The night’s embers are still glowing faintly in the cooking stove as Paris creeps carefully out of the dilapidated bedsit.
Xe startles at a voice from the bunks, crouching – as if that would somehow prove a cloak of invisibility. But it’s a false alarm. Just Sofie arguing with monsters in her sleep.
Having successfully navigated the treacherously squeaky front door without disturbing xir roommates, Paris finally allows xemself to breathe and pauses a minute under the awning of the sad, poorly fabricated building. Time enough to sneak a furtive look along the laneway. All clear. Xe smiles broadly and straightens up – I was right – a lesser tactician would have thought to run this caper in the middle of the night, but no, dawn was much smarter.
The light is only just starting to rise, and the normally watchful eyes of the businesses lining West Lane are still firmly shuttered against nighttime dangers. Even the baker, Rhodes, hasn’t yet flung open his triple bolted door to send forth this morning’s pastry breeze.
And the laneway’s other residents, all purveyors and pundits of vice and violence, have inevitably – like the cooking stove embers – burned themselves almost completely out by now. Most will be tucked up behind their own shabby front doors, Paris knows, or passed out on some barstool in a pool of their own hedonism. Only Earl is still visibly awake and outside. But he’s way uphill, almost at the cross of North Road, and absorbed in a discourse with the pigeons. From here it looks like the pigeons are winning the debate – they usually do.
With confidence then, Paris sets off down the hill, finally making xir way to the forbidden secrets waiting in the South. Xe steps almost automatically from shadow to shadow to blind alleyway to veiled siding to shadow and on. No-one survives this city if they can’t navigate their own laneway unseen.