I, as a girl, am terrified of the night —this world owned and ruled by men since the first dawn.
I find myself engulfed in its obscure depths, comparable to a small fish darting in the abysses of the ocean, this place of corners and hidden holes that the sun does not touch, deserted in some places, teeming with unprecedented creatures in others. In it, men lie in wait like eels that could snap you without you even feeling it, others like angler fish that lure you with the illusion of compassion, and yet others who, in their numbers, amass the strength to harass.
At night, my very existence is an anomaly, an anachronism begging the question: “What is she doing here?”
My presence is an open invitation. After all, how dare I be in the world of men, if not to serve them in some way? If not to please their eyes, then to relieve their itching hands, to caress their deflated egos in dire need of a superiority boost? They inflate, these men of the night, when they understand that their presence can intimidate women. It is perhaps the only time when they have that power — when the world is stripped of expectations of good conduct, and all is let loose.
Their eyes are aggression enough. Their gazes land on me like unwanted touches, lingering like dirty hands that come too close for comfort or decency.
Most of them do not do anything, though. After all, they are not the sort of men to do that kind of thing, no. They are just men – boys, really – looking for some innocent fun. So what’s a taunt compared to actually touching a girl? It doesn’t mean anything if they walk close to you — what, the streets belong to everyone, right? If they call after you repeatedly, that doesn’t make them bad men, you know?
Women can’t take a joke. Now, that is the real problem.
I feel as if they win though, if I let them take the night away from me. If I let myself be scared.
An ancestral night, the first one that welcomed all the stars and you and me in it.
There is comfort in darkness, as all the world fades into the distance and I retreat into the shore of my inner home.
I cannot let them take this away.
Note: It’s been a long, rough week. I don’t think I’ve ever posted something of this nature on here. I think it means I’m growing up, who knows. But either way, I hope that this coming week treats you well 🙂
And yet, they contain as many minutes as any other day. Sundays are as long as Mondays, and that’s a fact. But hey, the Universe cares little for human concepts like weekends, in that way.
And yet, it doesn’t ring quite true.
In reality, Time flows in a warped way: too little, then too much, the distribution is never quite even. I’m of the mind that not all minutes respect the 60-second mark. Some minutes spill over like overly-eager orators, others quit halfway through. At least, that’s how it feels like.
The thing about Sundays, though, is that Time suddenly stops dead.
“Do what you want, I’m gone. You can live a while without me.”
Time tacks this note on a dusty window in a street you will never find except if you’re looking for it. It’s a funny place, my city. It’s so small. The streets churn many of the same faces in and out —in the supermarkets, the health centres, the street corners where newspaper vendors make a living… and yet. And yet she holds so many secrets, has so many pockets in which she hides foreign things: strange organisations that have existed for a long time, people of decidedly foreign origins, the secret life in city hotels… There’s a distinct smell of the unknown pervading the cityscape.
But you can only feel it on Sundays, the day when my city has been rid of its people, when the wind meets no obstacles as it runs, breathless, in the streets. Under the sleepy warmth of the sun, people melt gently. They loosen up, their jaws slack and eyes slow to blink. A lethargy has crept silently over them.
No one but the usual suspects inhabit the streets: old men wearing vests that open too generously on hairy chests, sitting on makeshift benches or leaning against a wall, making a row about the latest news and non-stories. A few children, not yet brainwashed by phones and other electronic devices, take advantage of the empty streets to run barefoot on the bitumen or to ride their flashy bikes.
Time has left, causing the world to unravel in slow motion in its absence. The vacated streets tell a story only the quietest can hear.
There is something of infinity that touches this world then, a moment that just is, that creates itself. Beyond the flow of Time and other such boundaries, the streets glitter with a unique magic, sighing into the eternising afternoon.
The afternoon is the space between two breaths — the momentary stillness between the inhale of morning and the exhale of night.
And there, right there, the barriers blur.
Reality bleeds into fantasy, the hands of the clock disappear and under one sky, moments past and the visions of tomorrow all come together.
