After spending six months outside the city of Pretoria I returned, for better or worse, to a small room whose large window stared endlessly at its street. It was a window that invited all sorts of lights. Nothing was unique about my window, just a wall away from me my neighbour had the same one, and his neighbour’s had one, so did his neighbour.
A friend spoke glowingly about my window. He said it brought a warmness his could not match; the sun rarely reached his window, which made his winters more traumatic. I was flattered somewhat, that’s how strange city people could get: chat about their rooms and windows, comparing one to the other and say, “Oh yeah man, your room is certainly bigger and better than that one, bro.”
It was right beside my big window where I put my bed. Lying on it, hand behind head, I could easily stare at the sky and it stared back, usually meeting my contemplative face. At night I still got treated to different shades of street lights, which rested on the walls of this small room. Here, complete darkness seemed impossible. At night, when lights were off I don’t recall ever waving a hand across my face and not seeing it.
But from that same window, an uneasy feeling tended to rush over me when my eyes descended to the ground floor. Down there there was a parking lot, along with a lane of businesses. It was okay I guess. There was an internet cafe, laundry shop, a small accounting firm, clothing store, supermarket and more. Among these there was a bar.
On my arrival I had mixed feelings about it. Somewhat elegant at first sight, the bar was mostly frequented by nostalgic foreign nationals. I once visited it with a friend and saw on its walls pictures of great African musicians: Fela Kuti, Salif Keita, Yossour N’dour, and more. But I’d never really heard any of their music played in that bar. Also, it was not so much the music I often heard, but the people yelling over it, at each other, all the way from my window.
In a way, I just revealed the flaws of my big window. It was impossible to shut it completely. It refused to! As much as one appreciated the views of Pretoria from a window, they rarely came with silence. Lights hardly visited alone. With them came all the noise a city often served its residents, including that clamour from that bar.
Whether it was a skirmish – a fight very much loud as it was violent – or those nocturnal voices singing struggle songs on the streets, I was always shaken out of thought and sleep. It was one of the nasty sides of owning a massive window in Pretoria.
One night I was woken up by sounds of fists crash-landing on faces. Soon, verbal assaults followed. When I looked down a group of about five men and a lady filled the scene, at the parking lot. A night fight was on. It seemed the lady tried to stop the fight but shortly was the one throwing fists. In a green mini skirt and heels she fought hard, yelling, kicking, and slapping. By now it was impossible to tell who was fighting who.
About four minutes later all I could hear were the murmurs and groans of what was a brutal fight. They had wrestled out of the frame of my window and a rare night’s silence crept in, but something was ominous about it.
Nevertheless I closed my eyes, hitch-hiking for sleep, but it proved too difficult to find peace in this silence. I noticed something about these windows; they will spoil you with warmth, even allowing the candle-like light to glow romantically at night. But light doesn’t always mean good; other familiar lights soon followed the silence. These lights trembled on my wall, glowing and flickering fast.
I looked out. There were paramedics wheeling beds to the parking lot.
This happened often, sometimes I was indifferent to it. Most times it was unavoidable. Usually it was difficult for me to sleep with the TV on. Now, through my big window, I had one I couldn’t switch off.
Tell us: Would you prefer to live in the big city with a big window?