Reading on a windowsill is not just sitting on a windowsill with your nose in a book. Since the beginning, it’s meant something more to me. The image of some ideal life I wanted to achieve, a symbol of being luxuriously lazy, of having an infinite amount of time, of being young enough or old enough to be free from real life.
To read on a windowsill in the early morning, or in the middle of the afternoon, or right in the thick of twilight meant I had made it, if making it could be defined by an abundance of free time, and high ceilings, and windows with something to actually see out of them.
My new apartment is on the ground floor so when I sit at my desk, I hear people walking by all the time. Because of the way the shutters work, no one can see me while I sit there but the window still provides a portal to the outside world while I am stuck inside. I often catch snippets of conversation, usually just one line before the footsteps fade and the voices do too. “I’m so bad at expressing myself especially when I’m angry,” said someone. “I’m so proud of you,” said someone else and “It’s so spiritually nice, you just connect with yourself again” said another.
People peer into windows just as much as they peer out of them. And windows want to be looked at. We strategically place Christmas trees in front of windows. We pull back our curtains. We put up posters or flags or coloured light bulbs to invite people to look all the more. Look at that glowing window, that warm home, that beautiful kitchen, that cute cat, those hanging plants.
Lonely people look into windows and see silhouettes of large groups framed in rectangular shapes, drinks in hand. Cold people look into windows and see yellow-lit rooms that are definitely warm. Busybodies stare in or out of windows and wonder what their neighbours are up to. I’ve looked into windows and felt or done all these things too.
When I walk down the streets, I see people smoking or sunbathing out of windows. They hang out of them, putting themselves on display. The other morning, when I was sitting in the garden, a woman a few floors up drew back the curtain and stood there, doing nothing but staring out at the world for several minutes. Back in March, when I was walking through Morningside, I looked into a window and saw an old lady watching Friends.
I know nothing about these people apart from the short fragments I glimpse of their lives but even just a short fragment is enough to make up a whole story, or feel less alone, or decide that people are just people and there’s really nothing to them. And when people look at me, reading on a windowsill, maybe they think that too.