I walked on the street and my heavy boots, a few sizes larger, flapped on the gravel. I borrowed them from a friend. I had to borrow the worn out jeans, the old jacket, the woolen sweater with leather elbow patches, and even the winter socks. When I was crossing the border of the country I couldn’t carry much.
I took a bite from my sandwich toasted with a piece of bacon and cheese. I chew slowly. I had to make the most of it. This would be my only food until lunch.
I chose narrow, back streets, away from crowded places, with less traffic lights and crossings. I counted the blocks as I walked on my way to the garage. From there, in the back of a pickup truck, we would be transported to the construction area where we would lay concrete, replace soil and carry baskets of bricks on our backs.
The boss was rebuilding an old house with a steep back yard full of rocks and apple trees in a cheap area with intensions of establishing a new residency for him and his latest mistress, a young woman who had left her husband. The boss was a rich, bad tempered, often unpredictable man. He personally supervised our crew – a small group of illegal refugees. He gave us work and although he paid six times less than the standards we were grateful to him. His short fuse often caused him to explode badly insulting us and even sometimes to kick out some pour soul from the crew.
With these thoughts in mind, I walked up the street and wondered how long the boss would keep me around as the situation changed every day. I had to use any opportunity to save money. I had to send money home because no one was working there. Every two months I would call my wife on the phone. The call would be short, just enough to tell her the money was on the way. I wanted to tell her a lot of things but I had to hung up.
I didn’t talk about money with the other migrants. It was safer this way. The month before an illegal refugees’ dwelling was ambushed by a traveling gang and a few people were injured, one of them seriously. All the refugees there had lost their life savings taken by the gang.
A cold draft appeared from nowhere and bleached my face. I kept going as a soldier who knew the battle was lost and despite that he kept advancing. This somehow reminded me that day was going to be a hard day as we would lay concrete until the floor was done. The renovation had be finished before Christmas which was a week away.
I cleared the corner of the last block and soon I would see the window. Ten more steps and there it was. The window – a waterfall of light. It was the back window of a bedroom furniture shop. Behind the glass was a double size bed covered with a puffy, snow white quilt, soft feather like touch. The pillows – two little white clouds. A shaggy china rug, thick and soft like a snow cover, lay on the wooden floor. In the corner a glimmering Christmas three. The light trickled through the window like a mist .
I stayed there carried away. I saw myself laying in the white bed and next to me my wife. I stared at her mahogany hair spread on the pillow and her high cheek bones. I slowly reached to touch her lips. She opened her ebony black eyes and I hopelessly sank in them leaving the world behind.
Startled I gazed at my watch with the cracked glass panel. I was late. I leaped forward and the chilled air numbed my lips and fingers.
Hurrying I left behind the remaining two blocks. I would be in time at the garage. I would stay another day to make a little more money. I managed to save some. I didn’t spend, except for food. I was buying cheap leftovers from the veggie market.
I kept my money in a hidden stash above the door in the cellar where I dwelled. I had to carefully pull the wooden frame out and in a small plastic bag was my life savings.
When I reached the garage, sweat covered my temples. The crew stood in a circle smoking silently. They wore old jeans, worn out jackets and heavy rubber booths. Unshaved, some of them with baseball caps, or hats with ear flaps, tired, with alert eyes.
As they noticed me they dropped their unfinished cigarettes on the gravel and climbed in the back of the truck. I climbed in too. The driver turned the engine on and our forty minute journey began.
We drove through rich suburbs with luxurious houses all lit by Christmas decorations and boats in the yards, but I didn’t pay attention as to me all this was irrelevant. During the journey I held tight on to the railing as the truck wobbled and we resembled a flock of sheep on their way to the slaughterhouse. I had to watch the heavy tool boxes next to me as they could slide easily on the metal platform and at some sharp turn they could land on my foot smashing it like an egg shell.
When we reached the boss’ beach house the old lead builder was already there and he started shouting at us at once.
The labor was hard. Half an hour for a lunch break with canned fish and bread. The afternoon was even worse as the strong wind blew chill from the bay and made it even harder to balance the heavy load on my shoulders.
We finished at five and stumbling, with shaky feet and aching body I slowly climbed into the truck for the back trip.
An hour later we were left at the garage and I started my walk down the street. When I reached the block with the window I stopped this time for much longer. I gazed at the brightly lit window like hypnotized and my exhaustion was soon forgotten.
When I finished soaking the window in my mind I continued down the street until I reached the oldest block in the neighborhood. It was a corner building with dirty windows and rubbish bins in front. I alertly looked around and when assured that no one was watching me, I unlocked a narrow, half dug in the ground, rusty door leading down to the basement. Quietly, I entered a low ceiling small room with thick concrete walls and a narrow window with steel bars. Without taking off my heavy shoes still with my jacket I dropped on an old mattress laying on the bare concrete floor. I lay for a long time and stared at the fading daylight coming through the small window.
Later, when the bare light bulb, hanging from the ceiling, threw its misty light around, different thoughts would float in my mind, but one was overpowering. The one with the image of a brightly lit window. Behind the window a bedroom in white, with a Christmas tree in the corner, a double soft bed with puffy quilt and pillows and a couple embraced in a tight hug. With this image in my mind I fell asleep.