A fictionalised short story based around MAIA's £2.5million radical land project ABUELOS that will be built in Ladywood, Birmingham. This short story was written as my artist offering for MAIA's IMAGINATION SZN Residency that took place at YARD in May 2021. It contains many of the discussions, meditations, ideas and collaborative dreamwork that was imagined by all of the artists and our hosts during our three-day residency.
Samantha set her backpack down at the foot of the first flight of steps, straining her neck as she counted five more rows stretching up towards the building's entrance. A large curved yellow door sat on top of the hill of red bricks like a half-sun. To the left, she noted a long slide – the same shade as the door – and chuckled. It didn't seem out of place, even though it could have easily felt more at home in a fairground. Looking down the length of the burnt red building with its arching glass windows, she could already sense a different type of energy buzzing inside ABUELOS; there was an air of boldness that seemed to outline it, a certain invisible feeling that felt like a mixture of why not and just because.
Who creates a fifty-foot slide to get down five flights of stairs? Samantha chuckled to herself, pressing down the assistance button on the left pillar of the steps with her knuckle. She rested her aching forearm on the wheel of her chair as a voice began to crackle through the intercom.
'Hey!' it beamed through the silver hatched circle and Samantha found herself smiling back involuntarily at its warmth.
'Hi! I'm Samantha and I'm staying with ABUELOS under the erm, 'Mentor' Agreement? I've been in touch with Amber? I've come from Highgate.' She wiped her hands on her yellow overalls as she spoke, wrapping a stray black lock back into her bun.
'Ah! So good to finally hear your voice, Samantha, I'm Amber! I'll come down to grab you now in that elevator to your right – look out for yellow overalls!'
Samantha hoisted her bag into her lap and began to wheel herself towards the elevator. She squinted at the sun which was refracting light through the panes of its multi-coloured glass. The afternoon pulsed with heat and the hard pavement felt good against her wheels. She revelled in the kaleidoscope of colours that painted the floor as the lift slowly descended. Before she could reach the colourful glass doors, they opened and a short Black person strode out towards her with one hand nestled deep into a sunny-coloured pocket and the other waving excitedly in the air. Their hair was a medium length fro swept back and up into a half-puff. It was dyed half and half; one side burnt orange and the other mint green. Samantha studied the dark face that paced towards her, taking in the soft curve of a wide flat nose, an electric smile and deep sideburns that were slicked into crescents and adorned the sides of their high cheekbones. Amber’s iridescent green fingernails caught the sun as they picked up their arm to shield their eyes. They jaunted closer and closer until they could have kicked the tips of her Converse with their white Air Force Max 1's.
'Do you do hugs?' Amber asked with a wide smile.
'Hmm, not usually, but today I seem to be in the mood, so... yes?'
You sure?' they teased leaning back with their arms open.
Samantha rolled her eyes and opened her arms as Amber laughed and bent to hug her. They smelled like paint and burnt sugar – their afro tickling Samantha’s ear as they straightened.
'Need any help?' Amber asked, pointing down at Samantha's bag.
'Nah I got it,' Samantha nodded, hoisting the backpack further up her lap with both arms and cruising towards the elevator beside them. Amber pressed the green button and the tall elevator doors glided open. As they ascended Samantha took in the scale of the red brick building; she liked the fact that it still had its industrial factory skeleton, it looked old but proud, like it wasn't ashamed of its past like it wasn't concerned with trying to be some 'urban' self-optimised version of itself. And despite its old grey tile roof, ABUELOS felt new; the smell of fresh wood lingered in the air as the rainbow elevator carried them up beside a redbrick wall scaled with twining ivy. Samantha was already itching to sketch the brickwork patterns above the windows, they were 18th-century designs that only a few buildings left in Brum still had. Her index finger itched with indecision as the lift hummed upwards – she toyed with the idea of quickly dipping into her side-satchel– just to catch an outline, but as her hand hovered above the leather latch, the glass doors finally pinged open.
