Each morning on his way to work and every evening on his way home, he would have to pass a building that had been vacant for as many decades as he could remember. He felt dwarfed under its shadow, draped from high over the gaunt street. No matter what the time of year, the building was tall enough to enshroud both sides of the street in deep shade. In more fortunate locations, glittering window glass would send a thousand shafts of light bouncing down the walls like pennies dropped into a well, but in that place, the empty blackness of the window sockets seemed to exhale darkness.
The block was long and threatening, the building deserted except by occasional squatters whose presences he inferred by furtive movements behind those empty openings and far-off shrieks from deep inside, too faint to be understood. Even after he had entered his place of employment, the shadow leaned on him like a stone while he worked, despite the vivid posters urging him to greater efforts for the homeland’s glory. The darkness pressed down on his feeble indulgences at mealtimes, when he attempted to converse with his fellow workers or his wife. At night, he had bad dreams that he preferred not to remember.
One day, he was sent home early, before noon: “a telegram,” they said. “An emergency—your wife will want you by her side.” And even at that pinnacle of the sun’s ascent, the passage was still in darkness. It was then he realized he would never leave that pursuing gloom.
Whenever she saw the building and its shadow, up until his last letter came, she would smile and think of him. There on its corner was the spot where they had met: it was foggy that day, and he had run into her in the near-twilight and made her drop her bags. One of the melons had rolled into a sewer opening and been lost; when he promised to get her another, she had not believed him, but there he was the next day, gleeful as a puppy, with three sweet melons and a bottle of wine. That sheltered doorway was where they had first kissed, the dark windows looking down like the deep-set eyes of a kindly grandmother. Then, finally, he had shown her the cubbyhole back inside the maze of abandoned offices where he kept a studio with a comfortable, old sofa and a pile of warm blankets. She had never asked about his parents.
And even though he had been sent to another country, from where news rarely came—and none of it good, despite their claims of glory—whenever she entered that cool tunnel, like a mossy path through a grove of old trees, where the building’s shade hung benevolently over the street, she felt again his coat draped over her shoulders, his mouth upon her lips, his arms around her.