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 entrance. A large curved yellow door sat on top of the hill of red bricks like a half-sun. To the left of the steps, she noted a long slide – the same shade as the door – and chuckled. It didn't seem out of place, strangely, even though it could have easily been more at home in a fairground. Looking down the length of the burnt red building with its arching glass windows, Samantha 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 why not, and who says, 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.
'Hey!' it beamed through the silver hatched circle above the orange button and Samantha found herself smiling back involuntarily at its warmth.
'Hi! I'm Samantha and I'm staying with ABUELOS under the uh, '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 place around 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 – lookout for yellow overalls!'
Samantha hoisted her bag into her lap and began to wheel herself to the right of the steps and towards an elevator. She squinted as the sun which was refracting light through its multi-coloured glass. It was a hot pulsing afternoon and the hard pavement felt good against her wheels, she revelled in the kaleidoscope of colours that painted the floor as the lift slowly lowered down to ground level. Before she could wheel herself the base of the colourful glass doors, they opened and a short Black person strode out towards her, one hand nestled deep into a sunny side pocket, the other waving gently in the air. Their hair was a medium length fro swept back into a half-out puff. It was dyed burnt orange on the left side and mint green on the right. 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 that adorned the sides of their high cheekbones. Amber’s iridescent green fingernails caught the sun as they picked up their arm to shield their jaunting closer and closer until they could have kicked the tips of her Converse with their white Air Force Max 1's if they wanted to.
'Do you do hugs?' Amber asked.
'Hmm, not usually, but today I seem to be in the rare mood for one, so yes?'
You sure?' they teased leaning back.
Samantha rolled her eyes and opened her arms as Amber laughed and bent to hug her. They smelled like acrylic 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 in a proud way, like it wasn't ashamed of its past, like it wasn't concerned with trying to be some modern self-optimised version of itself. And despite this ABUELOS felt new, the smell of new material and the rainbow stained-glass elevator sat seamlessly next to a factory redbrick scaled with twining ivy vines. Samantha was already itching to sketch the brickwork patterns above the windows, they were 18th century brickwork that only a few buildings in Brum still had. Samantha's index finger itched as the lift hummed upwards – she toyed with the idea of quickly dipping into her side-satchel– just to catch an outline, but just as her hand hovered above the leather latch, the glass doors pinged open.
Amber led her into a wide octagonal vestibule with a medium-high ceiling and deep emerald that hugged the room into feel more intimate than its vast size. Four large pillars supported a low balcony where several people were reclined on beanbags, futons, and hammocks. On four on the walls, sandwiched between each pillar, were ceiling to floor arched stained glass window with panelled art. The other four had arched doorless corridors that lead further into the building. As she scanned the vestibule, Samantha found herself unconsciously looking for a reception desk, but after sweeping the space with her eyes it made perfect sense that there wasn't one. This was nothing like the ‘urban’ art-hotel she was imagining, and she 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 a domed sky roof. The afternoon sun that shone through it cast a warm light into the darker edges of the room and the space had a deeply sanctified sense of rest imbued into it, the faint sounds of scribbling pens and music softly leaking into a comfortable silence. All but one of the eight wide walls were green, the closest wall to them was a crimson, boasting a long thin door painted the same shade and framed by locker doors in various shapes and sizes, some with bronze keys and bright ribbons slotted into them. Against one wall a TV in an ornate gold frame stood on two ornate legs. She noted a small lift to access the balcony above which was partly concealed large-leafed plants. Samantha closed her eye and inhaled the dull sweet smell of Festival seemed to drift in from a room somewhere
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 attached. She untied it deftly and handed it to Samantha who reached her arms up high over her bag to unfold it, nodding as she took in ABUELOS’ floorplan. She whistled impressively.
‘They tried to keep it as infra-structurally similar on the outside, an homage to the old build, but inside is carved out differently as you can see’
‘What used to be in here before?’ Samantha’s asked, her face was impressed as she took in four floor levels of. 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, I 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 as they picked at the crisscross of brilliant white laces.
‘A glass of water would be great,’ Samantha replied, noting the tiny Adinkra tattoo peeping above the frill of Amber's white socks on the inside of their leg. It was only faintly visible against their dark skin. Amber caught her staring and smiled, flustered Samantha quickly rolled her off her lap and down the slope of her legs until it landed at her feet with a thud and leaned over to slip of her Converse, flexing her toes in bright yellow socks.
'Oh, yellow socks?! So you decided to go all for your first day huh?' Amber taunted, swiping up 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.
Amber's laughed again before disappearing behind the crimson door with both of their shoes.
