In that first, tender light of the morning I sit all too rarely on my balcony. Barely three metres across and a metre deep, it dangles out the front of the first floor of my home – former servant’s quarters for the run-down mansion next door where the hippies now live. And yes, it looks out over the street with its terraces and close living, and I can even check on the condition of the ocean before a swim – at least if I lean out far enough.
Long, long ago was it painted, a cream paint that is more cracks and peels and bare patches than paint itself. The cast-iron railing holds out better against the rust, although rusty patches – from the salt air – shows up in the woodwork where nails once held it all together. The double-glass doors lead into one of the original four rooms of the place, doors we leave open for the sea-breeze on sweltering summer days.
In the eastern corner the wood has rotted away, so I don’t stand there since I like to avoid the sensation of crashing down onto the street. To discourage anyone else from standing there, I have gathered a motley collection of pots – with parsley, chives, mint, some basil grown from a shoot I rescued the other day, and some shiny round chilies that leave so much fire on your fingers it can transfer to keyboard, lips or eyes for hours afterwards. When I water them, the overflow is thankfully sucked up by the wood in its process of decay.
At the western end is a rusted clothes rack for drying during wet weather, a phone jack that might have worked in the nineteenth century and a coil of rope, a former tent rope for an emergency escape over the railing. Here too is a window set into the peeling timber of the side panel. Salt-streaked, it still allows me to look out over the street as it falls away down ‘the hill’, with lillipilli trees lining its decent. I also espy a former navigation tower that looks like small castle (its light would warn ships they had strayed off the narrow channel of the harbour), telegraph wires, other balconies, and of course the people.
The balcony may be minuscule, but it feels expansive. Why? It opens out onto the street, indeed is part of the street – mijn kleine straat, as they would say in the Netherlands. Every word said can be heard by anyone, like me, on a balcony, at a door or window or on the street itself. In the early morning, solo walkers are out early; children are on their way to school or, if it is the holidays, the beach; workers set off for their grind; the neighbour fires up his power tool in the never-ending task of reconstructing his place; a mother calls to a child; lovers engage in a sharp argument; one of the hippies next door enjoys the parenthesis of a lazy cigarette on their balcony.
Instead of smoking, I turn the balcony itself into a parenthesis of life. Chair resting back on the wall, feet up on the cast-iron railing, I can sit there all day. Sometimes I do.