This moving shadow
By Zolaykha Soleimani
August 20, 2001
I work in an office on the second floor of a building, overlooking a
nondescript parking lot and a residential building built of now-discolored
bricks. My computer, across from which I spend most of my day faces the
window. The window takes up the entire wall of the office.
I often look out of the window from my chair, searching for a sign of
life outside the confines of this office, this screen, this imaginary world
of business and bytes. And often, on these visual searches, I find my sign
in the shape of a young woman who lives on the second floor of the brick-layered
building across the parking lot.
The two windows that open to what seems to be her bedroom act as two
screens upon which every day I watch a different scene from a movie. Every
morning, even those in which I wake up with a nasty hangover from drinking
Makers' Mark the night before by myself, in front of my television, I can
not get dressed and get ready fast enough to get to work. As I shave, I
wonder what will happen next. What she will do, how she will touch my life
I can't tell her age from this distance, nor what she looks like. She
often undresses in that room, never pulling down the shades and only occasionally
glancing towards our office as if to demonstrate to any possible voyeur
that she knows he's there. She reminds me of another movie I once saw of
an old man who could stare in the lonely darkness of his room at a young
women who lived across the street from him. He would watch her in her daily
life, he would watch her make love, and eventually, he would fall in love
and die for this moving shadow.
I wonder if my shadow has seen this movie. I wonder if she thinks of,
hopes for, a set of lonely eyes staring at her as she unwraps her towel
from around herself in the mornings and stands naked, her back to her voyeur,
as she decides what to wear.
Some nights when I am working late, I see her sitting on the fire-escape
that faces my office. I turn off the lights, the computer, and sit in the
darkness, in this movie theater of mine. Sometimes she's alone, sometimes
she's with a young man whom I also see walking around the house naked some
mornings. They sit there on the black metal fire escape with a blanket wrapped
around them, holding each other and their glasses of wine. Often I see them
kissing but sometimes they just sit there. I imagine their conversations,
thinking of what I would be saying if I was there, on a fire escape with
my lover wrapped in a blanket feeling warm from the familiar smell and taste
of her skin. I close my eyes and let my head gently fall on my chest.
I imagine her bed to be right under the two windows. Sometimes I can
catch the shadow of their bodies as they make love. Sometimes I can see
their bodies as they face the window, daring me to keep watching, daring
me to keep my eyes on them without feeling the pain of utter loneliness
one feels when seeing two people moving in harmony in and out of each other.
Loneliness is not complete until you see another's happiness. I am told
I am petty because of this. I am told I am petty because at times other
people's fortune -- the fortune to have found someone to talk to in words
and in flesh -- makes me feel like I am in the bottom of a black pit with
the black stone of Mecca pressing down on my heart.
One day, I look out the window and I see words forming on her lover's
lips, and she breaking into tears, her body shaking. What were those words?
I try replaying the scene in my head, reading his lips. What is so wrong
with those words I think, glancing back at my computer monitor. What is
What I had imagined to be a romantic comedy being featured at the movie
house across from the parking lot turned out to be a tragedy. Lately, the
young woman can't stop crying, her body rocking to and fro as if something
had set off the inner faults of her body; the earthquake does not let go.
She gets up alone from her bed every morning, her flesh barely hanging to
her bones. I can feel her desire to rot, to disintegrate, to fly as a speck
of dust in the air. Something has ended in her life and its deathly smell
seeps through the shut windows of the office. No one but me knows the source
of the smell, and my employers, in their ignorance, are fumigating the office
At nights, when I now look across the parking lot, I only see one shadow
stooped over, sometimes still as a black rock, sometimes shaking like the
leafless branches of the tree in front of her window. The fire escape is
empty and the windows that lead to the fire escape have not opened since
the night the young man uttered those words to her.