They returned from the red room a moment later with an electric chair, ‘your new whip ma’am,’ they bellowed 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 around here 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 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 said, leaning against the wall with one hand and smiling as she watched Samantha geeking out over her new chair.
‘Beep beep motherfucker,’ Samantha replied, jabbing a little orange button in the centre of the wheel that she could only she assume was for the horn. A deep tuba sound tinkled out the small speakers and they both bussed up.
‘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 and hearing the small electric motor purr.
Amber folded her 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 Samantha!’
‘Let me carry it,’ Samantha replied fussing towards the bag.
‘Nah, I got it,’ they insisted, pulling the bag towards their feet and finally hauling it up onto their back.
‘Right let’s head towards South Wing – that's where South Kitchens are – and go get you your glass of water. If you look around we've got maps everywhere because we know this place is big, just look out for pink scrolls and purple ribbons hanging from the walls, or you can just use the app on your phone, it even has a 3D and audio 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 a drink I can either give you a tour now or I can show you tomorrow and drop you to your room. You just tell me what you need and how you’re feeling.' Samantha nodded excitedly, taking it all in as 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 wide columns Samantha realised there was writing etched on 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 Poets can share verses of anything they've written during their time here before they leave.’ Samantha nodded as she read in a line:
‘Remember the lines in/ grandparent’s hands ran deeper than roots/ under this land.’
As through a long white corridors, Amber gave Samantha a short peek into several different rooms. Soundproof rooms that thumped with the muffled bass of DJs running their sets, to musicians tuning up their saxophones, one was small dark auditorium full of thirty people laughing, until the final one was a doorway towards 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 planted on both of them read: 'abeg you man help me finish this please, I made too much.’ There were wraps on the counter, nestled next to packets of naan and spiced bun and hardo bread. Samantha smiled inwardly at the slightly lowered counters and cupboards at the corner of each wall.
Amber walked over to a cupboard and retrieved an emerald tumbler glass with a round bottom and pouring some water from a filter delicately. Samantha pulled over to the side of the table and studied their lips bitten 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 now 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 that her t-shirt was betraying her with dark grey sweat circles but looking over at Amber across the table she didn't feel judged.
‘I want to see some of it, but not all of it, this place is bigger than I thought. I'll find my way round, but for now show me the places you think I should see.’
'Sweet,’ they grinned, ‘one more refill for the road?'
‘Alright’ Samantha smiled back, ‘ Let's reload, and then go.’
‘This area is called N3,’ Amber whispered, gesturing to a dimly lit room full of 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, which is where yoga, dance, and physio takes place. You can find them there or go on Home Hub and find a free 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 the pink map from the back pocket of her overalls as Samantha took in the dark grey room.
They unfurled the map and pointed at a brown circle, crouching down beside Samantha. ‘This is where we are now, we're here, and 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 for 'don’t go crazy on this but you can have some's and green 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, especially as it might be on there already. People upvote popular items which moves up the top of the list, and food tends to be bought pretty quckly. 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 quickly, savouring the smell of citrus that was lacing Amber’s words as they spoke.
‘I’m in North Wing, so not too far from you actually. In fact where our rooms are situated, I think I could be right next to you,’ they pointed to a shaded area near The Entrance. ‘See?’ Samantha nodded. ‘All the bedrooms in East Wing have en-suite bathroom and are the most accessible.’
Samantha felt the room in the back of her head widened. '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 escaped her mouth.
Amber’s mind whirred into the silence.
‘Not saying I want to come to your bedroom in particular, but like just in theory, could I visit any of the other rooms in any of the other wings’ Samantha added nervously.
Amber placed her hand on her chin. ‘Do you mean like are 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 grinned at her before turning away to take a right. They led her towards a light pink corridor decorated with dozens of small photographs in glass frames that ended with a large 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 white oval room that was well-lit with a large window wall.
‘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 semi-circle, with 20 chairs dotted around it. The floor was deep chestnut and on the other side of the oval room was another sandalwood table that was circular and closer to the ground. It was surrounded by big cushions and beanbags and reminded Samantha of a nursery. She loved the contrast, the option of being close to the ground while drawing was something she knew she’d take up during her stay.
