty. I rub my throat, hoping the bread goes down the right way.

I glance outside. The man is still kneeling in the road.

It’s been weeks since I’ve seen another person. Curiosity gets the better of me.

Going down stairs isn’t easy. I crane my neck to watch my feet, place my hand on the handrail. The sight of it reassures me. My hand still looks young, strong. Still looks like my hand, although it’s long since stopped feeling.

I walk across the ground floor of the coffee shop and lean against the front door until it opens. The man is still kneeling in the middle of the road, his head bowed, defeated. It’s a grey summer’s day and the sky is heavy with rain clouds, but the air in London has never been clearer. There’s no one left to pollute anymore.

The wind pushes my hair into my eyes as I zigzag through the abandoned cars. Most of them still have keys in their ignition, doors left ajar. London has become a city of forgotten things. We are all ghosts, fading slowly away.

The man has already lost his hearing. He doesn’t notice when my hand knocks against a car door even though my knuckles are now bleeding – it must have made a sound.

I walk closer, until he notices me and freezes, his shoulders tensed, nostrils quivering.

For a moment we stand there, staring at each other.

When he mouths words at me but they’re impossible to read. Another language.

There’s a pair of car keys by his feet but he cannot curl his fingers around them. He straightens, slowly. His hands hang uselessly by his sides, forgotten, like plants left out in the sun. Tears trail down his cheeks as he lifts an arm towards me.

It’s just your hands, I want to say. Wait until your feet go. You’ll have to learn to walk all over again.

* * *

To celebrate National Short Story Month, I’m running the Senseless Challenge throughout May. Each Friday is dedicated to a different sense – the challenge is to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by that sense.
This first week is dedicated to sight. I had a hard time resisting the temptation to describe temperature (hot, cold, etc).

4 thoughts on “CITY OF GHOSTS

  1. I’m currently rereading “The Stand” and your opening had me. That was a wonderful image of the yawn going on too long, then the flattening of a tiny bit of bread and hoping she could swallow.

  2. Super scary story! I especially like the mystery in her eating while it seems like the man is in trouble, as if she doesn’t care, but then the slow unfolding of the truth comes to light and we feel sorry for them both. Great work!

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