Amber led her into a wide octagonal vestibule with a medium-high ceiling and deep emerald walls. The dark green hugged the room into feeling more intimate than it was. Four large pillars supported a low upper balcony dotted with large-leafed plants where several people were unfurled across beanbags, futons, and hammocks. Samantha smiled as she noted a lift to it at the base of a pillar. Against four on the walls, and sandwiched between each pillar, were ceiling to floor arched stained glass window with panelled artwork. The other four walls had arched doorless corridors burrowed into them that lead deeper into the building. As she scanned the vestibule, Samantha found herself unconsciously looking around for a reception desk, but after sweeping the space it made perfect sense that there wasn't one. This was nothing like the ‘urban’ art hotel she had been imagining, and she quietly understood why there were no pictures of this room online. It felt tucked away like a grandparent’s living room; the floor was carpeted and in the centre lay a giant gold and red Persian rug that glowed under the domed sky roof. The afternoon sun cast a warm light into the darker edges of the room and the room had a deeply old sense of rest that lingered in the air, accompanied by the faint sounds of scribbling pens and softly leaked headphone music. All but one of the eight wide walls were green, the closest wall to them was crimson, and it boasted a long thin door painted the same shade of deep red. It was framed by locker doors in various shapes and sizes, some with brightly ribboned bronze keys and slotted into keyholes. Against one wall a TV in an ornate gold frame stood on two ornate legs. A dull sweet bread-like smell of bread wafted in from one of the corridors and as Samantha closed her eyes to inhale it, she imaged the taste of Festival.
She opened her eyes when she felt Amber watching her.
So as an architect, you must have been eyeing up the place differently, right?' Amber smiled coyly arching a bushy brow.
Samantha chuckled and lifted up both her hands, 'Yeaaah I've just never seen anything quite like this. There’s a lot of different influences going on, it’s sick.’
'Yep,’ Amber nodded happily, placing one hand on the red wall next to them, ‘Windows of heaven, Islamic temples floor plans, a low-rise church ceiling… Everyone jokingly calls it 'The Sanctuary', but its official name is just ‘Entrance’ on the map.' Amber opened one of the red lockers and pulled out a scroll of thick pink paper with a deep purple ribbon wrapped around it. She untied it deftly and handed it to Samantha who reached her arms up over her bag and unfolded it, nodding as she took in ABUELOS’ floorplan. She whistled impressively.
‘They tried to keep it as infra-structurally similar on the outside, a homage to the old build, but inside is carved out a bit differently as you can see.'
‘What used to be in here before?’ Samantha’s asked, her eyebrows rose she took in all four floors. ABUELOS ran deeper than she imagined.
‘Horses, believe it or not. It was definitely an industrial build, but you might have been able to pick that out from the brickwork.’
‘Yep, the blood-orange bricks, love that.’
'Just wait until I show you your room.' Amber grinned, crouching down to pull off their shoes. ‘Are you thirsty or hungry?' they asked, picking at the crisscross of white lace.
‘A glass of water would be great,’ Samantha replied, noting the tiny Adinkra tattoo peeping above the frill of their white sock. It was only faintly visible against their dark skin, and Amber caught her staring and smiled. Flustered, Samantha quickly rolled her bag off her lap and down the slope of her legs until it landed at her feet with a thud and leaned over to slip off her own shoes, flexing her toes in bright yellow socks.
'Oh, yellow socks?! So you decided to go all for your first day huh?' Amber taunted, swiping Samantha's discarded shoes between her finger and thumb.
'Yeah, I know you don't know me like that yet, but… I never half-ass a dress code. Ever.' Samantha shot back grinning.
Amber laughed again before disappearing behind the crimson door with both of their shoes and returned a moment later with an electric chair, ‘your new whip ma’am,’ they beamed with a small curtsey.
‘I cannot with you,’ Samantha cackled, but her heart was light all the same. ‘It’s got special wheels for the carpet, because nearly everywhere in this place is carpet, and you can’t come and die.’
‘Oh trust me I have died and come back to life many many times, you think these gains came from a life of smooth pavements?’ Samantha rolled up her t-shirt sleeve slightly and kissed her bicep.
It was Amber’s turn to cackle while Samantha wheeled herself adjacent to the electric wheelchair and lifted herself onto the smooth brown seat.
‘Oh y’all got wheels?’ Samantha scoffed, running her hand over the smooth leather steering wheel and fiddling with the shiny gears on her left. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the walls of the large room dedicated to brainstorming a solution for every inevitable obstacle life threw at her shrunk ever so slightly.
‘Don’t go running anyone you don’t like over now, y’hear,’ Amber cautioned, leaning against the wall with one hand and smiling as she watched Samantha geek out over her new chair.