In that moment of utter disarray, where all things shift out of their axes and vacate their roles, unruly now without Time’s watchful glare…
Note: So it’s been a while, yet again! I hope you have been doing well 💚 Also, I think it’s the first time I’m doing this: posting an unfinished piece. Truth is, it’s an old one but I can’t seem to find the continuation of this story — not in my notebook and certainly not in my head. But I’m fond of it, so here’s to hoping the rest magically comes to me as soon as I’m done publishing it 😂
The hours between 9 to 5 belong to the working force, the productive percentage of the population. The masons and lawyers, the administrative clerks, teachers, supermarket employees, farmers, small store owners, electricians, graphic designers, journalists, judges, police officers, the casually corrupt politicians, the government employees who always seem to roam about like dead leaves blown by the wind, purposeless.
That world of working hours is their domain, those who run the economy so we may all, in turn, be smoothly run by it. They are society maintaining itself, the cogs that make the clock hands turn so the rest of us may be governed by the all-powerful concept of Time. All day long and even under the unforgiving midday sun, there is no one but them in their casual business attires, taking space, owning the city, circling their rightful orbits.
But when the revered, feared clock in the cathedral square strikes a solemn 5 and the claustrophobic offices of the capital sputter out weary employees, when the city is empty of all herd movements and the atmosphere sweetens, curious little things begin to happen.
I wonder if, one day at the beach, you’ve ever taken a good look at the naked coral reefs, the dramatic, rocky outcrops lining the shore. When the tide recedes, all sorts of strange creatures wiggle and crawl out of tiny openings, cautious yet curious of the wide world that has been left to them. Sand-coloured crabs, inky black, viscous leeches, bright orange mollusks and fascinating little amphibians that swim marvelously in the water and totter curiously on the sand — all manner of unimaginable beings suddenly come into existence, as if conjured from a child’s sleepy summer daydreams. Dreams are, after all, clouds of thoughts: you never know how far they will go, where they will land.
“Is it our turn now?” These little lives ask tentatively, “Is it alright to come out?”
Almost shyly, they go after the remains of the day, chasing the last of the seafoam and the sweetness of fading sunrays, trying to capture all the emotion that had poured overground. At last, it is their turn to observe the world, to live a little, weak and unseen as they otherwise may be.
Something quite similar to this happens in the cities. As golden hour descends on the facades of skyscrapers and light flows in cascades and rivulets, much that is unseen is finally revealed. Tucked away in small houses that are not as lively as they used to be, down roads that lead to nowhere and in anonymous neighbourhoods, the city’s retired and ailing take faltering steps and with a sigh, enter the world.
In the deserted streets, they set up worn, wicket chairs or plastic stools and lean back to observe the world. You will also see them — if you know how to look — on balconies, from behind the barred gates of their homes and around some hole-in-the-wall corner store. Some of them have their evening tea; the men will often gather for a smoke and a round of dominoes played on make-shift stools and rickety chairs. The lone tune of some oldies radio channel will float about in the air, coating the surroundings in light nostalgia and the idea that once, there was something great and beautiful, and now little remains of it. These seasoned people-watchers will observe, without reserve, the last of the working force scrambling to get home, hurrying even during the last part of their day. They will comment on appearances, speculate about these city-dwellers’ lives and often speak of the doom of this age.
It may not seem like it, but their sole purpose in that instant is to drink the moment in before it is gone, unused, unspent. The last hour before sunset, the last of the city life that pulsates so loudly during the day, and perhaps, the last of their time in this world. It is a form of grounded escapism, like wandering without getting lost.
It will happen sometimes that you earmark a neighbourhood with the image of a white-haired woman gazing at the world from her wheelchair or of a weathered man in a hat humming old songs. And then, the next time you come about, they are not there. The week after that, too. And the next one. Until you realise they’re gone. Sometimes they just become too sick to move and are confined to their beds and to the views outside of their windows. Other times, some kind soul, often another people-watcher who knows you from watching you go about, will inform you that the person has been long gone.
