The girl next door

For the first time in my years here, mine is not the only balcony watching the sun set. She stands next door, so close and yet alone as well. Her phone is draped around her neck, cord long and beaded. Her grey t-shirt, khaki capriis, light blue sneaks with pink laces speak to less than two decades, to fifteen, sixteen, fourteen years. She is impatient, the phone can not convey good news fast enough, her friends do not respond with proper urgency. She is not watching the sunset. But neither am I. I do not know how long she has lived here, or if she does. She may well wait for a realtor, only here to show the place, it’s two floors the mirror images of mine, it’s two other balconies a floor above vacant, like mine.

Or perhaps I imagine this bellicose disinterest in the city, superimposing long-remembered emotions from those years upon her unknown face. She watches the bikes pass, weaving in and out between the taxis, between the trucks, between the pedestrians who amble in the slow fading heat. The sun is but a flare behind the abandoned factory across the way, it’s color filling the sky with oranges, yet a swath of blue survives atop. The baking temperatures of noontime have but scant decreased, and still the city breathes again, those who hid in restaurants smoking now emerge, bags in hand, to chat and laugh with neighbors, business partners, fellow sufferers, to flag taxis, meet friends, unlock bikes, drift away. The weekend mellows out here as July ends. Tomorrow will be another month, though probably no cooler, and the summer passes. The sky shifts from blue to gray as the sun disappears, slipping behind buildings, glaring momentarily through windows, in reflections, and then gone. At some point the girl slips indoors, as quietly as she appeared.

Half an hour later she is back, lights coming on throughout the view. She is too young to smoke, her earings, dangling almost to her shoulders, sway gently towards the railing as she rests her chin on her arms, her arms on the black iron that rings the open edge of our balconies. Where does she live, if not here? What view does her room have, if not this one? The sky darkens, shifting away from the dusky gray and back to deeper blue, the clarity so appreciated after days and days of polluted ash and white.

Shanghai bustles even now, it’s relentless pace of taxis, pedestrians, bicyclists not indicating furor, simply a testimony in motion to the powers of addition, person by person, building by building, car by car, month by month, year by year.

Eighty five Damuqiao Lu blinks to life, it’s signs flickering enticements.