Down the sterile, stagnant hall, a door was open: Exit. Stairs. She and I had nothing pressing, so I squeezed her hand in mine, and we stepped through—through and the musk was scattered by a breeze, through and up a short half-flight, through and we arrived on the unguarded roof.
The tight confines of the too-white halls split asunder, revealing a sudden world of wide horizons, a ring of landscape circling round: the sea before, the coast and all its highrise construction beside it, and miles of packed humanity crowding into narrow tenements at our back. We stared in pride and approval as if we had discovered something, as if none of this existed before we saw it.
We were alone.
Alone over the masses with nothing more urgent than to witness the lives—the million-fold lives scrambling through existence below us: the aching muscles of masons in hardhats, the horns and the shouts of those matched in traffic, the steam and heat of ten thousand roiling burners, and the eyes below sweat-streaked brows, flitting across the churning oil and noodles. Somehow we escaped this for a moment.
Somehow the door was open for the roof.
Strange as it sounds, it wasn’t the only time. Still we find the white-plastered door propped open, a tiny bucket of hardened quick-crete settling it ajar. Still we slip through—sunrise and moonrise we rise as steam off the swamps and melt into what silence we find above. We watch the lives below us a moment, see the sun slip again into the glowing sea, witness the lights of man spear their tiny fires into approaching nights.
I can’t help but wonder what Whitman would say; my wife cradles the camera and keeps the shutter snapping. We wander through the views before walking, hand in hand again, back through the door and back to the world below.
Something tells me I should dig up a metaphor from all this. Something else tells me it’s merely a roof of our own. Some other thing tells me if I stare too much I’ll miss its magic.
But any day we may find the door closed, and ourselves without a key.