And then night falls — slowly, slowly but inexorably. The people retreat into their homes, the tide returns and just like this, a new day is born.
I understand more wholly now the little insights and accidental glimpses I have into people’s lives.
I must have been too submerged into myself to notice before, too busy exploring my own depths to contemplate others’. It must be that you miss these sorts of things when you jump headlong onto a moving train — the bullet train of a 9 to 5 fueled by your days, months and years.
Every other life flashed by as minuscule dots of colour; blinking lights in the darkness. Only I was in focus. Only I was real. Everything else was mist: the buildings, the people, the rhythm of life.
Other people were…ideas, intangible concepts. They entered my life too rapidly for me to seize them, to feel the weight of their words in my hands, to connect to their stories.
I caught a flash of colour.
When I opened my eyes, it was already gone.
I would shake myself off, clearing the last of these micro-second mysteries from my mind.
“That was strange.”
And on my way I would be again, drowning in my loneliness, surrounded by millions of unraveling stories, wheezing past them.
I couldn’t exist outside of myself. It was impossible for me to imagine someone not being the way I was. Life was the same for everybody, with no more or less enjoyment for one or the other. It was a tacit piece of knowledge, understood through the narrowing lens of my perceptions, the shriveling of my imagination, the drying out of once abundant streams of consciousness.
That’s what happens, I guess. Your mind is cut and dried, uniformised, squared off until it becomes one-track only — the track designed by those that came before you, a path well-trodden.
Only vaguely could I acknowledge the idea that people were different. Of course, it was just surface knowledge. Statements you have to agree to, like terms and conditions you sign without paying attention. A distracted agreement, a “Yes, yes, alright.” you dismiss a child with.
But the bullet train has slowed down.
All these unknown lives are blooming in a million scents and textures: the mother who smells of baby oil, the couple that walks closely but doesn’t hold hands, the fastfood joint run by two bickering brothers, the papercuts on the newspaper vendor’s fingers, the spicy, taste-bud-burning noodle soup in China town, the dizzy children who fly kites come evening, the white-haired ladies bent at the waist to catch a glimpse of the life taking place beyond their doors.
The train has stopped at an intersection, a cross-hatching of stories and identities, names and worldviews.
The world is large when viewed in its numbers, the summary of all it is: 195 countries, 7.5 billion people and counting, 6,500 languages — it’s impressive, awe-inspiring. But when you get into the details, when you stop to contemplate even a hundred of those 7.5 billion lives, well, the world becomes infinite.
A single piece of fabric, pure white and delicate, so light I barely feel it on the skin of my fingers.
All the grey bleariness of the morning evaporates before it. In a blink, the pounding headache, damp heat and the heavy atmosphere are gone, and there only remains this fragile moment, hanging by a thread.
I am aware that distantly (and yet so near), the city—no, the capital—is huffing and puffing clouds of smoke and heat. It is a boiler room, a steam engine for the whole country. It never stops, constantly pumping, whistling, pushing forward. Always loud.
And yet here we are, in a pocket of calm.
A self-contained bubble, so frail in a city this tough and rough. Here is nothing more, nothing less than a fabrics shop. Its facade is worse for wear, sticky with a light film of grey, as everyplace else in the city.
But inside, the very air is different.
It is cool and light, the way the atmosphere feels like after it has finally rained. Not a particle of dust floats in that air, despite how likely that would be given the endless rolls of fabrics lining the walls. But oh, there’s glitter even in between the cracks in the tiles, shining mischievously atop the keys of an old cash register.
“Welcome! What can I help you with today?”
I can hear the smile in that old voice, raspy and a little breathless. It is a warm voice, one that has told countless stories to many a grandchild.
The shop-owner is an old man with greying hair and a thick beard and whose nose is just a little off-centre, crooked to the left. There is something about him that is so genial, so authentic you could never fake it.
And my words simply unravel from my tongue. How I, we, are here in search of fabric for wedding dresses. The notion is still so novel, so incongruous to me, that in the age of fast-food and fast-fashion, there are still random, normal people going to dressmakers and textile shops to construct an entire outfit from scraps. And that today, one of those people is me.