‘Beep beep motherfucker,’ Samantha replied, jabbing a little orange button in the centre of the wheel that was for the horn. A deep tuba sound tinkled out some tiny speakers and they both seized up with laughter.
‘Want me to show you how it works?’ Amber said, wiping the corner of their eye.
‘Nah I like figuring it out,’ Samantha replied, pushing a red button to her left. The small electric motor began to purr.
Amber folded Samantha's other wheelchair lovingly away and carried it into the red room. When they remerged again, they pulled at the top of Samantha’s backpack. ‘Jesus, nah your biceps are no joke, you weren’t joking Samantha! You made this ting look light the way you were flinging it around? Shit!’
‘Let me carry it,’ Samantha replied fussing towards the bag.
‘Nah, I got it,’ they insisted, pulling the bag towards their feet and hauling it up onto their back.
‘Right let’s head towards South Wing first – that's where South Kitchens are – and get you your glass of water. If you look around we've got maps everywhere because trust this place is massive, just look out for pink scrolls and purple ribbons hanging from any of the walls, or you can just use the app on your phone, it even has a 4D audio-visual feature’ Amber pointed out several lavender tassels poking out from the walls at different heights that Samantha hadn’t noticed before.
‘After we get you your drink I can either give you a tour now or I can show you to your room and take you around tomorrow. You just tell me what you need and how you’re feeling.' Samantha nodded quickly, trying to taking it all in, her hands gripping the leather of the wide wheel. She clicked the chair into first gear and cruised beside Amber as they began to walk.
They both covered the circumference of the room and as they passed the second of the four slate columns Samantha realised there was writing etched into the smooth stone. Curious, she slowed down, reversed, and pulled over to get a closer look. Amber stopped beside her.
'Our poets’ columns,' they explained, ‘any Resident Poet can share verses of anything they've written during their time here before they leave.’ Samantha nodded curiously as she read in a line:
‘Remember the lines in/ grandparent’s hands ran deeper than roots/ under this land.’
They walked through a long white corridor, with Amber giving Samantha a short peek into several different rooms. Soundproof white halls that thumped with the muffled bass of Resident DJs practising their sets, smaller classrooms with a Resident Musicians tuning his saxophone, one was a small dark auditorium filled with the sound of a laughing audience. The room was a doorway they walked into that led directly to South Kitchen.
Light poured in from a side window, and the walls were painted a Mediterranean orange. On a dark brown stove were two large dutchie pots, one filled with rice and peas and the other a rich smelling soup. A green sticky note was planted on the front of both of them: 'you man help me finish this please, I made too much.’ Samantha smiled inwardly at the wraps on the counter nestled next to packets of naan, spiced bun and hardo bread. She noted the wheelchair-height counters and cupboards at the corner of each wall.
Amber walked over to a cupboard and retrieved an emerald tumbler with a rounded bottom and poured some water into it from a filter elegantly. Samantha parked near the side of the table and studied the way they bit their lips in concentration as they poured.
'Thanks,’ she said when they passed the glass to her. She sipped slowly at first and then hungrily, allowing the water to ebb away the dryness that made her tongue stick against the roof of her mouth. She placed the glass down and nodded at Amber gratefully as they sat down opposite her.
'Now I can either take you to your room or give you a tour, depending on how tired you're feeling,’ they said leaning onto the table with both elbows and staring into her eyes. Samantha's arms were aching slightly and she was pretty sure her t-shirt was betraying her underarms with dark grey circles. She decided whether to head to her room to change but as Amber stared kindly at her from across the table she didn't feel judged.
‘I want to see some of it, but not all of it,' she replied. 'This place is way bigger than it looks on the outside. I'll find my way around, but for now, show me as many cool places you think I should see.’
'Sweet,’ they grinned and then nodded at her glass, ‘one more refill for the road?'
‘Alright,’ Samantha smiled leaning back into her chair, ‘ Let's refill and go.’
‘This area is called N3,’ Amber whispered, gesturing to a dimly lit room full of light pink sleeping pods.
‘It's mainly for sleeping and napping: each pod is temperature regulated and if we have any Wellbeing Practitioners in residence and on duty, there are smaller wellness rooms towards the back there. Wellbeing Practitioners mostly hand around the Oasis, over there, which is where yoga, dance, and physio takes place. You can find one of them in there usually, or just go on Home Hub and make an Agreement for a time and place for a massage or whatever their Well-Being practice is, but it will usually take place here in N3.’
