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.