Dawn in the Old Capital

“The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital…”

Photograph by : Masashi Wakui

The old capital sleeps still as my footsteps echo in its dimly-lit streets, shoes clacking against the marble floor of a colonial-age building that stands proud and mighty, even in the dark.

These teeming thoroughfares that are always loud, infused with smog, resonating the cries of vendors are now so calm, so silent. Almost robbed of life. But there is this silent energy that thrums in the old city, as though the heart, the essence of the city came to life at night, revealing itself to me.

In the orange light of the streetlamps flickering gently in a puddle, the years slowly pass me by.

There is a scent of wildness and freshness, and there is too much sky. Too much sea; the port has yet to be. The city is so young, only now emerging from the ground. Wisps of a language too old for me to understand float in the air. In coaches and carriages, there are men and women, dressed in the finest cottons and silks on their trip to the newly-born capital, hair coiffed, faces painted. But behind them others trail. Nameless. Faces darkened with sweat and grime, with no choice but to be brought to this foreign city and to do as others will. History will remember the names of the ones who brought them there. But their own stories will forever be lost in the nooks and crannies of the capital. The city reminds me that it has never been kind.

But it is archaic, has been there for a long, long time.

The carriages fade, and instead, a crowd amasses near the docks. The first letters have arrived. And newspapers several months old, spices, all sorts of items from around the known world (silk from china, embroidered cloths from India…).

Soon and yet not soon enough, the faces of those who wander the capital freely change. Now, dark skin gleams proudly under the sun, braided locks tumble freely in the wind.

And then all the horses fade. Soon, a few sleek and shiny cars ride along asphalted streets. The capital is changing. It has been changing for a long time now. A boy cries out headlines, stacks of newspapers behind his frail legs. Families bustle around, buying groceries and presents for upcoming holidays. The city is warm and welcoming, now. Many a wayward sailor finds home in one of its hidden places.

And then the boy is gone, and the headlines speak of a war. The streets are cold, the sunlight unwelcome. Whispers of “the war” fan now-sparsely populated roads. The people are glum and thin. Smiles turn out to be rarer commodities than food. Officers, decked in imposing uniforms stalk around, seeming tall and all too important, whisper heatedly of things only they know. The city does not grow much during that time. It hides.

And then the war is over. It is a blink of an eye to the old city, that war. Yet for its people it seemed like it would never end, even when it did. The city is never the same after.

The cars grow sleeker and more numerous now. But protests fill the streets of the city ever so often, and the old capital can only bow to the determined faces, the strong arms brandishing signs.

And then all too fast the years flash by, and even as my eyes water from the whiplash of that much knowledge all at once, I catch glimpses of faces that seem distantly familiar. Faces that I have only ever seen this young and carefree in yellowed photographs. Floral skirts and wild hair flow in the wind, large, tinted sunglasses resting atop noses.

And then there is a child tottering about near the port, ignoring a melting heap of ice-cream, instead entranced by the horizon, the boats and ships leaving the harbour. I know who that child is. I remember.

And later, later, the city rises from the earth and the night, touches the skies and doesn’t mean to stop there.

The day is new, but I am an old, old soul navigating this life through in the old capital.