Amber pulled out a stick of purple gum and a pink map from the back pocket of her overalls as Samantha took in the dark grey room with its pink glowing pods.
They unfurled the map and pointed at a brown circle, crouching down beside Samantha. ‘This is where we are now, here, and over here are the main four spaces where Residents sleep: North, South, East and West, we call them Wings. So we just came from the South Kitchen, which is over here, next to the South Wing. There are two kitchens, South Kitchen and North Kitchen. North Kitchen is taken over weekly by different pop-ups, so their menu cuisine switches up every week. South Kitchen is self-catering, so everyone stores their own food in there. There are red sticky labels for anything that's not for sharing, yellow sticky labels are for 'don’t go crazy with it but you can have some's and green is for anything that’s up for grabs. People are really chill here so most of it's green and yellow apart from religious foods and allergy snacks. Food is replenished by Residents who are paying in Sustenance under the Food Gathering branch so you don’t have to buy any food while you’re here. If you want an item check out the virtual Shopping List first, because it might be on there already. People upvote popular items to the top of the list, and food list tends to be bought pretty quickly. The Shopping List is on the app and Home Hub or you can just drive to the Kitchen – there’s an iPad on the wall opposite the fridge. You'll be staying in East Wing which is back where we came from near the entrance.’
‘Where are you staying?’ Samantha asked, savouring the sweet scent of raspberry that was lacing Amber’s words as they spoke.
‘I’m in North Wing, so not too far from you actually,’ they pointed to a shaded area near The Entrance. ‘See?’ Samantha nodded. ‘All the bedrooms in East Wing have an en-suite bathroom, they're the most accessible.’
Samantha felt the room in the back of her head widen. 'Are the rest of the bedrooms not as accessible? Would I be able to visit your room in West Wing?’ She felt herself blush internally as the last sentence left her mouth.
Amber’s mind whirred.
‘Not saying I want to come to your bedroom in particular, but just like in theory, could I visit any of the other rooms in any of the other wings’ Samantha babbled into the silene.
Amber placed her hand on her chin, ‘are you asking if the door frames wide enough for your chair?’
Amber’s face relaxed, ‘oh you’ll definitely be fine if that's what you're worried about. All of the corridors can fit two of these chairs side by side, and the door frames of all bedrooms have been built purposely wide. So you could come into my room, which you’re very much welcome to do by the way if you ever felt like it… Theoretically, of course.’
Samantha feigned a cool nod as Amber smirked at her before turning away to take a right. They led her towards a light blue corridor decorated with dozens of small photographs in glass frames that ended with a white glass door. Amber rapped on it three times and waited for a moment before sliding the door all the way to the left. Samantha followed her into a bright cream oval room that was well-lit with a window wall that stretched across half the room.
‘This is the Academy Room,’ Amber announced, gesturing towards the ceiling to floor bookshelves that were built into the walls. To the left of the room there was a giant sandalwood table in the shape of a crescent moon, with 20 chairs dotted around it. The floor was deep chestnut and on the other side of the room lay a matching sandalwood table, this one was a full moon and only inches off the ground. Surrounded by big cushions and beanbags, it reminded Samantha of a nursery. She loved the contrast and the option of being close to the ground while drawing was something she knew she’d take up during her lessons.
‘So what's taught in here?’ she asked.
‘Hmm, that’s a tricky question…’ Amber bit her lip. ‘Anything that people want to learn, I guess? This room is open to Residents and Non-Residents and people teach classes from within their Practices but people can also take courses in any of their Interests. I swear I’m not copping out here, but I literally can’t list them all; there’s everything from Freelance Finance Management to Mandarin and Screenwriting Lessons taking place in here. There's also small Cinema on the opposite side of this floor for film viewings and movie nights. Lessons in Sculpting and Music don’t tend to happen in here unless its theory though, there are other Academy Studios for Practices that need specialised equipment like kilns, mics and ovens. What is taught here all depends on whichever Artists are in Residence, or whoever’s been invited in.’
