The Girl Behind the Yellow Curtain – a short story

Faiyaz gently shook his 0.3 rapidiograph pen over blotting paper. He listened as he shook, and felt a flutter of satisfaction when he heard a faint rattle. It was the pen’s heartbeat telling him that the ink was moist and should flow. He dampened the tip of the long thin pen point with his tongue. He tested it on a piece of mylar taped to the side of his drawing. No ink flowed. He shook again, and a small blot of ink appeared on his blotting paper. He tested the pen again on the mylar where he drew a perfect black line. It was seven-thirty a.m. and his day had begun. Normally Faiyaz arrived late, after ten, but today he was early because he had had to accompany his mother to Victoria Station to put her on a train to the airport to begin her trip back to India. He worried about her departure for they had argued on the platform; she anxious to find him a suitable wife; and he, determined to become British and find his own life companion.

He was immaculately dressed and had already donned his architect’s smock to protect his clothes. His thick dark hair was slicked back and the gleaming white of his shirt contrasted handsomely with his dark skin. His posture was good, and he sat with a perfectly straight back on a high stool. Before him was a ponderous table on which he had his drawing board. He had taped a sheet of pale green linoleum onto the board to create a smooth surface for his mylar drawing. His T-square traveled up the left-hand side of the board. He had taped the underside of it so that it was slightly raised above the mylar. His right angle set-square rested on the T-square. His drawing, a floor plan for a new bakery, was securely attached to the drawing board with removable tape. He held the pen at ninety degrees to the board and started to draft. He began at the top of the sheet so that he could work down without smudging his work. Soon he decided that he needed to indicate brick in section by rendering the walls. He carefully wiped his 0.3 on the blotting paper and put on its cap with its identifying green halo. He put it in his drawing box which he brought with him to work every day and took out his 00 rapidiograph. The 00, with its fine line, was trouble because the ink shaft was so thin that it frequently became clogged. Faiyaz had cleaned it the previous day, washing it in cold water. He had been careful not to fully remove the fine wire which passed down the delivery nib as the wire was so fragile that it tended to get bent, causing the pen to malfunction and necessitating a costly replacement. On this day Faiyaz was lucky, for the 00 began to work after a few shakes. He drew in the brick with pairs of parallel lines at forty-five degrees to the wall. He liked the resultant clarity which his work gave the drawing.

The office in which Faiyaz worked was a converted Georgian row house on a street leading into Russell Square in London. The main façade, including the office which Faiyaz shared with two other architects, looked out to similar Georgian houses across the street. The house opposite was owned by London University and was scheduled for demolition but the University had converted it into a student rooming house while they developed plans for the new building. Faiyaz’s desk was in front of a tall window which looked like a twin to the one in the building opposite. When the yellow curtains were open and lights were on he could see into the student’s room. See her colorful bedspread and red throw rug; even see her small drawing board and desk. He vaguely felt an affiliation and wondered if she might be an interior design or architectural student.

This morning he watched idly out of the window each time that he tested his pen over the blotting paper. He enjoyed the solitude of the office and the gathering daylight outside. At eight a.m. he watched the room opposite come to life. The yellow curtains opened and a light illuminated the room like a stage set. The student began to undress. She was slender and, to Faiyaz’s peeping eye, very beautiful. He watched her cross her arms and lift her nightie over her head. As the garment passed upwards, he saw her skimpy knickers and her thin, otherwise naked, white body. He watched, mesmerized as she put on her day clothes. His drawing was forgotten, his full attention was on her room. He continued his stare when she left the room. He stood up so that he could to watch her leave, and caught a glimpse of her as she walked up the street toward the University.

By the time that Faiyaz’s colleagues arrived with their coffees and cheery ‘good mornings,’ Faiyaz had regained his composure and was calmly drawing a brick detail in the border of his floor plan. He grunted something about the mornings being the best time of the day, and continued to draw. Now Faiyaz, the previously pathologically late worker, always made it to the office by eight. He was glad that no one else came in so early so that he could sit and watch undisturbed. He invested in a small pair of opera glasses which he carried in his briefcase along with his rapidiograph pens. His boss, who occupied the room above, saw Faiyaz’s change in routine and resultant increased productivity and promoted him with a salary increase. He offered Faiyaz a private office on the top floor, but Faiyaz refused, saying that he preferred to work with the team.

Life might have continued in this manner, except life is not static and Faiyaz became increasingly obsessed by the girl in the room opposite. Each morning his first act was to look at the yellow curtains; if they were closed he knew that she was inside and that soon they would open to display the daily routine which he watched with increased agitation. He knew that he had to talk to her, to touch her, perhaps to join her on the stage behind the yellow curtains. When he received his mother’s letter in which she laid out her plans for his nuptial, he knew what he had to do.

He decided to take action one Friday evening. He went to the florist at the underground station and bought flowers. He waited until his colleagues had gone home and the girl was in her room. It was a dark evening and the yellow curtains were closed. He walked across the street, mounted the steps and rang the doorbell labeled as serving the first floor. Soon he heard someone tripping down the stairs and the door opened. It was she. He stepped back, almost stumbling down the steps up to the door. He clutched his flowers and proffered them.
“You are the girl with the yellow curtains,” he stammered. She nodded, speechless.
“My name is Faiyaz; I work in the building across the street.” He turned and pointed to his office. “My office is that one right there. That’s my window, facing yours.” Again she nodded with a bewildered look on her face.

“So? What do you want?” she asked. Her voice was soft and gentle. Immediately he loved its cadence.
“You see, I watch. I see you rise in the morning…” Faiyaz never finished his sentence, for the girl’s face reddened, her hands trembled, and she quietly shut the door in his face. He could hear her crying as she walked up the stairs, saw the light illuminate the yellow curtains. He waited outside a long time and then propped the flowers on her doorstep and retreated to the underground.

Faiyaz didn’t go home. Next to the underground station was The Imperial Hotel with its twenty-four-hour Turkish Baths. He spent the next twelve hours in the baths. He took the first morning train home and slept all day. On Monday he was back at his drawing board, shaking his rapidiograph and watching. The yellow curtains were drawn but when the light went on at eight they remained closed. Faiyaz shut his eyes and imagined what he couldn’t see. He knew that the show was over. His brief excursion into a forbidden world was ended. He gradually sank back into his old routine, his productivity fell, and the next summer he went back to India to the bride that his mother had selected for him.

5 thoughts on “The Girl Behind the Yellow Curtain – a short story

    • Thank you Ian. I have only been to India once – what a country! We were there just before the Monsoon and so you story about the retreat to the hills was especially evoctaive.

  1. Another great story. Keep them rolling Jane! I like the underexplained choice to work with the team and the pathos of not quite being able to realise a fantasy.

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