From the grounds of Kennington Park, Jebo could see the top eight floors of Shellington House cast against the late afternoon sun. It would take careful looking to pick out his room on the twelfth floor. He stared hard but with no luck. Except for the pair of balconies on either side of each floor, there were no clear demarcations between the flats. To stare was a task. Squinting didn’t help. He recalled Richard Serra’s phrase with unusual clarity: The act of seeing, and the concentration of seeing, takes effort.
While at the library that afternoon, Jebo had scoffed when he read the phrase in Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years, a catalogue of an exhibition of the sculptor’s oeuvre. Yet he memorized it, drawn to the pithiness of the phrase. If anyone had told him a day before that a square slab of weatherproof steel jutting off the ground was indeed a sculpture, he would nod his assent but quietly wonder what in fact made it so.
Jebo zoomed in with his phone camera and took a photo. As he looked closely, the tall trees bordering the park fence obscured the first seven floors of Shellington House. The big grey building now jutted into the skies. The top and left-side facade formed a right angle in the picture while blue skies and grey clouds occupied the left panel. The grey building suggested weighted mass and solidity while the skies pointed to an unbound freedom. The image of a bird caught in mid-flight emphasised this. Looking is easy, thought Jebo.
Jebo saved the image under a file he labelled “Brixton,” as he did many images of the places that held some significance for him: Bamboo, the Indian restaurant where he and Ashleigh had their first date; Brixton Recreation Centre where he used to play scrimmage basketball; Pret a Manger and Costa, the coffee shops next to Brixton Tube Station he frequented; and Bookmongers, the citadel of independent bookshops he visited every weekend in his first months in London. All these were effectively the past. His flight to Nigeria was booked for September 31. Surely, he wouldn’t be allowed back into the UK, having exceeded his visa limit by fifteen years.
Jebo had not planned to save a photo of Shellington House. The only images he ever took of where he lived were of his bedrooms. He had moved around London so much in search of cheaper rents or larger rooms or less sadistic landlords and landladies. Thankfully Mrs. Abimbola gave him no trouble. If anything, she was hard to reach the few times he called to complain about Baba Sodiq, the old man who kept his door open when he wanked.
Baba Sodiq’s room, on the ground floor, was converted from a living room, and opposite the kitchen. Upstairs were Jebo, Kwarsi and Mr. Carlos’s rooms, all close to the only bathroom and toilet in the house. Baba Sodiq’s refusal to clean the bathroom because Mrs. Abimbola, his relative, was the landlady annoyed Bako.
His first room in London was the same size as the one in Shellington House, which was to be his last. The rent then was 350 pounds, paid for by his first job as an apprentice painter-decorator. Fifteen years later, at the end of his London adventure, the size of his room was no different. The 450 pound rent he now paid was the cheapest he could find for a room in Brixton, or anywhere in London for that matter. Jebo was determined not to see it as a failure, hard as he tried.
He recounted his many successes to boost his mood. He’d worked menial jobs to see two siblings through university in Nigeria. He’d amassed a portfolio of culture writing enough to win a partial scholarship to a top art and design school in the US. A new phase of his life was dawning. The next few years ought to be brilliant.
Jebo tried again to single out his window on Shellington House. There was some thrill in attempting to see his past from the grounds of Kennington Park. What he would discern from it was dark to him.