They walked through the centre of the room and towards another door. ‘This is a shortcut to The Library, but you can’t always go through if there’s a session on,’ Amber explained as they slid open a matching white glass door and revealed an enormous azure room with two floors. Much like the Academy Room the floor of The Library was a rich brown, and books lined every wall from the ceiling to the floor. There were little alcoves carved out into certain sections with small tables, L shape sofas and loveseats inside for reclining while reading. There were single and larger desks dotted around in breakout areas between countless numbers of towering wooden bookshelves. Amber pointed out the slightly raised dots running down the centre of the aisles, 'see these silver marked circles on floor?’
‘Very easy to get lost here,’ they warned, ‘these are for finding your way to the exits and they glow in the dark because The Library is open 24/7. The lights dim slightly after three am to save energy unless there's movement and Cynthia – the librarian – leaves at six.'
As they both passed an oak semi-circle desk, Amber whispered, 'Hi Cynthia,’ in the direction of an old Black woman with tight white curls. She smiled back at both of them over the top of her gold crescent spectacles.
Amber led Samantha out of The Library and through another winding corridor, ‘Here are the Artist Studios,’ they said, pulling back long turquoise beads from a wide circular doorframe and letting Samantha peer into a long rectangular room that was the most brilliant white apart from a single wall which was filled with a beautiful mural of several Black people's's faces. Amber smiled as Samantha’s mouth fell.
‘The light in here is ridiculous.’
‘I know right’ Amber beamed proudly. ‘There are more individual rooms down the back if people prefer drawing alone, but this is the communal drawing area.’
One medium-sized white table claimed the centre of the room, with lemon-coloured two benches on either side. It was encircled by a cluster of light brown easels. Beanbags flocked at each edge of the room and there was a sink perched at the back next to several draws brimming with art supplies. From one of the corners, a Resident looked up from his sketchbook and waved at them from his beanbag in the corner.
‘Okay so what’s left to show you,’ Amber said, tapping her chin as they passed back through the curtain of beads and out into a lavender archway with paintings hung on either side. ‘We do have a rooftop garden – we're trying to become as self-sustaining as possible in our Kitchens – but we can't go there right now because they're putting a pool in on the other side of the roof and the builders are really pissy.’
‘Oh please, can we see it?’ Samantha pleaded, ‘I love gardens and skylines. I’m literally dying to see the view from the roof!’
Amber rubbed the floor with the tip of their feet.
‘Just one tiny peek? On my first day, please?' Samantha clasped her hands together and widened her eyes.
‘Fine,' they caved. 'One tiny look and then back down again, but I swear if these builders catch us they’ll want to report me, so one look and then we're coming back down.’
Samantha agreed, beaming as she followed Amber down a twist of peach-salmon corridors until they found themselves at a silver lift. It delivered them up into a beautiful rooftop garden with arching vines and purple slate walkways, surrounded by fake-hill mounds and a variety of wild pink, yellow and purple flowers. There was a fountain in the middle encircled by romantic benches and to the left, there were clusters of tall trees supported by pillars. Through a clearing, Samantha spied a garden strip with tomatoes plants and potatoes and zoomed out towards it. Amber stayed nervously by the lift as Samantha ventured further out, gesturing at them to follow her. Amber looked over their shoulder nervously before sprinting down to meet them.
‘We shouldn’t be this far in’ Amber panted as they ran out to meet her, stepping lightly over rocks in their white socks. Their eyes darted towards the direction where a faint sound of drilling was coming from.
‘Oh please, I read your Manifesto.’ Samantha rolled her eyes and zoomed further down the path as Amber skipped after her reluctantly, ‘you guys don’t do Punitive here.’
‘I know,’ Amber whispered loudly, ‘ but that doesn't mean we can break the rules, and I hate getting told off, especially by Daves.’
‘Tell us off for what? This is our place!’ Samantha smiled and reached out to touch the bark of a tall tree. She touched it in awe, she had sketched designs for treetop roofs several times before but she'd never actually touched one. 'How could anyone tell us off for wanting to be here?' She manoeuvred her chair backwards and drove towards the very edge of the garden.
‘Amber, come look at this,’ she waved at them to come over.
‘Look at Brum,’ she said softly. The sun was melting against the lip of the horizon and as it lowered it dripped bright orange light down the outlines of all the houses and buildings. From here they could see far out into the city centre, over the golden raindrop roof of the local temple and over the long black canals that were brushed scarlet and bronze.
