Friday, 28 April 2017
It's the dead of the night and the outskirts of the city have fallen into a trance. Old wooden street lamps with peeling skins of red and blue paint illuminate the hushed narrow laneways. Rusted metal bikes, plastic crates, and bits and pieces of gnarly wet cardboard are stacked high into hills of junk against the walls of people's homes.
In this part of town, the folks lived in low rise tenements; sleeping, eating, and shitting in rooms so small they could barely be called 'rooms'. One man's flat could be the equivalent size and stench of a cockroach infested, piss stained subway bathroom. Worse, he'd usually be sharing with others. A housewife. Young children. Septuagenarian parents. Colleagues from the local toxic chemicals factory. All these people stuffed like sardines in a weathered, dented, cold war era can... rotting away their souls in a frothing stew of boredom, spiced only with what was available - wanton crime and adultery.
Some of these buildings were like prisons. They were grey, and boring, and the windows adorned by a facade of steel bars to supposedly keep burglars out. But of course there would likely be nothing of value to steal. The more accurate answer was to keep little kids from falling and splattering their brains on the asphalt while their parents handled and inhaled poisonous amounts of ammonia at the nearby factory for an unlivable wage. Poor kids. Poor parents. Poor town.
It was freezing and I could see whispers of my breath dance in front of my eyes, fogging up my glasses. It probably wasn't a good idea to take a stroll in this weather, time, or location, especially being a petite, short statured woman with no phone or items on me that could be utilised as a makeshift weapon at any given moment. But it didn't matter. It didn't matter tonight if the skinny guy with the permanently crooked smile from the tobacco shop decided to follow me, corner me, assault me. At least, I don't think it matters to me anymore. Not right now.
Finally, after weaving through several more laneways and trudging past mounds of inexplicable textiles, a syringe, an old broken scooter whose parts have yet to be taken by entrepreneurial passersby, and more plastic crates, I arrived at my destination.
I had never been this far and was surprised that the river had not yet transformed into black still ooze strewn with Coca Cola cans and plastic bottles. Surely, despite its somewhat healthy appearance, the chems from the factory two kilometres ahead would have poisoned it already. Regardless, this wouldn't make any difference. Perhaps, it would simply make the end more pleasant, which would be kind of ironic.
I walked over to the shoddy steel bridge and looked over the water. I knew it was deep. Many children have drowned here over the last decade. When the parents were away, toddlers were either falling out of storeyed buildings, running in front of trucks, getting stuck in drains, or wandering into rivers. Gruesome. Would there be any bodies left in here?
I climbed up onto the bridge railing, and it shuddered beneath me. My hands gripped the pole, but my fingers were trembling. For the fifth time in the last few minutes, I inhaled deeply, sucking in the air until I could no more. But this time, I held it. I had played this over and over again in my mind and I knew I was more than ready.
Goodbye friends. Goodbye mum, dad. Goodbye James. Goodbye earth.
I leaped away from the railing, arms wide open, eyes closed, and suspended in the air for those brief milliseconds - I embraced my newfound freedom.