Nelly lay on the bed smoking a cigarette. She stared at the rings of smoke as they rose towards the ceiling with its damp spots, from where the water sometimes seeped through in during the monsoon months. She turned and adjusted to a more comfortable position on the threadbare rug that covered the worn out mattress of the rickety bed. She looked around at the yellowish walls, so covered with filth and soot that no one would ever know what colours they’d been originally. Nelly law awake listening to the sounds of London on a Sunday morning. There were sparrows chirping in the gutter outside her room and she smiled wistfully at the predicament of mankind if such a beautiful thing of nature was being made to lived in the gutters. She heard the buses and cabs go by, and the chimney sweepers, and milk maids clamour during the busiest hours of the day. But she lay there and smoked, letting it all sink. The sound of horse drawn carriages on cobbled stone streets, the soft sound of the breeze as it unsuccessfully tried to lift the patchy blue curtains; Nelly could hear through the walls, some couple in the next room was arguing and throwing things and screaming. Another couple in the next room was fucking, but there was screaming there too. She seemed to be on an oasis of silence amidst much screaming all around her.
She remembered Ireland, so green, her mother used to say that she saw Ireland in her eyes. They flashed for a moment as she remembered riding a horse to the edge of the cliff with her father close behind, a summer evening in a glade with Sean’s lips crushing hers, his body pressing her down on the soft grass. There were fireflies in the valley that day, she remembered. Later she sat there circled by his arms, her own, outstretched, willing a firefly to sit on her palm and twinkle slowly like the stars. Nelly remembered going to church with her mother on Sundays with a bright red ribbon tying her hair in a knot and a pearly white dress that her father bought for the Sunday church. After that they’d go down to the pub and her father would have a beer, while she a slice of the best shepherd’s pie; it was always like that for her till her father died. She was eighteen.
She moved to London soon after. She was twenty one now. King’s Cross pub was her home and she was a barmaid. She also sang there on Friday nights about the Irish glades and the glorious war and her voice broke the hearts of every drunk who stayed back way past the last call. Every night she went to the dingy apartment over the pub. Sometimes she wished she was back in Ballybough— the sound of the toilet flushing brought her back to the present. She looked at the bedside table where a stack of twenty pound notes were rolled up. Nelly counted two hundred. She mentally prepared herself for what was to come next. As the man stood against the framework of the bathroom door slowly pulling down his trousers, Nelly heard a procession going past her window, celebrating the first day of the new year. For some the new year didn’t usher in any changes.
Photography By: Kanika Narang