Aqua, by Æsa Strand Viðarsdóttir
It’s still raining. Outside, a million raindrops rush towards the glistening streets at a suicidal pace, slashing the grey morning air into ribbons. People don’t walk, they hurry. Skitter like rats from one building to another, seeking shelter from the cold pretence of summer. The sun is a distant memory, a fairytale told in the dark lonely nights as rain tap-dances endlessly upon the roof. It’s true, we saw it, we witnessed it, the glory of sunshine, so very, very long ago. Days, months, years … it doesn’t matter. In the cold wet rain it’s all the same.
At the corner, balancing on cobbled steps, out of the river of rainwater flushing the sidewalk, there stands a woman. Her face and torso are obscured by a big blue umbrella but the bottom of her dress is bright red and on her feet are green wellingtons, big enough to fit her father. Maybe it isn’t a woman after all. She – or he – has been standing there a while, sometimes shifting, sometimes shuffling, as far as the narrow steps will allow. Finally a taxi swings up to the curb, its wipers dancing back and forth, surfing the waves washing the windscreen. She makes a dash for it, splashing through an ocean of puddles, exposing herself briefly to the brutal onslaught from above as the umbrella is lowered and folded, then quickly jerked into the cab. The door closes, the taxi jumps forward, and, within seconds, it vanishes behind a curtain of downpour.
A small bird appears out of the grey nowhere and lands on the ledge outside my window. It shakes water off its back then ruffles its feathers into a fluffy ball of speckled brown. It closes its eyes, head burrowed into a downy pillow of its own making, and sleeps, patiently waiting for autumn to call it home to warmer regions.
The big oak tree across the street must be contemplating migration as well. Its leaves, burdened by the weight of water, offer no shelter anymore; the cigarette stubs littering the surrounding ground are sinking, soggy, into the wet earth. The roots must be itching to rip out of the concrete and crawl their way out of this depressing city and to a more quiet place, the kind told of in stories. A green park, with a pond playing home to lazy ducks and bad tempered swans. A red kite tangled in its limbs, a family of squirrels playing peek-a-boo among its leaves. And a girl, her back resting against the trunk, a book in her hands that curious birds can read discreetly over her shoulder, catching a glimpse of humans’ strange world of imagination.
Leaning against the bus stop, a blue bicycle, left there weeks ago by a drunken boy who has long since stopped looking for it, is rusting quietly in the rain. Surely it, too, dreams of brighter days. Of strong fingers gripping its handlebars, feet pedalling faster, faster, as it flew at neck-breaking speed along the streets in the warm breeze of last summer.
The last summer, or so it feels like. Maybe it was. Maybe this is the beginning of the end. The apocalypse, the cleansing of the Earth. Another flood sent to punish a few sinners along with the masses of innocents. All is fair in love and religion.
The shuffling sound of bare feet bursts my bubble of silence. He comes up behind me, his palms a warm shock to the cold skin on my stomach. They cover me like water, the heat spreading sluggishly to my limbs through half-frozen veins. His chest to my back, his chin on my shoulder. His soft front settling against the dip of my spine.
“It’s still raining,” he says.
I lean back and close my eyes. If I listen carefully I can hear the sun bouncing on the grey clouds, far above, fighting to break through. Like a girl in a bright yellow dress jumping on a dirty trampoline.
“Breakfast?” he asks.
I hum in agreement, and he turns me around, pushing me gently along, away from the grey, the wet and the depressing, and into the warm, cocooning smell of coffee and burnt toast.
Outside the rain keeps falling.