Tablo reader up chevron

This City Breathes

When I stepped down onto the platform, it was as if my protective skin, plastered on over the course of a decade, was falling off in feathers and drifting, irrevocably lost, over the train tracks en route to a far more forgiving world. For the first time in a long time, I became acutely aware of the wind pinching my skin and ringing in my ears. Nostalgia had been reincarnated into something altogether new - it was physical and painful. I felt as if I was walking on knives as I ambled out of the station to face the dizzying brightness of the overcast sky and each step brought an anvil down on my head with the realisation that nothing and everything had changed.

Every movement was tinged with regret that I had returned to this place after so many years. I wore my sins as if they were a perceptible layer of grime and felt that every passerby was leering at me while klaxons were screeching at every traffic light for my attention. The sound of laughter was accompanied by a rising unease in my stomach, a mild panic washing over my limbs as I upped my pace to get away from the ocean of people. That was when I realised that coming back had probably been the right thing to do all along. I needed that shock to expunge my soul. The cold sweats I was experiencing seemed to manifest in dreary colours of regret, dripping from my limp body and pooling at my feet. The first trauma we experience in life is universal: that being our birth. Rebirth, then, must be a brand new horror; something unpleasant beyond imagination.

I used to dance on those cobbled streets. The cramped, dingy bars were my old haunts, just revamped and renamed. And then there was that all too familiar notion that the city was a living, breathing, entity beginning to close in on me. This city breathes. It breathes and it writes. I can see it now, inhaling and exhaling, slow and languorous, with the buildings all rolling on its sigh. Occasionally it splutters, shudders, coughs and shuffles. The sleeping beast slumbers on, unaware of the metropolis growing along its back; of all the people with their tiny, irrelevant lives, barely a speck of dust on the heaving shoulder of our behemoth cosmos. I am one of those people, although maybe there was a time when the cosmos was, at least, vaguely aware of me.

At this time of year, I’d be wearing limp daisies in my braids, plucked from patches in friends’ gardens, so that my hair would be peppered in withering, white petals among the knots and tangles. I enjoyed the idea of appearing unkempt in an endearing way. I’d get soaked in the morning downpour, lulled into a trance by the velvety song of the rain - a habit almost encouraged by my unconventional vanity, although I never set out with the intention of getting drenched. When I’d arrive at my destination, shivering in my sodden clothes, I’d bask in the glow of my free-spiritedness, purely because I was so adamant - so stubborn - about the idea of freedom. I was chained, but that was fine. Desert rock was sex here and sex was religion and religion was so multifaceted that it became one big, boring shamble. My love was so hapless, so intense and all-consuming that there was only one person on earth at any given time that I had energy to give it to. Aesthetically, I had been born fifty years too late and liked to think that philosophically, I had been born fifty years too early. Had I not made the mistakes that I had made, I probably would have grown up to be many admirable or deplorable things, depending on who you asked.

There is no shame in trying to right the wrongs of your past. It’s never too late to say what should have been said, as long as you are able to. We are not infallible creatures, however. In a plea for forgiveness, it’s so easy to manipulate the truth ever so slightly. Emphasize some points here or there, downplay something else. Lies are like fruit flies. As nature dictates, we grow drunk and bloated on the syrupy sweetness dripping from the fruit of our trust for each other. I feel defiled, every single day of my life, by the trail I have left in my wake. I never thought of myself as a bad person, and yet I smear disease on the walls of rebuilt lives with the words that won’t stop spewing from my mouth, wearing my infestation like a flower garland. Sometimes I think one more pretty white lie will turn the hoard into a swarm that calls plagues. Believe me when I say that all of this was never intentional - that I should grit my teeth and lie so prettily with enough conviction to end humanity. The truth just wasn’t believable - not even to me, half the time.

So there I was, back in the breathing, pulsating city, to find closure. They had knocked down the building I used to live in at that point; three storeys high was where you could find me, screaming myself awake at night. One of the girls died in the nightclub on the docks - she was comforting me inside my head as I skirted that busy strip, all while twisting my head to get a better view of the place I last saw her alive. The coroner’s report claimed that it was a drug-related incident, but I knew better. The memories were coming, thicker, heavier and more lucid with each unsteady step - they were innumerable, considering the fact they were held in such a small, compact space. I knew that I wasn’t ready to face them, purely because I would never, ever be ready, but living life teetering on the edge of crippling guilt just wasn’t working out for me. Nimono - she made sure of that. I’d reached the point where I had exhausted all avenues in the search for answers, dusted every nook and cranny for the slightest glimpse of something that made sense. I’d milked my own brain to death in the process. This was me coming to accept that my suffering was not about to grant me any special privileges, even though I had played my role as a stringed up marionette to the gods to perfection. No, they were never going to reach out and quell the desperate combing of my mind. All I could expect to find now was closure. Bittersweet closure.

I had made it to the cluster of bars all neatly arranged like charms on a bracelet down one narrow, sleepy road, when I suddenly became aware of the anxious beating of my heart. I could hear a dull thudding in my head and the blood was coursing in my ears. I had made it this far, I thought to myself. If I could bypass my memories of them, then surely I can bypass my memories of him. Still, my feet dragged as I continued up the incline. The Fade was obscured from view from where I was walking, but I knew as soon as I turned the corner, it would be there, slotted in amongst the dilapidated buildings which were constantly changing hands due to their location in the seedy outskirts of the bustling inner-city.

Halfway up, I stopped and inwardly, began to pray. If there is a god, I thought to myself, who does not regard humanity with the methodical, emotionless bedside manner of a mortician; whose stance in relation to the planet is anything better than amoral; who doesn’t find me as deplorable as some ant gorging itself on their celestial oranges at the height of summer, then please, give me strength.

And that’s where I laughed bitterly to myself, in the knowledge that such god exists if Nimono was anything to go by.

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

You might like Bethany Darling's other books...