‘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 if 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 Feedback 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 specialised Practices that need 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 slid a matching white glass door to the left to reveal an azure room with two floors. Much like the Academy Room the floor was a rich brown, and books lined every single wall from the ceiling to the floor. There were little alcoves carved out into certain sections with small tables inside, or curved L shape sofas and one-seaters for reclining while reading. There were single and larger desks dotted around in breakout areas between countless number dark brown 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, ‘they’re 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 3am to save energy unless there's movement and Cynthia – the librarian – leaves at six pm. As they passed an oak semi-circle desk, they 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 into another corridor, ‘Here are the Artist Studios,’ they said, pulling back beads from a wide circle doorframe and letting Samantha peer into a long rectangular room that was a brilliant white apart from one wall where the most magnificent mural of a Black person's face was painted in a hyper-realist profile. 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 two benches on either side of it. It was encircled by a cluster of light brown easels. Beanbags dotted the edge of the room and there was a sink perched at the back of the room 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 as they passed through a 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 much 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 begged, ‘I love gardens and skylines. I’m dying to see the view from the roof!’
Amber shifted their weight nervously.
‘Just one tiny peak? On my first day?'
‘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 to The Founders though, so one look and then we're coming back down.’
Samantha agreed, beaming as she followed Amber down a twist of 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, covered in 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 a cluster of tall trees supported by pillars. Through a clearing Samantha spied a garden 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. Their eyes darting towards the direction where the faint sound of drilling was coming from.
‘Oh please I read your Manifesto,’ Samantha rolled her eyes, ‘you guys don’t do punitive here.’
‘I know,’ Amber replied, ‘ but that doesn't mean we can break the rules, and I hate getting told off, especially Daves.’
‘Tell us off for what? This is our place!’ Samantha smiled and reached out to touch the trunk of a tree. ‘Look at this beautiful rooftop garden! How could anyone tell us off for wanting to be here?' Samantha manoeuvred her chair backwards and drove towards the edge of the garden.
‘Amber, come look at this,’ she called them over to where she was.
‘Look at Brum.’ The sun was melting against the lip of the horizon, and as it lowered it dripped an 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 bronze and red.
‘It’s beautiful,’ Amber whispered.
Samantha looked over at them and smiled.
The faint drilling disappeared.
‘Oi! What are you two doing up here!' An angry voice split through the clearing.
Amber froze into a crouch. ‘Oh my god, go back, go back,’ they whispered frantically at Samantha, waving her back onto the path.
‘No, you both turn around and come back here!’ the voice patronised.
‘Oh fuck,’ they hurried behind Samantha towards the purple tiles.
The sound of footsteps began to follow them, ‘I said, you two. Here. Now!’
Samantha grabbed them by the arm when they reached the path. ‘Get on!’ she hissed as the sound of the builder's footsteps began to pick up.
‘God we should not be doing this! Amber complained as they planted themselves sideways across Samantha’s lap. Samantha darted her right arm around their back and pushed the chair straight into second gear.
The sound of trainers started to pummel towards against the tiles.
‘GO! This guy is actually chasing us, what the fuck!’ Amber screeched as the builder broke into a sprint after them.
Samantha pushed her chair into third and then fourth gear, careening down pathways and 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, clutching at her shoulders as they picked up speed.
Samantha burst out laughing and switched the chair into its final fifth gear, the small motor whining 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 paving between the tiles.
‘Yeehaw!’ Samantha cackled, as the chair bumped up and down over the uneven ground. ‘Giddy up now!’ she bellowed, as they sped closer and closer towards the silver doors. Amber’s panicked shrieks melted into hysterical laughter.
As they neared the elevator doors, Samantha slowed the chair down and Amber leaned back, slammeing her open palm against the green button as soon as it came within reach. They both whipped their heads behind them in unison to catch sight of a yellow hardhat belting towards them, less than 50 meteres away gaining ground quickly.
They both looked back towards the closed doors of the lift.
‘Oi nah, hurry up!’ Samantha yelled at the lift. Amber jammed the button again frantically. The doors decided to wait just a moment longer before finally opening and Samantha zipped them both inside while Amber twisted around and jabbed the down button. The lift doors crawled together just in time for them to make out a set of cold blue eyes sunken into angry pink face under a yellow hardhat.
The lift descended peacefully, and they stared at each other first with wide eyes, and then at their panicked reflections in the mirror in front of them. Their breath was suspended for a moment involuntarily before they looked at the other's faces in the mirror and doubled over in fits of laughter.
Samantha tried to catch her breath as the lift doors opened, ‘you should have… seen your…. face…’
‘It's the way you were.... even doing... Tokyo Drift around dem corners' Amber choked between tears.
'No we can't tell anyone about this, please,' Amber cried, wiping their eyes 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 remainder of her chuckles.
They walked away from the lift and made their way towards East Wing, Amber letting Samantha lead the way with a map down various corridors and passageways until they were finally back into the octagonal vestibule of The Entrance. When they reached the East Wing Rooms, 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.
