By Alejandro De La Garza
“May I help you?” Lakesha didn’t know what to think of the young woman just standing outside the building. She looked lost.
“I’m sorry,” the young woman finally said. “I’m Miranda.”
“Oh!” shouted Lakesha, her head rolling back. She let out a boisterous laugh, then quickly put her hand over her mouth. She had the habit of laughing too loudly; a result, she always said, of growing up in a large family where everyone talked at once. She shook Miranda’s hand. “I’m Lakesha.”
“Glad to meet you finally.”
“Absolutely!” Miranda had called just this morning, wanting to take a tour of the building. Lakesha thought she could make another sale, on a Friday of all days! Fridays had been slow, which allowed her to catch up on paperwork. Units in the building were selling faster than expected.
It stood only five stories; an 80-year-old structure that had seen better days until developers bought it. Actually, the entire neighborhood had seen better days. But, gentrification efforts had peeled away the grime and revealed a unique character. It was happening all over the city; new money breathing life into older areas.
Lakesha liked this particular building more than most others where she’d set up shop previously. It had its own personality; its own distinct nature. Just walking into it made her feel it was alive long before the carpenters and plumbers had rampaged through it. Her desk in the leasing office sat directly beside a large window. She just happened to glance up, for no reason, and spot Miranda.
She was petite; her mocha brown hair cascading gently to her shoulders; dark green eyes that reminded Lakesha of a Margaret Keane painting.
“I just wanted to take a look around the building, if that’s alright,” Miranda said, her hands clasped together; a small red leather purse mired between them.
Lakesha thought the purse looked outdated. In fact, everything about Miranda looked outdated, from the hair with the slight bump on top (á la Jackie Onassis) to the black shoes with pointed toes and 3-inch spiked heels. But, she wasn’t a fashion designer; she was a real estate agent and she’d learned long ago never to underestimate someone by how they dressed. Her own brother got nasty looks when he’d walked into a luxury car dealership several years ago wearing jeans and a ball cap. “Okay!” Lakesha beamed. “Absolutely!” she added, using one of her favorite words. Some of her colleagues deplored that, but she didn’t care. Real estate, especially in this city, commanded outsized descriptions.
They stepped past the office and into the main lobby. The old tile floors had been ripped out and replaced with terracotta. One designer had proposed marble; saying it would give the apartment building more of an upscale feeling. But, the developers insisted on terracotta. Lakesha was thankful for that. The terracotta made the building stand out from others she’d seen; a solitary attribute that simply declared, ‘I’m different.’
“It was built in the late 1920s,” Lakesha said. “They wanted to tear it down – the city, that is. But, the property management company talked them out of it. Thank God, huh!”
“Yes,” Miranda replied quietly. “That would be a shame.”
“Oh, absolutely! I hate to see that happen.”
“Yes, me, too.” She glanced down for a few seconds, but then, turned her eyes to the vaulted ceiling. “I just wanted to see it one more time.”
“Oh – okay. I only have four units left – starting at ninety thousand.”
“We bought the property next door and built that parking garage. I know that may seem a bit much for a 5-story building. But, we want to make all our residents comfortable.”
“I can show you one of the units we still have – if you’d like.”
“Oh, yes, of course. That would be nice. I really appreciate you taking me on such short notice.”
“Oh, absolutely! No problem! Give me just –” She started to head back to the office, when she realized she was holding her large bundle of keys. It surprised her for a second. “Ah! Let’s try this one, on the fourth floor. The elevators are over here. Or would you rather take the stairs?”
“No, the elevator is fine.
“You know, I just can’t keep my nails even,” Lakesha noted, as the elevator hummed. She held out her left hand, crimson nails jutting from each finger. “I don’t know why.”
Miranda chuckled. “Me neither.”
“I like your shoes.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“They look like a pair my mother used to have.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! That was so rude of me to put it like that.”
Miranda chuckled. “No, that’s okay. No offense.”
The elevator stopped, and Lakesha allowed Miranda to exit first. “Okay, this unit actually needs just a few touch-ups,” she said, proceeding down the hall. “The kitchen still has –” She stopped.
They were on the fifth floor.
“Wait a minute,” muttered Lakesha.
Miranda looked unperturbed.
“I’m sorry. I pushed the wrong button.”
“That’s okay. I just wanted to see it one last time.”
“Well – oh!” She jangled the keys. “There’s a unit up here I can show you anyway. They’re all the same size.”
The unit sat at the end of the hallway. The late afternoon sun floated in through a large set of double doors, directly across from the entrance. The light wound its way through the branches of a gigantic oak tree just outside the building.
“Oh, how lovely,” Miranda said, as she stepped into the front room.
“Everything is lovely about this place! It’s an old building, but it has such a unique charm.”
“They all have so much floor space. Notice how the living area opens up into the dining area, without seeming crowded. Even with furniture, you’ll still have plenty of room to move around. And, if you’ll look over here” – she headed towards the kitchen – “you can see how –” She stopped.
Miranda had moved towards the double doors that led onto the balcony. The sunlight swallowed her tiny frame.
“Uh – those doors are new,” Lakesha finally said. “So, are those patios.”
“Oh – I figured.”
“Yes, they just knocked out that part of the wall and then added the balconies.”
Miranda remained silent, still facing the doors.
Lakesha felt cold for a second. “Let me show you the bedrooms.”
Miranda wheeled around. “Okay.”
The master bedroom boasted two windows, a large walk-in closet and its own bathroom; two slightly smaller bedrooms each had one window. Another bathroom sat between the two smaller bedrooms, just off the main room. Sunlight wafted in through each bedroom window unimposingly; almost beckoning. And, as she entered every bedroom, Miranda ambled to the windows – and just stood there.
Lakesha crossed her arms, as they lingered in the last bedroom, wondering what drew Miranda to the windows. The young woman with the outdated hairstyle and shoes seemed to have no interest in any other feature of the rooms. Lakesha glanced around and felt another slight chill.
It then dawned on Lakesha that she’d never asked Miranda for her driver’s license and made her sign in at the leasing office. Management rules required both. “Uh – I can show you the other amenities. We have a workout center in the basement and a mail drop.”
“That’s okay,” Miranda finally said, turning around with a smile. “I just wanted to see it one last time. I don’t want to take up anymore of your day. I really appreciate you taking me on such short notice.”
“Oh, like I said, no problem! Let’s go back to the office, shall we?”
“There’s a 10% deposit security requirement,” Lakesha stated, once back at her desk.
“Oh, no. That won’t be necessary.”
“I just wanted to see it one last time – before I go.”
Lakesha’s brow crinkled, almost involuntarily. “One last time? What does that mean?”
Miranda’s eyes dropped to the floor; looking especially sad.
Lakesha suddenly felt cold again.
“Well………………………………………………………this is where I died.”