Imogen Porter – Street Lights

They say the average person living in a small-to-medium populated city will spend about two and a half days of their lives waiting at a traffic light. I don’t know why I always think about this, but it keeps me up at night. Two and a half days? I mean, I’m an avid jay walker, so I suppose I could shave an afternoon off that, but still, who the hell wants to be spending that amount of time at a traffic light? From home to town, to and from uni and the drunken nights walking home when I make sure the green walking man lights up before I put a floppy foot on the road.

I have a little routine for when I walk around town, for whatever reason. I put in my headphones, turn up my favourite song until I reach the right volume – loud enough so that I can really get into the song, but not so loud that it will make my ears hurt. The chosen song is usually Listen to the Music by the Doobie Brothers. This song, and my long legs, tends to get me to my destination faster than I thought.

This particular night, I’d had a few drinks at a friend’s twenty-first in town. Josh was walking through town to his flat from the party, but we had parted directions as he walks home down Ghuznee Street. I was perfectly safe to walk home though, despite the amount I had had to drink. It had been a particularly hard week. I left the bar and headed in the direction of home, where my big double bed with fresh, crisp winter sheets was waiting for me. I was on the corner of Vivian and Cuba, watching for the red man to turn green; with the Doobie Brothers blasting, I didn’t hear him the first couple of times he called my name. Then I heard an eerily familiar, muffled voice over my music, but it was a Friday night, and there were hundreds of loud, drunken people in central town, so I didn’t think too much about it. I realised the muffled voice was getting louder and closer. Fast. I turned down my music out of curiosity, and that was the first time I heard him say my name in four years and seven months. I didn’t even believe it at first, I thought I was dreaming.


I felt a tapping on my shoulder, and I spun around.


His sharp, masculine, perfectly husky voice reverberated in my ears, raised the hairs on the back of my neck and then travelled down my spine. He was panting and catching his breath. He had obviously run to catch up. I didn’t know what to say. Who did he think he was? Why was he here? He wasn’t meant to be here! I felt my lips shake as I ground my teeth and bit my gums. I stood in disbelief. Nearly five years later and I still wasn’t ready for this. At all.

‘What are you doing here, Cisco?’ I managed to finally get out. It might have been a bit shaky, but it was something. ‘You’re not meant to be here.’

I heard the buzzing of the green man start, and the bustle of people crossing the street, but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think, let alone put one foot in front of another without drunkenly falling face first onto the concrete road.

‘I was just passing through, came home to see family and catch up with Josh and stuff. You know how it is! How have you been? It’s been a long time, Riz.’

Why the hell didn’t Josh tell me he was back in town? It’s not exactly something you just leave out if you’re a close friend of mine, which Josh was. Unfortunately, he was also close with Cisco.

People say that when you’re in an intense situation, thoughts rush through your head. But this was so different. I couldn’t think of a single word to say. My mind went completely blank. I was stunned, which never happens to me. I’m strong, I’m independent, but right at this moment I couldn’t feel more pathetic and out of control. I could feel my pulse in places I’d never felt it before. In my earlobes and in my fingertips, mixed with a wobble in my knees and a shaking from deep within my core.

‘But you’re not meant to be here.’ I was getting angrier and angrier, though I tried not to show it. I must have been doing a pretty hopeless job because I saw a look of surprise in his eyes.

‘Woah, wait, what’s wrong? Are you mad at me?’

Oh, the bastard. As if he didn’t know.

‘Are you joking?’ I was starting to sound more and more like my mother when she would start fights with my dad. I always hoped I wouldn’t end up like her.

‘What do you mean?’ He was looking genuinely puzzled, and I was looking like I was about to blow up.

‘Look, Cisco, I don’t have time for this crap. You left some stuff at our—’ I stopped. Inhaled. Exhaled. ‘My house, that’s been lying around for years. I’ll give it to Josh to pass on to you. Thinking about it now, I don’t know why I didn’t just chuck it the fuck out.’ Wow. I was amazed. Minus the one little hiccup, I was actually formulating sentences without tripping over my words and looking like a stunned possum. With this great feat I congratulated myself on the inside and changed my stance to make it look like I was bored. Like running into him was no big deal.

‘There’s no need for that. I could come and pick it up tomorrow? I’m free and was actually thinking about getting in touch with you anyway to see if you wanted to hang out. Go up to our old spot or something. For old time’s sake.’

Jesus, I wanted to punch him in the face. His chiselled, amazing, olive-skinned face. I’d dreamed about that face almost as much as I had had nightmares about it.

I sighed, feeling around in my handbag for my cigarettes. They had fallen out of the packet and trickled all through my bag to the bottom, each one crushed by the weight of my overdue library book and the rest of a cheap bottle of white wine I was planning to drink at home. I swore under my breath and looked around helplessly. Cisco pulled a cigarette out of his Lucky Strike pack in the breast pocket of his denim jacket. Waving it in front of my face just like he used to when I’d run out and couldn’t afford any more, and he’d tease me with his freshly bought pack. I’d laugh and chase him round our apartment until he gave me one. I took his offer, snatched it out of his hand and placed it between my teeth. While I started fumbling around in my bag for my lighter, he pulled out his Zippo and lit it for me.

I had given him that Zippo for his eighteenth birthday. It had cost me two weeks’ worth of minimum-wage work, the job I had had at the time which was waitressing at a little cafe on the corner of Kent and Courtenay. I had both our initials engraved on one side, RZ&CB. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t lost it, he was always losing things. I took a slow drag of the cigarette and exhaled in his face.

After a while of silence and looking right into each other’s eyes, I realised I couldn’t talk any more. I couldn’t do anything but smoke and think back to our times together. The day we met, the day we moved in together, the day he left. Thankfully, he finally spoke again and broke the silence.

‘So? What do you think?’ He reached for my free hand, ‘I’ve missed you.’

I pulled my hand away and put it in my jacket pocket. Safe and out of reach of his touch.

‘I think that that is a terrible idea, C. You know I can’t do that. I’ve changed since you left.’

‘Well maybe it could be a good opportunity to sort things out, you know? Get back to just you and me?’

‘No,’ I pushed the button for the red man to show up at the lights. ‘I can’t.’

‘Jesus, Riz. Don’t leave me high and dry on the street. Don’t go home. I came back to say I’m sorry. To fix things.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘Oh c’mon, you’re killing me here. Tell me what you want me to say.’

‘Just shut up, Cisco, I don’t care.’

I turned my back and put my headphones into my ears and blasted the Doobie Brothers. I could hear his muffled tones again, trying to get my attention, but this time I didn’t turn around. I couldn’t. Looking up at the street lights waiting for the traffic to slow and tears in my eyes, I realised Cisco’s Lucky Strike had burned to the butt and charred my fingertips. I watched a blurry red man switch to blurry green one and made my way home.

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