I think he senses my hesitancy, the slight inexperience in my requests.
“Right this way,” he smiles and extends his arm to a whole new area of the shop. And here are lace, embroidery, flowers bursting out of fabric, tulle in all shades, satin and silk and countless others I cannot name.
“Your mother,” he says conspiratorially “used to come here every week with her mother and two sisters back in the day ! They wouldn’t leave until they had found the exact matching shade of fabric they were looking for.”
From behind me, light giggles emerge. I can only imagine the very same sounds had echoed in this old shop some 20, 25 years ago.
“Every week, don’t believe her if she says otherwise!”
Already, large rolls of fabric are descending on the glass counter. Fingers are dancing over champagne-coloured silk. The whole counter is overcome, cascading with 5 different shades of pink from 5 giant rolls of cloth. And he is already taking out more from over his head, huge swathes of cloth taller than he even is. With ease and rapid precision, he is matching lace and silk, suggesting designs and rejecting others.
“Don’t take satin for this one, it doesn’t fall as nicely on the figure.” Or “Oh, look at this. Look at this, a full ankle-length dress made out of this.”
There are hearts in his eyes when he speaks, reverence in the way he approaches the fabric, the idea. He is someone who sees that the creative process begins with him, and so he gives it his all.
Already, my mother, aunt and sisters are fluttering about me, debating over choices.
That’s when I take a moment to slip away, to bask in the peace, the utter simplicity of this place. It is so removed from everything I know of the city, it is slow and not entirely practical. It is artful, a place where fantasy grows wings, where eyes catch on glistening cascades of golden cloth and weave daydreams of full skirts sweeping ballroom floors. It is a place so necessary, I realise. A safe-place for creation, for dreams which usually fall dead like butterflies in the smog of the city. But here they flutter timidly, then they soar.
As indecision stops the quiet hum of conversation, I waltz (Yes, yes) back in to help. Unhelpfully, I simply add in my own very high dosage of indecision and point to other rolls of fabric above my head. The poor old shop-owner already has 12 different rolls of fabric wrapped over and around him as it is, and I have no idea how to ask him to get some more down.
Then one, two, three sons appear.
All with the same slightly off-centre nose, the same gentle kindness. The youngest is still trying to prove himself to his older brothers, you can see. They seem to be having the time of their lives teasing him as he speaks to us, a group of 5 women. The little one fumbles a little, blushes, stumbles through his sentences. But his hands never once flinch as his sharp scissors descend down a blush pink piece of silk, as he folds it smoothly, squarely into a brown bag.
Much of the morning passes by in a back and forth of ideas, some lengthily debated upon, others cast aside, a few coveted, dreamed of, awed at. Slowly but surely, all hearts fall for some dreamy fabric or other, even mine. My heart stutters at some muted soie sauvage or wild silk, a delightful shade of ocean green. And to match it, lace of the same tone, run through by waves of white and cream and pale blue.
You’re wearing the ocean in a dress, my mind whispers. Tomboyish though I am, I can already feel the long skirt dancing in wavelets around me as I move, can hear its soft rustle like the gentle crash of waves on the shore. It is so light too, it gives me that feeling, the feeling when I lie down in the ocean, arms and legs splayed out, and let the gentle waves carry away all my worries.
“So much for lilac.” My mother teases.
Yes, so much for lilac. My mother knows me, she does. She knows there are plans in the making, wheels turning, winds changing, sails billowing.
But for now, we speak of lilac and bridesmaids and weddings. We speak of dropping anchors, broach lightly on setting sail to new horizons, both my bride-to-be sister and I.
There is something about being here, where my mother used to shop years ago, when she was the same age I am now that touches me profoundly. There is this sharing, this bonding. Like linking the past and the present, the future. It is like I have been introduced to the girl my mother was when she was my age.
It is cyclical too, I realise.
