I sit on the windowsill of Nikita’s old high ceilinged bedroom and stare at the wall.
“What is that?” I ask him. On the wall opposite the window is a large painting a bit like a tree’s rings. There are different designs that wrap around and around from a dot in the center. Each is in a different style and has different designs inlaid.
“Everyone who lives here paints on another ring. My ring will cover the whole rest of the wall when I leave. And I will paint over that last person, it is ugly.”
I look at the last ring on the circle and contemplate how little I understand art. The rest of the room appeals to me more. The walls are crumbling and cracked, and you have to sweep up old lead paint chips every time you open a window. Nikita looks up at me from his computer.
“You know love is not always roses and poems.” He says
“No.” he says. “Sometimes love is cheese and handcuffs.” He smirks. “That is the love you need to find.” He looks back at his computer. I open the window to smoke a cigarette and brush a few paint chips off of my jeans. As I smoke, Nikita reads to himself from the floor. He has pale soft skin and thin feathers for hair. His eyes are dark and heavy but always seem to be laughing. I don’t know if he can grow a beard. His body is thin and boy-like, as is his face. He is wearing a sweater loose, in a way that would be self-conscious on a less self-assured man.
“Do you know how to climb?” he asks
“I suppose. You mean like a ladder?”
“Yes, like that.”
“Good, I do not want you to die.” He smiles.
“We are going to the roof.” He says. He stands up and walks out of the room. He walks all the way to the end of the dirty hallway and we enter a room with nothing but an old rusty bathtub and a window. He opens the window.
“There”, he says, pointing at a ladder attached to a perpendicular wall three feet from the window. I look at it, look at him, look down out of the window to the dark ground four stories away and say, “What the hell do you mean there?”
He smiles. “Come” he says, and steps onto the ledge, reaches out and snags a ring on the ladder. He begins to climb. The night is wet, cold, and filled with the stench of poor decisions. I follow, apprehensively. I shake. I make it to the top, a slanted wet sheet of metal crisscrossed with a multitude of thick trip-worthy wires. Nikita is standing a ways from the top of the ladder smiling. “Do not walk on the wires. They make noise.”
“Sure thing.” I tell him, holding on to the wet side of what may have been an air conditioning unit for support. Nikita trudges up to the apex of the roof and stands under the lights of the city. I follow, slowly. At the top I light a cigarette and look around. I want to take a picture but my hands are shaking. I love roofs, I love seeing cities and skies and trees and stars from this vantage point. And as I stand on a roof, above the world, I always feel calm and think about all of life’s big questions at once. But, as I stand on this particular roof, only one question bounces around in my head and it is this. Are we going to be climbing back in through that fucking window?
I ask Nikita “So, does that ladder go all the way to the ground?”
He smiles “I don’t know.”
“So, how do we get back in?”
“Through the window,” he says in an amused tone and walks off to stand dangerously close to the edge of the roof. I stand in a panic. Not entirely sure whether I am scared of him falling or of having to shove my much larger frame back through a tiny window while four stories off the ground. I think about how I would explain him slipping suddenly on the slanted, wet roof. And worse, how would he explain the dead American fellow on the ground outside when I miss the window completely. Nikita turns back to me.
“Ready to go down?” He asks.
“Sure” I say. We walk back to where the ladder is attached to the roof. Nikita watches me as I knock, nick, kick and step on every wire along the way. He starts down the ladder first. I watch from the top as he casually steps over death and pulls himself through the open window.
I take a deep breath. It doesn’t help.
My hands shake, my knees shake, my feet would have shaken if not for carrying the tremendous weight of the much larger, much shakier bits of my body. I slowly make my way down past the fifth story window. I’m sure I would have thought something of it if my brain were not writing a long and very touching letter to my mother, apologizing. When I get to the bit where I am supposed to step over death I see Nikita standing in the window, smirking.
“Step there” he says and points at the unstable looking strip of metal pretending to be a window sill. I do. Death looks up my pant leg and laughs.
“Grab here.” Nikita taps the top of the window and a few paint chips fall to their death. I do.
“Now pull yourself in,” he says. I take a deep breath and, in a moment my cowardly brain will never let me remember, I duck in. I find myself standing next to the rusty old tub. Nikita pats me on the shoulder.
“You were very brave,” he says and then walks off down the hallway to get us some wine.