We heft our bags through two sets of heavy wrought iron doors, and find ourselves in the half-light of a stairwell. It smells of ancient spices, dirt. Something sweet and rotten.
The floor is covered in cracked terracotta tiles.
The ancient elevator does not come to our call, so we shoulder our luggage and hike five flights of once-were-green carpeted stairs. Past broken windows, and rotten skirting boards, and scuffed grey-beige stucco walls, and corridor corners cataloging one hundred years of city dust.
The key is inside the milk door, our instructions say.
We dump our bags, and exchange glances.
Cigarette burns on cracked linoleum. Faceted plastic taps leaking into peach faux-marble basins. Bent venetian blinds. A rusty tub. Peeling paint. Windows frosted with grit.
Smoke and fermented fish.
And a wince-inducing price.
The next morning we yank open the sash windows and sit, eating breakfast, as the city delivers to us her improvisation.
Jackhammers. Drills. Trolley buses and cars and motorbikes. Sirens. Voices. The emptying of a dumpster filled with bottles.
My hands wrap around tea-heat in a cracked souvenir mug.
Fire Department, City of New York.
Somewhere below us, a man sings blues. He breaks his song with greetings. How-are-ya-alright? Ok! Ok-then! He picks up his tune again, trails it down the street.
To traffic and dumpsters and horns and drills. To voices and blues and alright? Ok! Ok-then!
I stare blank-eyed at a neighbouring balcony. Trying to fully wake. And above a potted plant, catch movement.
A pair of hummingbirds.
Five stories up.
Tiny green wings.