The shop-owner’s earlier words come to me now, as we are ready to leave :
“So, when is your mother going to come pay my shop a visit?”
He had been talking to my mother, reminiscing about the old times.
A hush fell over their formerly lively conversation then. And quietly, the words, tinted with a sadness that cannot ever be washed away, came out.
Yes, today I am here with my mother the way she was with her mother back in the day. Next time I come here, I am not so certain what kind of realities I will bring with me, which griefs and happinesses I will carry in my heart.
We are dropping anchors and setting sail, always.
Before we leave, I ask the shop-owner about the opening hours, because I am learning that I may need more fabric eventually for the dress.
“What time do I close? Oh, as soon as the cash register’s full!”
With a laugh and brown bags full of fabrics and secrets, we leave, losing ourselves to the city.
“I find myself stilling and leaning towards the light, too, yearning to feel its warmth nourish my blemished skin, caress my closed eyelids and slide down the panes of my upturned, trusting (vulnerable, so vulnerable) face.”
The city takes me to her tenderest places, where trees are still saplings and their foliage bursts like foam into the air, trapping errant bits of sunlight in their nooks.
Did you know that even a city as busy as mine could hold peace and light within its midst ? That it could be one part teeming thoroughfares, the cacophony of a thousand lives and one part silence, reflection ? The city provides a sanctuary from herself; a place that is pure and untouched, like a greenhouse where young and diseased plants may grow. Where they can be cured of the smog tainting their leaves, the carbon monoxide stuck to their waxy surface.
I find myself stilling and leaning towards the light, too, yearning to feel its warmth nourish my blemished skin, caress my closed eyelids and slide down the panes of my upturned, trusting (vulnerable, so vulnerable) face. I want to feel young again and pure. To cleanse myself of these deep-rooted impurities : self-deprecation, insecurities, absorbed toxicity. I want to uproot these baobabs of fear that have crawled under my skin, their roots tightening around my feebly-beating heart, feeding off of it. Underneath all that crap, my heart is still young, tender, tender like it was 10 years ago. There is innocence left somewhere in it. And dreams for days on end.
This is how life feels like a movie again.
Flowing with otherworldly gentleness, a crystal-clear stream flows under the overarching roots of a centenarian tree, carrying its yellowed leaves. All the sounds of the city (the honking, shouting and engine roars) slow and fade, submerged in that singular stream, seeming so far away… All you hear, marvellously, is the sound of the water running by. But it’s not really running, you know ? It glides by, or strolls. Its flow is leisurely, unhurried ; it knows exactly where it needs to be and how to get there, so there is no rush, no anxiety, no what-if-I-don’t-make-its and no fear of missing out.
It just is —something I struggle to do everyday of my life.
Like this though, the blood inside my body stops rushing, gushing, hurrying and instead blissfully, oh-so blissfully flows with the stream. Somewhere in the distance, someone has hit the rewind button or played with the speed settings because my whole being slows and settles with that small body of water, running strolling its course. No longer am I swimming against the currents, gasping through the throngs of people and the weight of their unfulfilled dreams. I just flow with the water, somewhere in the city.
“You have to duck a little if you want to daydream too, at least if you don’t want your iridescent bubbles to get caught in the stark black powerlines.”
Art by : Unknown Artist
I watched most of my teens go by, like a bad movie that made me cringe too much.
Now, in my 20s, life is a movie where someone else is endlessly playing with the controls, fast-forwarding through the boring weekday bits : the content-adding drudgery, the repetitive daydreaming of similar scenarios, the nameless longing. Fast-forwarding through the week, I am propelled into the weekend, a rocketship strapped to my back, flying effortlessly past Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays.
The dates on the calendar pass me in a blur, tiny and unrecognisable, like houses when you’re up high on a mountain or on a plane. Did we just pass this neighbourhood ? I could ask. I go ’round and ’round the same weeks, a wave of fresh amnesia hitting as I round the corner of yet another Monday. Then I stumble with burning feet into the weekend, pulse still racing, my body gearing for that fast-forward, that breakneck pace.
