The Wall

Translated by: 
Natascha Bruce

When the developers said they were building a wall to keep out the sound, everybody thought it was a good idea. For the past few years, the expressway had been expanding closer and closer to our houses. It used to be a full sixty metres away, but now had come so close we were practically run over every time we opened our back doors.

One morning, a seven-year-old girl was hit by a car outside her back door. Late that very night, the developers started building a wall along the side of the road.

‘They’re laying bricks straight onto the ground,’ said the aunty next door. From her upstairs window, she watched the workmen spreading a layer of cement, then positioning a line of bricks, then smearing more cement over it.

‘It’s got no foundations,’ she said to her husband, when she came back downstairs. He was watching a football game on television, and when they scored he clapped and cheered with the South American sports presenter, so didn’t hear what his wife was saying.

His wife wasn’t surprised. She went back to watching the workmen building the wall. She thought they looked thin, as though they were too feeble for a job like that. But their wall looked very thick, thick enough to hide a thin person. It grew higher and higher, until it blocked her view. When it was over one storey high, she went to sleep.

The next morning, all the tenants in our row woke to find the wall was finished. It cut off the sunlight, making our backyards and kitchens dark. But everybody agreed that sunlight wasn’t much of a price to pay, considering the girl who’d been killed. The only thing was, the wall blocked our back doors too, and now they opened just a little wider than the sole of an adult’s foot. Wide enough for a cat, or a small dog, but too much of a squeeze for a human.

The next-door aunty wasn’t happy. Wasn’t this the same as having no back door at all? No back door meant no way out. Her husband agreed. ‘It’s like having a mouth but no arsehole,’ is what he said.

But, gradually, they got used to it. There’s nothing a person can’t get used to. It wasn’t too much of a hardship, anyway, not compared to what that girl’s mother was going through. Two days after the incident, the aunty and her husband saw a tiny coffin being carried out through the other family’s gate. A few days later, the mother lit a fire in a big metal dustbin by her front door and burned her daughter’s clothes and schoolbag. The thick white smoke reeked of melting plastic and choked up the whole street.

The aunty couldn’t remember if her husband had ever left the house. He sat glued to the football on the television. The light was gone from their windows, but they carried on as best they could.

The aunty had no kids to take care of and spent most of her time in the kitchen. If she closed the kitchen door, she couldn’t even hear the television. Before the wall, the kitchen had been filled with the roar of cars hurtling along the expressway. After the wall, the noise was muffled, as if trapped inside the capsule of a pill, or like a person humming deep within their chest. After a few days, she was used to it, and didn’t much mind one way or the other.

She did things a little differently after the wall. It blocked out the sunlight, making her eyes too tired to read the newspaper. Instead, she turned her attention to her tiny yard, about the size of a toilet cubicle, just to the side of the kitchen. In the first week, she planted cacti, and later added dumbcanes, bush lilies, hydrangeas and gerbera daisies, filling the little space to bursting. You’d have been impressed, if you’d seen it – big fat leaves springing from such a tiny patch of soil, spreading out so that there was almost nowhere to stand. And it seemed to be because of the wall: the gloom meant the soil stayed moist and the plants flourished. In addition to the plants in her yard, the aunty kept a bowl of goldfish in the kitchen.

Her husband hardly ever came into the kitchen, so he didn’t know she also kept a tabby cat. He’d had a lung infection a while before, and had been wary of dog and cat hair ever since. The cat had snuck in the day after the wall went up. The aunty had been trying to push open the back door, and it had squeezed through that sliver of a gap. She guessed the cat belonged to one of the houses further down the row, and that because her slightly-opened door had barred its way, it decided it might as well come in. It leapt boldly onto a chair, then strolled right into her little yard, where it relieved itself. After that, she couldn’t bring herself to put it back out again. She hugged it close, a fluffy tabby cat, feeling its weight against her, like the weight of the loneliness in the pit of her stomach.


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