‘It’s beautiful,’ Amber whispered.
Samantha looked over at them and smiled.
The sound of faint drilling halted.
‘Oi! What are you two doing up here!' An angry voice split through the clearing.
‘Oh my god, go back, go back,’ they whispered frantically at Samantha, waving her back onto the path.
‘No, you two turn around and come back here now!’ the voice patronised.
‘Oh fuck,’ Amber hissed, stepping frantically after Samantha towards the purple tiles.
The sound of workboots against stone began to follow them. ‘I said, you two. Here. Now!’ it shouted.
Samantha grabbed them by the arm when they reached the path. ‘You can't run as quick as I can ride, get on!’ she hissed as the rhythm of the builder's footsteps quickened.
‘God we should not be doing this! Amber whined as they planted themselves sideways across Samantha’s lap. Samantha darted her right arm around their back and pushed her chair straight into second gear.
The trainers started to pummel towards against the tiles.
‘GO! This guy is actually chasing us, what the fuck!’ Amber screeched. As they began to drive the builder had broken into a sprint after them.
Samantha pushed her chair into third and then fourth gear, careening down pathways and semi-drifting around corners until they hit the straight path towards the elevator that lay less than fifty metres ahead.
‘Samantha, this donny is blowingg, I actually can’t,’ Amber wailed, digging their nails into her shoulders as they picked up speed.
Samantha burst out laughing and switched the chair into its final fifth gear, the small motor wheezing in a strained high pitch as they raced down the path. ‘Woohoo!’ Samantha yelled into the breeze, laughing wildly as her flyaway locks licked the wind. Amber shrieked as the wheels of the chair bumped over the space between tile slabs.
‘Yeehaw!’ Samantha cackled, as the chair bumped up and down over the uneven ground. ‘Giddy up now!’ she bellowed, as they raced towards the silver doors. Amber’s panicked shrieks melted into hysterical laughter.
As they neared the elevator doors, Samantha slowed her chair down and Amber leaned back to slam her open palm against the green button for the lift. They both whipped their necks around to look behind them in unison and caught sight of a yellow hardhat, and an orange hi-vis jacket less than 50 metres and away gaining ground quickly.
They both looked back towards the closed doors of the lift.
‘Oh hurry up!’ Samantha yelled at the lift. Amber jammed their palm against the button again frantically. The doors decided to wait just a moment longer before lazily widening. Samantha zipped inside so fast the front of the chair jolted against the back of the lift. Amber twisted around and slapped the down button. The lift doors crawled together just in time for them to make out a pair of cold blue eyes sunken into an angry pink face and a yellow hardhat.
The lift descended peacefully as the pair stared, first at each other with adrenalin-wild eyes and then at their panicked reflections in the mirror in front of them. Their breath suspended for a moment before they took in each other's faces in the mirror and burst into laughter.
Samantha tried to catch her breath as the lift doors opened, ‘I...I can't breathe....your.. your…. face,’ she cried, tears running down her cheeks.
‘It's the way you were.... even doing... Tokyo Drift around the corners' Amber chortled between tears.
'No we can't tell anyone about this, please,' Amber cried, wiping their eyes as the lift doors opened and standing up from Samantha's chair shakily.
I think the safest place to go right now would be my room, ’ Samantha replied, in between the last bubble of chuckles that made her hold her side in pain.
They both exhaled the last of their tiring laughter and walked away from the lift to make their way towards East Wing. Amber letting Samantha lead the way with a map down various corridors and passageways until they found themselves back into the octagonal vestibule of The Entrance. When they reached the doors of bedrooms in the East Wing, Amber fished out a golden fob and key from their centre pocket and handed it to Samantha.
‘Thanks,’ Samantha said, taking the petal-shaped fob from their hand. ‘What am I doing with this?’
‘Swiping below the handle,’ they replied, gesturing with their right hand.
Samantha swiped the fob down and the door sprung inwards with a quiet jolt before it widened lazily.
Her bedroom room was a perfect square. It was large and had a medium-sized book bookshelf in one corner – filled with Butler and Sharpe and Jordan – that lay next to a small coffee table and deep green armchair. The armchair had a high back and sat slightly turned away from a window wall that crept up to half of the ceiling. From her window, Samantha could see the dark skyline of the city with its snaking canals and yellow glowing windows glinting in the evening.
