16. The Troika of Destiny

The flat of the Writer-in-Residence is easy to spot these days, what with the troika that seems to be permanently parked on a double yellow line outside it. Three black horses stand guard, heads drooping, blowing hot air into the night, and the cabbie is to be found either asleep in his bundle of furs or else furiously chucking pebbles, cashews and stray golf balls up at the small window high above him, in order to remind his fare that time is almost up, and that he is yet to be paid.

In the flat above, in a room lit by crystal chandeliers and decorated with gold-leaf thistles and stucco trout, a Turkish rug has been pushed aside and the novelist from Marseilles and the poet from Dresden are dancing a tango across the parquet floor. The music’s a mix of Roxy Music and Haydn’s Scottish Songs, sampled by the musician-novelist from Hamburg. He’s there behind his deck, swaying, holding headphones to one ear. The ornate French windows with their stained-glass lights have been thrown wide open, and there on the balcony the playwright from Iran is lounging in a hammock, looking out towards the sea. The novelist and short-story writer from Barcelona is busy making cocktails in the kitchen, while the artist-poet-songwriter-novelist from Clermont-Ferrand is laying out a hand of cards on the long wooden kitchen table, muttering all the while to herself: three, seven, Ace; three, seven, Queen.

But there’s no time for all that now as the cabbie loses patience and rushes up the stairs. He bursts in past these dancing ghosts, and throws opens the door of the small room to one side which contains just a single chair and table. The illustrator-writer from the Midlands looks up at him from her blank piece of paper. He pulls out his pocket watch and taps it just once, and then he turns and goes downstairs, back to wait again on the silent street outside.

Stainless steel pot scourer, kitchen sink (pencil and digital colour)