My friend has moved into a penthouse, five floors up on a flat in the middle of Umoja. There is a 270° view. In the distance you can see the lush green that caps the city to the north and east, a water reservoir shaped like an inverted conical flask, more flats that are similar to this one, huge masts, and hundreds of faded rooftops.
I move closer to the edge of the rooftop, where cloth line posts stand like crucifixes with the tops cut off. Immediately below us are some of the few surviving original houses (from when the city was still unadulterated, 30 0r so years ago), with little modification, except maybe a shed in the backyard, where maize stalks stand amid legumes and weeds. At the edge of the rooftop I feel a tug within me, like the feeling after waking up from a bad dream, or one’s first and false memories of a mother’s abandonment. While I stand on the edge I admit to my friend that I am scared of heights. On two sides of the building there are electric lines, and although I do not voice this scene, I imagine falling on the wires, the electrocution that follows, and the smell of flesh mixed with burning clothes. All I can think of now are watts and heights. My friend repeatedly calls me a pussy. He says it is the height that appeals to him. We joke about drinking and locking ourselves indoors because young men under the influence might look at the height as an invitation.
Fuck views, I think. I want the blood to crawl back into my heart, at least until I’m on ground level. I’ve lived here long enough to know all the roads and trees, I don’t need to see them every morning.
I have been reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, where characters are predisposed to self-annihilation, or self-preservation, depending on perspective: Virginia’s drowning; Laura’s almost swallowing all her sleeping pills; Richard’s jump from five floors up.
There is a considerable time in my childhood where for consecutive nights I dreamed I was falling off the rooftops of high buildings. The walls were always closing in, or there was a constant spiralling in my head that could only be assuaged by jumping. I felt the same pull I feel now as I was freefalling. I would wake up to discover it was only a bad dream, glad that it was only a dream (but not happy to be still alive?). And then, slowly, the closing of eyes and falling into another deep, listless sleep.