I am gushing unspent energy all over the place, pacing with a fury. All my energy brings me out into the city, my city. This brouhaha of smoke clouds and business, where all roads begin and all roads end, where so many paths intersect that you have to be careful not to get your feet all tangled up in other people’s overlapping lives. You have to duck a little if you want to daydream too, at least if you don’t want your iridescent bubbles to get caught in the stark black powerlines. It’s like Icarus’ conundrum : go too low and you will never take off, get too high and you will burn down.
My city, my old city welcomes me like a daughter, like she welcomes the thousands, millions that came to her at all times of days and nights —like a lighthouse during a storm, she is a refuge to many a soul lost at sea.
My footsteps echo through her alleyways the same as they’ve been doing for so many years now. Slowly, she drinks in my restlessness, the fury seeping through my feet to her very heart, where she no doubt redistributes it to the other high-strung people in her purview.
The city takes me to her tenderest places, where trees are still saplings and…
“I am aware that my breathing slows, that my heart sounds like the crash of waves on a distant shore, echoing in a hollow cave. So I try to hang onto reality a little more, to not slip into this pink-peach warmth, the tiredness that carelessly whispers to my limbs”
Everything is a little bit hazy after work.
Distantly, I am aware that I am reclining into my seat, that the other passengers are probably looking at me. I am aware that my breathing slows, that my heart sounds like the crash of waves on a distant shore, echoing in a hollow cave. So I try to hang onto reality a little more, to not slip into this pink-peach warmth, the tiredness that carelessly whispers to my limbs, that wants to let my mind fall, fall, fall…
But Time catches up with me in hours, sometimes days as I lay back in a moving bus, eyes half closed as reality infiltrates them as though sunlight streaming through blinds. Reality reaches me in stripes and spots, abstract motifs dancing waltzes in my head. In this state of tiredness, the world blurs, leaving everything else clear and sharp and obvious. Nebulous feelings metamorphose into colours, shapes, scents, textures that make sense only in that moment.
My head lolls sideways, drops and falls back vertiginously, a warm tiredness assailing all my senses, threatening to overtake me until my vision suddenly hooks onto the beauty of the unusual, the unnoticed ; the discounted. Something that is beautiful, accidentally. There, in the watercolour skies where the colours of twilight are still being mixed, the palette uncertain and indefinite, I untame routine and let adventure carry my mind away. Today, it is the electricity lines that lure me into this real world, only to get further lost in the pathways of the imaginary that my mind conjures. It is these dark woven cables that I will follow to the ends of the country, today. The way they criss-cross and hang about, the way they encase clear skies in their staunch darkness. They are like frames for a photo you want to take, except the photo is the sky and the sky goes on forever, until the end of Time.
Routine is not something I can make peace with. Not now when there is nothing holding me back but myself. Now there is no school to attend, no fear to be had at not being within grounds from 8 to 3. There is no clear path laid ahead for once, and I myself must choose where I go and how. For now, freedom and adventure are things I must work for. For now, I must be patient with days that are a little too alike for my taste. But even routine is not routine when you realise that routine is what you make it out to be. If everyday, I can find a way to untame the known, then…then it is not the routine other people perceive it to be. It is boring if I let it be. It is unadventurous if I let it be. So I won’t.
Quote of the day :
“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”
Some time back, I wrote a post called “Adventures in the City” about slow, deliberate walks in the city and finding adventures hidden in everyday sceneries. And I have been writing about “the City” for a while now, never calling it by name. But I took a few photos on that day (none very professional or even not-blurry, I’m afraid) and I thought it might be time for the City to be properly introduced. And since this blog is fast becoming a little piggy bank for my little moments of infinity, here it is :
The City, My City in all the delicate splendour of a mid-Saturday stroll, sounds of rustling leaves overlapping car honks and the shrill of bicycle bells cutting through.
The sky so blue it hurts my eyes, a gradient of azure that makes me itch to dive in and not surface for a while as I look for stars and nebulae hidden at the other end of the cosmos.
