In the dark hollow room that forms his entire residence, a ray of morning pierced the flimsy curtains hanging from nails on either end of the window. Though the view was not breathtaking at all, one could see far and wide almost to the mountains that labouringly held up the sky. The visual sense of distance and emptiness had somehow rubbed off on him. He felt the same feeling, each morning, each month of the past year. Days ticked away and the line between day and night became blurred. His tired sleepy eyes squinted in their sockets as they tried to adjust to the brightness. He coughed himself awake. Each cough producing that all too familiar ache in his chest. Bringing forth that revolting dark yellow stained phlegm from his lungs. Looking at the window he wondered whether he would have the courage today.
As Junto lay on his threadbare mattress he reached under his bed trying to find that overstocked ashtray that contained the four packs of cigarettes he had bought yesterday. His fingers finding shoes, empty cigarette packets, and socks; collections of dirty unwanted items hidden away for no particular reason. When he eventually found the ashtray he carefully sieved through the eighty odd butts in the tray looking for the few that he hadn’t smoked to the filter. With his shaking hands he struggled to light one of them, his body crying out with the craving for nicotine. He took a deep drag and let the warm smoke fill his waiting lungs. He was awake, hungry and still sleepy.
The room was sparsely furnished. A dining seat was his bedside table. The clothes he had removed to go to bed were draped on it. On the table in the middle of the room lay old newspapers, another filled ashtray and a couple of bottles of beer in different stages of emptiness. A bottle of Vodka completed the picture of the mess. The bed he had slept in was also unkempt; there were two sheets and a duvet on it. It looked like it hadn’t been made in weeks although it was actually months. There was a stack of dirty sheets and other laundry at one corner of the room patiently waiting for that cleaning lady to come as she did every Friday. Junto wondered to himself whether it was Sunday or Thursday.
The television at the foot of the bed continued its monologue of world news. It was as tired as he was and if it could talk it would have pleaded to be switched off for a couple of hours. The only time it was ever off was during those frequent power failures that Africa appears to have more than its normal share of. He watched it for a few seconds and concluded that there was nothing new. There were several items that the producers of SKY NEWS thought would attract the attention of the bored English public. The closing down of a coal mine will mean 500 people lose their jobs. The healthcare system was inefficient because it takes an average of 8 weeks to schedule a free operation. The hunting ban is dividing the English.
Hearing about the coalminers losing their jobs catalyzed Junto’s mind to remember what he desperately wanted to forget. Fourteen months ago and the day seemed like yesterday. With nostalgia he remembered his home in the leafy Lavington area. The thought of those tree lined roads brought back tearless agony. Junto wished he could cry but he knew over the months there was nothing left to cry. Junto closed his eyes and saw his 2 litre midnight black VW Passat parked in the drive and Giselle’s yellow Honda neatly tucked away in the garage. The single story white Hacienda style house nestled in a thicket of old trees and shrubs. It had taken them sleepless nights designing and redesigning until it eventually stood majestically over all the other properties in the neighbourhood. The years of building had been hard, but they both worked hard and saved what they could, putting every last shilling into bags of cement and twisted steel bars. Bringing up the children had posed additional challenges and seeing them all grown up should have been his pride and joy.
He heaved his heavy tired body out of bed and sat up yawned and made his way to the sink at the far corner. He turned on the tap and splashed his face with cold water. It felt so refreshing he did it once more. As he raised his face over the sink and used the hand towel to dry his face he looked at the reflection staring back at him. His breath was foul; it smelt of stale beer and cigarettes. The tube of toothpaste had been empty for three days now and he reminded himself to buy one at the kiosk downstairs. Subconsciously he knew he would only remember tomorrow morning when he washed his face again. The vodka on the table would come handy once again. His eyes had dark circles around them dark enough to see even though his complexion was dark. His balding head looked big because of the way his ears stuck out… his hair or what was left of it had patches of grey scattered untidily. And to think that he had always wanted to age gracefully!!!
Junto looked round his single room; though he was past feeling sorry for himself, it was pathetic to live like this. He stumbled towards the window hoping to get recharged by the sunshine that was wrestling with his imitation of a curtain. As he passed the table he reached for the bottle of Smirnoff and took a quick swig. He swirled the alcohol in his mouth and swallowed. He took another gulp and as he opened the window and let in the cool morning breeze into the room. The mixture of smoke and smells quickly drifted out the room as if escaping from a prison. The flats across the road were awakening. Babies were crying children running to play outside and their parents yelling words of caution after them. There were flats to the left, to the right- beneath him flats and flats all over. Living up here above everyone else made Junto feel safe. He was away from those awkward sideways glances that almost everyone threw in his direction. He was famous… He was not sure that that was the right word because it sounded like a good thing and his situation was far from good.
His boys Moses and Joseph were 14 and 16 now. He was sure they hadn’t forgotten their father even though they felt the shame.. the shame of being taunted in school day in and day out about their father. They were nearly grown men now, soon they would be able to judge him and decide whether what he had done was really all that bad. They would soon have their families and may get the same choices he did… would they behave any differently?
Hopes and dreams dashed because of a friend; a person he would have entrusted his life with. Junto sneered as he remembered that fateful Monday morning.