Climb climb climb. Up wide stairs littered with juice cartons and paper plates. Past corridors full of sound and laughter that bounce carelessly off the walls. Away from the white hospital lights, the fierce heat trapped in so many rooms. Up up and away. A cooler, dimmer place. Films of dust attached to the floors here. A creaky wooden door, padlocked clumsily, a substantial rent at its lower end. Get down on hands and knees and work my way through the splinters, stomach pressed flat, holding breath. A scratch along the shin, a new tear in the skirt, and I'm through. Get up. Breathe.
There's soft afternoon light here. Roofs fall away on every side from where we're standing. A low parapet all around just right for tightrope walking. Barred clouds move slowly overhead, filtering light and shadow over the compound. A wistful breeze purses its lips and whistles in your ear.
I'm not alone. A pigeon sits in its own corner on the parapet, mumbling itself to sleep. A sparrow explores a flowerpot with cockheaded curiosity- Hey, what's that? A myna watches us from the widespreading krishnachura a few metres away. A crow perches on the highest point available and busily surveys the area. Nearby there is the chatter of starlings, a gleam of bright green as a parrot swoops by. Hardly aware of your presence, but comforting all the same.
I lean against the parapet and look 0ut across the compound. An expanse of square patchwork roofs, white marble columns and all touched gently by a kinder sun. Far away there is a jagged city skyline, a paper cutout in the distance. Somewhere far below there are chairs scraping and the halfhearted remains of summer vacations. Somewhere there are colours that hurt the eye and the monotone of voices. Not here. Here there are birdcalls. Clean empty air. Time on your hands. And freedom high above in a perfect blue sky.
Down below a bell begins to ring. It rings and rings as doors are slammed and footsteps thunder down passages. There is a brief flurry of wings, and the birds take off as one, wheel over the roof, the lone krishnachura, the grey tarmac. They rise higher and higher, circle the bare field and fly away. I watch as they disperse, flying solo, growing fainter and fainter along the skyline. Click my heels sadly lacking in ruby slippers and wish- wish- wish that I could go too.