Little discs of sunlight, from when light streams through the gaps and interstices of the foliage, swaying oh-so gently with the wind that rustles the foliage. I’ve taken a mind to calling them “Sunlight ricochets”, lately.
I could spend forever here, craning my neck back to gaze at this lushness, this oasis of filtered light and nature in the heart of a bustling city that, too often, is harsh and cutthroat on the edges. The trees are gentle giants, shielding weary humans from the outside world as they form a dome of sorts over the heads of visitors, leaving warm sun-stains all over the exposed skin of arms, necks, faces and legs. Their endless veins make me look at mine, make me wonder at how my body is so complex : elaborate circuits running under my skin, working day and night, endlessly.
Light. This is very bad photography, probably, what with taking in all that glaring white light. But I love this, all the same.
The city, constructing itself. Constantly rebuilding, constantly changing face.
“And I don’t mean that the city is deserted. But there’s something so transient about people in the city. Like they’re never there to stay, always in passing.”
My heart has been singing the praises of a tough city to love, lately. I have been smiling at urban labyrinths and jungles, wondering at the neon lights flashing in lesser known streets. I’ve been finding adventure in busy cafés and libraries; statues and monuments have spirited me away.
But everyday when I return from work, we go through a village.
For miles and miles the road stretches on, winding around hills and forests damp with dusk. And all around is the village. It does not make me question my love for the city, but there is something about it. It makes me wonder.
In many ways, the village resembles the city: you will find the same kinds of houses, billboards, phones. It is the same language, the same people weaving in and out of the city. But many of these houses are one-storey only. There are no skyscrapers, only trees. There are hedges instead of walls, dogs lazing about instead of beeping alarm systems. Over the gates, purple flowers bloom messily in out-of-control wreaths, covering the spikes meant to keep people out. And the people leave it be. I think they just don’t have the heart to cut off something that took so much effort and time to grow. And the walls, when they are there, are much lower, too. Made as though an ideal height to sit down on with a couple friends and swing your legs back and forth.
But what startles me most is that there are always people around.
And I don’t mean that the city is deserted. But there’s something so transient about people in the city. Like they’re never there to stay, always in passing. The city is this ghostly plane where they spend their time and energy, where flesh and sinewy muscle evaporate and people drift around translucently.
Last week, I met someone at work who was genuinely surprised to find out that I lived in the city.
“I didn’t think anybody lived there.” He explained.
So I always feel like people in the city are never really present, never really there, because there’s always someplace else they need to be. (Which is why people-watching in the city is always such a transcendental experience — all these lives going about in a blur, all these storylines, plot points, overlapping, intersecting as their bodies are at literal crossroads, leaving one side for the other, and all this, before your very eyes. And you sit there, a stationary point in all this organised chaos, feeling like the whole wide world is gravitating around you—and it’s dizzying, exhilarating, cosmological, an escape).
But in the village, people are there. Fleshed out, sinewy. The village is lived in, inhabited. It is not a drifting plane, blinking lethargically through the brume. People spend time in the village, they linger as though it were warm bed sheets on a biting winter day.
There are old women dressed in white doing yoga on the village council plain as the sun lowers towards the horizon, three old men are playing dominoes on the sidewalk, a low stool serving as a makeshift table. While quietly, another old man passes by, white haired and neat-looking, pedaling an old but trusty bicycle, tranquil.
And the teenagers, they agglutinate by the children’s park, girls giggling on plastic ponies too small for them. Other girls and boys flutter by, lean against walls, play coy and then stumble into shyness, quietly eating ice-creams before the sun sets and the day ends. The kids play football on the road until a car approaches, then they run barefooted to the pavement, panting, waiting for it to pass.
There is a kite.
Truly, the city has travelers, nomads, business people of all kinds — but the village, the village is something else.
Where the city goes dark only to flare up with neon lights, the village lights up with a hum, glows a soft orange by the door of every house, where a lamp waits, like a lighthouse in the fog, to guide all the city dwellers home.