By Sian Cummins
Location: Maple Avenue, Chorlton
The woman was heading for home when she saw them. Taking her eyes briefly from the root-cracked tarmac, she looked for vehicles, and her eyes caught the eyes of one of them, and the one of them she saw said ‘hi’.
The woman was 100 yards on before she realised what she’d seen. Instinct had not allowed her to stop or respond to the ‘hi’, and now she knew she was heavily in instinct’s debt.
They were coming in twos down the road, badges swinging from strings round their necks, in violent primary colours. The woman ran for the old house. Before she reached the door, she heard another door open and another ‘hi’ said to the unsuspicious occupant. What could she have done? She couldn’t have warned them all.
She slipped inside the door and closed it, though they’d already seen her. It occurred to her to alert the ones who lived on the other floors of the house, but her responsibility was to the one who shared the second floor with her.
As she pulled the man away from the window by his sleeves she could already hear their voices outside the next house.
‘Did they see you?’ he asked. They huddled in the hallway. He took a ragged strand of tobacco from his trench coat pocket and rolled a thin cigarette.
‘One of them said “hi”.’
He reached behind her and extinguished the light from the swinging bulb above their heads. ‘They’ll see that! They’ll know we’re hiding!’
‘If we keep quiet they’ll pass us by.’
The man and the woman were equal, but she found a part of herself deferring to him on this point. He spent his days in the rooms they inhabited together and had developed a knack for surviving these regular forages to the door, a knack different to that needed for her own forages to the city.
‘Those others will just open the door,’ she hissed. ‘In all the other houses. They’ll think they’re doing a good thing.’
The man and the woman helped where they could, but considered themselves shrewder than their neighbours. Bags on shoulders, they had left Levenshulme for a better life, and knew better than to open their door to strangers.
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