She swiped the fob down below the handle and the door sprung inwards with a quiet jolt and before it widened lazily.
Her bedroom room was a perfect square. It was large and had a medium sized book bookshelf in one corner, and a small coffee table and armchair by a full-length window in the other. The window spanned the top half of the wall and a third of the ceiling. From her window, Samantha could see above the rows of houses, and across the dark skyline of the city with its snaking canals and yellow glowing windows.
'This is so sick,' she said, breaking away from the view to wheel herself into the spacious en suite bathroom. She smiling as she rolled through the doorway, it was wide enough for her to get through, and she didn't realise she'd quietly been doubting Amber until then. The walls were a a soft cream colour, with brown wood undertones and beachwood flooring.
‘The Charger for you chair is over there, trust me it’s going to need it after that’ Amber pushed her lips in the direction of the metal rectangle to the side of the room and sat down in the emerald armchair.
Samantha drove the car to onto it, clicked the off button and looked over at them.
‘So usually you’d drive to bed, and then there’s a remote where you can guide it into the charging area. It’s a wireless electric base mat, so you just need to park it using the remote, and drive it onto the base wirelessly and then in the morning you can guide it to your bed with the remote.'
‘Got it. Can you carry me to the bed this time though?' Samantha asked, 'I just can’t be asked to drive to bed and guide it back over here again.’
‘Makes sense,’ Amber said as they jumped up from the velvet armchair where they were sitting and scooped Samantha up into their arms, and placing her gently on the double bed.
She let her fall backwards onto the soft mattress, arms flung wide with a grin.'
‘Great first day?’
'The best,' she answered up into the ceiling.
‘I’m so glad you like it here.’ Amber smiled down at her. ‘I forgot to ask if you have any questions?’
‘Actually yes,’ Samantha said, propping herself up. ‘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, ‘See here, you can just log into Home Hub and I’ve got your Agreement sent to me for Induction 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.’
‘Oh and you rocked up in your yellow overalls which means you'd be down for giving some Time or Sustenance today, but you can totally reschedule if you’re tired.’
‘Nah I’ll be okay, it’s only slotte two hours of tutoring Sketching Perspectives, and I’ve got a bit of time. It’s in the evening at 8 and I have two attendees already I think?’
'I’m not even going to lie, one of them attendees is me.' Amber confessed, looking over at her. ‘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 but really I’m still a tiny bit nervous.’
‘Well I’m the one who should be nervous, you’re going to look at my vantage points and judge me/’
‘They won’t be that bad, I'm sure you'll be fine. So where did you see my class?’ ‘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.’
‘That's cool. So, are you here for much longer?’
‘I'm here for the next two months, but I've been here for three already. I couldn't even create when I first arrived here, I was just so burnt out. I paid for my room with money back then, but now 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 so that her body rested against the headboard.
‘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 for ages? Offerings are essentially showcases or exhibitions events where you offer to share what you’ve been creating with the space.’
‘Can I come?’
‘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 you attend theirs. It’s always really lovely, usually held in the evenings out in the The Sanctuary, and MAIA invite 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 soothed, she understood it too, the instict to maintain this building, it grew on you quickly, it felt like a home and she hadn't even been there a day, let alone three months.
‘So will everyone be wearing their 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 use 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. I have to say thought, the overalls do grow on you, I love to fill the pockets of mine with different things, playdoh, blu tack, fidget spinners, elastic bands. My pockets could give Narnia a run for its money.'
‘Yeah well, this place does kind of reminds me of The Hobbit. Nearly every doorway I’ve seen today has been arched’
Amber snorted into the back of their hand.
‘I thought something similar when I first came, but weird because it’s the opposite, everywhere else feels so rectangular, like each room is a shoe box. It's so weird that I actually prefer circle rooms now. I used to find them so exposing.'
‘No corners to hide in, no straight walls, 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 one.’
‘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 right now, but it’s best to tell you now because you're going to find out eventually The duvet cover? Completely accidental babes. The same in each room’
‘No way’ Samantha chuckled to herself, falling back onto her back.
‘No way in indeed,’ Amber echoed. Samantha closed her eyes, 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’ had become ‘us’ 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 inhaled her imaginings besides Amber, enjoying their presence but wondering if they felt uncomfortable or wanted to leave. She sat up suddenly and looked at Amber, 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 yawned, shaking her head as she studied the gold flakes of paint that were nestled underneath Amber’s nails out of the corner of her eye. 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 – I forgot to show you my favourite area. It’s really close and 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)