Perfect Blue Buildings by Michael de Waal-Montgomery


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He stepped off the bus and onto the pavement. Looking up, he tried to identify the terrace of his mother's flat, but it had been too long.

It was a hot day and washing lines were swaying in the gentle breeze. Pinks and blues, yellows and greens. Colourful washing, he thought. Slinging his rucksack over his powerful shoulders, he headed towards the block of apartments.

Inside, he looked over the list of names on the wall, searching for his mother. There she was - D. Brunin, third floor, flat 6. Checking his watch, he began to climb. He was early, she would still be preparing lunch. No harm.

Reaching the third floor, he recognised the flat immediately. It hadn't changed in twenty years. The smell of dumplings lingered in the air. The same dumplings, no doubt, that his mother used to make him as a child. Without realising it, a tear rolled down his cheek and onto the concrete floor.

He had not shed a tear since leaving twenty years ago, and so it was fitting that he should shed one upon his return. This was his birth home, after all. His spiritual home. A place where nothing could harm him.

Approaching the door, he hesitated a moment before it, and then gave a soft knock. He heard pots and pans crashing in the kitchen and then the scuttle of feet. A moment later, the door was swung wide-open and an old lady with greying hair and pale skin stood in front of him.

Now the tears flowed freely from his eyes. And, surely enough, hers were quick to follow. The two embraced and a gap that had seemed to span an eternity was bridged in a flash. He had returned, just as he'd promised he would. And that was all that mattered.

The afternoon sun spilled over the table where the two ate their lunch. It was a simple flat, but then her needs were few. Cigarettes, newspapers and half a ton of old photo albums consumed her days and littered the room. She had made no effort to tidy, but then why should she have? He was her son and there was nothing to hide from him. They ate in silence, but it was a silence that said more than words ever could.

They both ate their fill and then she brought out two glasses. Whiskey quickly filled them. So she still drank, he thought. Well, no harm. What can an old body do with the long days but drink them away? He had drank many a-day away himself over the years. Lifting their glasses, they clinked together and after a moment were empty. She refilled them, clinked and emptied. Refill. Clink. Empty.

And so the afternoon went. Little was said and a lot was drank. By four o'clock the two were drunk stupid and had fallen asleep on a couch that stunk of mouldy cigarette smoke. Their cheeks, as before, sticky from all the tears.

Yes, he was home.