'I love it,' she said, before breaking herself away from the view and driving into the spacious en suite bathroom. She smiled as she rolled through the doorway; Amber hadn't lied, it was wide enough for her to get through with generous space on either side. The walls were a soft cream colour, with brown wood undertones, and tasteful art dotted above her bed and next to a short black wardrobe.
‘The charger for your chair is over there, trust me it’s going to need it after that.’ Amber pushed their lips in the direction of the metal rectangle to the side of the room and plopped themselves down in the emerald armchair.
Samantha drove the car onto it, clicked the off button and looked over at them.
‘So usually you’d drive to bed,' they said, looking over. 'And then there’s a remote where you can guide it into the charging area. It charges through the floor, and the chair is wirelessly controlled, so you just need to park it using the remote, and then drive it onto the floor, it charges through the mat. In the morning you can drive it back over to yourself.'
‘Got it. Can you carry me to the bed this time though?' Samantha asked rolling her head from side to side, 'I just can’t be asked to drive to bed and guide it back over here again.’
Amber jumped up eagerly from the velvet armchair where they were sitting and scooped Samantha up into their arms. They avoided each other's gaze as they gently placed her down on the double bed.
Samantha let herself fall back onto the soft mattress, arms flung wide with a grin.
‘Great first day?’ Amber asked her.
'The best,' she answered, looking up into the spiral patterned ceiling.
‘I’m so glad,’ Amber smiled. ‘I forgot to ask if you have any questions?’
‘Actually yes,’ Samantha propped herself up on her elbows. ‘I just wanted to check that my payment is okay?’
‘Sure, I think on your sheet it said you were paying in Sustenance and Time for your two-month stay?’
‘Yes, and my branch of Time is Sketching Classes? And my branch of Sustenance is Food Prep in North Kitchen?’
‘Yeah that’s what I’ve got down for you as well,’ Amber confirmed, scrolling through their phone before showing her. ‘See here, you can just log into Home Hub and I’ve got your Agreement sent to me for your Induction Period so I can see it for the next seven days, but you can just log in and it will show you your balance of the Time and Sustenance you’ve given whenever you want.’
‘I know you rocked up in your yellow overalls which means you're up for giving some Time or Sustenance, but you can totally reschedule if you’re tired.’
‘Nah I’ll be okay, it’s only two hours of Sketching Perspectives in the evening. I’ve got a bit of time and I only have two attendees.’
'I’m not even going to lie, one of them is me.' Amber grimaced with a cheeky grin. ‘And I’m not even going to lie, I’m glad you’ll be there, I’m still a tiny bit nervous.’
‘Well, you don’t look it at all.’
‘I try not to show when I’m afraid, it helps me believe that I’m not. The reality is, I'm bricking it.’
‘Well I’m the one who should be nervous, you’re going to look at my vantage points and have a great time laughing at my wonky horizons.’
‘They won’t be that bad, I'm sure you'll be fine. So where did you see my class?’ Samantha smiled to herself and the tips of her ears warmed at the prospect of getting to spend more time with Amber later. ‘On the Noticeboard in The Sanctuary'
‘Is that's what that TV in a gold frame was?’
'Yep, it's height-adjustable and motion-controlled too; you can swipe through it by waving your hand, it updates every day with scheduled activities that Residents can join or sign up for.’
‘That's cool.' A silence filled the room.
'So, are you here for much longer?’ Samantha asked as she watched Amber thumb through her new bookshelf.
‘I'm here for the next two months,' they replied, 'but I've been here for three already. I couldn't even create when I first arrived, I was just so burnt out. I paid for my room with money back then, but I'm about to start paying in Sustenance and my branch is Commission.’
‘Oh sweet, no pressure but do you have any lined up?’ Samantha asked, sitting up fully and pulling herself towards the head of the bed.
‘Not yet, but I'm working on some oil pieces that are currently in the Gallery and I'm hoping that one of them sells at my first Offering next week.’
‘Sorry I keep forgetting to explain things because it feels like you’ve been here longer than you have. Offerings are essentially showcases or exhibitions events where you offer to share what you’ve been creating with the space.’
‘Can I come?’
