- Dark Eye Place
St. Agnes Avenue was one of the few wide streets in Bellemere. The others were a thick network of narrow lanes, roads, and alleyways that twisted and turned into each other. Where one street began and another ended was a mystery to all except those who lived there, and the few street signs divided what looked like one road into two, doing very little to help strangers along.
The driver who had picked Royal from the airport drove slowly down the street navigating freshly painted speedbumps. It was almost evening and the combination of the dimming light and the dry season haze made the street and nearby houses blaze gold. She had always loved this time of day. It lasted just a few minutes, this perfect balance of light and dark and gold where everything hung hushed. Lily used to call it the gloaming. She had always loved those old-time words that sounded like they only belonged in poetry. They certainly didn't belong here in this now unfamiliar place with its smooth pavements, new street signs, and too neat ixora bushes.
There were fewer trees than she remembered and in their place were nondescript apartment buildings choked into too-small lots. The new houses looked like they had been transplanted from an American suburban magazine spread, although a few tried to retain the illusion of authenticity with faux dormer windows or pitched roofs. Cars were parked on the left side of the street obeying the signs that instructed parking on alternate days. Music blasted from the open car doors as their owners washed them and let the water from their garden hoses flow into the drains. The streetlights that everyone told the time by when she was a child were not yet on and instead of playing in the street and dodging the occasional car, children played in a tidy park with pretty colored swings, slides, and benches. There was not a corner shop in sight.
It was only the filter of the golden light that shrouded everything in softness that belied the concrete place it had become. If she squinted her eyes just a little, for a second, there were fewer cars and no ugly, squat houses. The concrete receded to reveal green yards and the mango trees grew wild and shaded the pavements. Then she blinked and the light changed. The blues and purples of true dusk chased the gold. The illusion was gone and with it the St. Agnes Street that Royal remembered from her childhood.
"How long since you come home?" The driver's voice startled her and she looked up to see him, cap pulled low almost hiding his eyes, peering at her through his rearview mirror. "You looking lost, like you seeing somebody you think you know but you eh sure."
Royal yawned and rubbed her tired eyes. She didn't feel like talking. "About ten years."
"That's a long time. Your people will be glad to see you." [End Page 69]
Royal didn't answer, and she could feel the driver still looking at her in his rearview mirror as she gazed out the window.
They lapsed into silence again and she wondered briefly at the wisdom of coming directly to the house.
"Are you sure you would not be more comfortable in a hotel for now?" Mr. White, the youngest partner at the firm, had asked her on the phone. "The house is … not exactly as you left it."
"I'll be fine," she had brushed him off. Where else would she stay? She'd maxed out her credit card to pay for the flight. Now she wondered whether she would even recognize the house on this street that looked nothing like the St. Agnes Street that she knew.
She almost didn't notice when the taxi began to slow down, when it stopped. The driver looked at a piece of paper in his hand, looked out of the window, and then looked at Royal in the rearview mirror again. "You sure this is the place?"
Royal got out of the taxi and felt her shirt pocket for the key that he...