A Leeds Seen

WORDS Onyi Ekebuisi

I don’t think we should be here. Everywhere I turn I see signs. The red bins. The red walls. The sharp black bars guarding the doors. The faint smell of beer and piss. Only faint, as the mice hog most of it for themselves.

And … is that a Christmas tree just chilling at the top of the stairs in the middle of spring?

“No. I don’t like it. I don’t think we should be here.”

I want to shout the words as the sun’s bullets pelt my shoulders. But my hands shake, and little beads of sweat fall from my fingertips, taking the words from my throat, leaving them on the floor with the rest of the rubbish.

But her – she – the tree, does she not make you think of Christmas?

No. It doesn’t. It makes me think of Bobby two specs. He would talk to my mum at the bus stop, and take out a new book from his old dark leather satchel, push his tinted prescription glasses to his eyebrows and place the clear ones on his eyes, telling her things she already knew.

He’d never take his Christmas decorations down because ‘you’d only have to put ‘em back up again’. Each time I’d pass his house – the metal windy stairs to his door, I’d see the baubles peep through the glass suffocating in the must, pleading with me to press the cobwebbed buzzer and tell him to take them down. I never did.

I stare at the tree while the guilt begins to settle in my gut. She isn’t old. Or dirty. She doesn’t hide behind the bars, or wilt helplessly in stuffy air. She stands proud; her turquoise body sparkling white in the sun. I feel my feet begin to move but my eyes stay fixed. She’s powerful, so dominant against the hard red background.  I feel myself rising. The smooth warm metal bars squeaking against my moist palms. She gets bigger. I watch her needles dance in the breeze. They wink at me as they catch the sun. Tease me to come closer. She smells like Christmas. Like mulled cider. Like oak fires. I can taste snow melting on my tongue. And feel the excitement shovelling away the guilt. I smile. I am sat on the roof and my head now rests against the grey satellite.

I look down over Leeds and know – I’m exactly where I should be.