Amber laughed,‘ actually Offerings are one of the only things that are sort of mandatory in ABUELOS. Everyone in Residence usually attends, and when people have their Offering it's kind of an unspoken rule that you'll attend theirs. It’s always really lovely, usually held in the evenings out in The Sanctuary, and MAIA invites industry contacts to attend. I'm really hoping for a sale next week – not like anybody is putting pressure on me or anything – but I just want really want to give back to the space, you know?'
'I get it' Samantha nodded. She understood the instinct to give back to this place, it felt like home so quickly, she hadn't even been there a day, let alone three months, and couldn't imagine leaving.
‘So will everyone be wearing their coloured overalls?’
'God no, when you're not on duty you can wear whatever you like, think of the overalls as sort of your uniform. I actually laughed when I first heard everyone on duty wore different coloured overalls, I was like what gay Teletubbies cult is this, but two months in and I have to say, it does make things easier. Still getting used to these bell bracelets though, these are new. We wear them on our wrists for blind and partially blind people.' Amber shook their right hand. 'Different notes for different colours. Yellow is middle C. You've got three more overalls in your size hanging up in your wardrobe with your own bell bracelet.' They walked over to the wardrobe and opened a door, three yellow overalls hung neatly from a metal rail.
'I have to say thought, the overalls do grow on you. I love to fill my pockets with different things, playdoh, blu tack, fidget spinners, elastic bands. My pockets could give Narnia a run for its money, and when I'm out of them I feel semi-naked.' A comfortable silence crept back into the room, and Amber sat down at the foot of Samantha's bed.
‘This place kind of reminds me of Frodo's yard,' Samantha said as she closed her eyes and imagined every doorway they'd been down. 'Nearly every doorway I’ve seen today has been circular or arched.’
Amber snorted into the back of their hand. ‘I thought something similar when I first came, but now it's weird because it’s the opposite, everywhere else feels so rectangular, like each room is a shoe box. It's so weird but I actually prefer circle rooms now. I used to find them so exposing.'
‘No corners to hide in, no straight walls to lean back against, circles are more communal, 'Samantha nodded knowingly ‘I definitely think might have been MAIA’s reasoning, but I can't remember for sure, maybe you can ask them if you see one of them around.’
‘They stay here too?’
‘Yep, there's always a member of the team living here, they have little private apartments down on the level zero.’
‘That’s cute,’ Samantha said distractedly as she ran her hand over the khaki green duvet.
‘Yeah, it’s nice to think that they’re always here with us.’
‘No, I meant you guys remembered my favourite colour,’ she said pointing at the muted green duvet cover.
‘Wow, I could have really kept quiet babes, but it’s best to tell you now because you're going to find out eventually. The duvet cover? Completely accidental. The same in each room.’
‘No way, I thought I was special.’ Samantha said, opening one eye and pouting playfully at Amber.
Amber managed to catch themselves before they responded with something too earnest. Samantha closed her open eye, knowing already that she would find it hard to leave this place when her time was over. Her mind pulled her back through the multiple corridors and across the dozens of rooms where she imagined the other Residents making, resting, dreaming, baking, shaping, creating. She imagined the small sounds; the hum of the fridge full of their food and marvelled at how ‘they’ and 'them' had become ‘us’ and 'we' so quickly in her head. Our easels, our forks in the kitchen drawers, our garden, our red bricks, our pillows and pens, our ivy scaling the walls, our Time. She revelled in her imaginings beside Amber, enjoying their presence but wondering if they felt uncomfortable or wanted to leave. She sat up suddenly and looked at them, and they both laughed.
‘I thought you fell asleep there, I was just about to leave you a goodbye sticky note.'
‘If I fall asleep now, I’ll definitely miss my class and I can’t have that, not on my first day’ Samantha said, shaking her head as she studied the gold flakes of paint that were nestled underneath Amber’s nails. Just as she tried to think about something to bridge the silence they stood up.
‘I know you’re tired, but I just want to show you one last thing – it's my favourite area and it’s really close. If you’re up for it I’ll even give you a sneak peek of my Offering? I haven't show anyone yet, but it's nearly finished and I kind of want to see what you’ll make of it. It's in The Gallery.’
Samantha’s face broke into a wide grin. She nodded excitedly, shuffling to the end of her bed and hooking her arms around Amber's neck as she let them carry her back towards her chair.
ABUELOS, Birmingham (May 2021)