goodbye

The city knows I'm leaving

The city knows I'm leaving and although it reacts slowly its judgements are intractable and painful. The roads are becoming difficult — decayed patches in asphalt and tarmac appearing every day, collapsed in on themselves like cavities, like sores in a long grey tongue. The ghosts are getting angrier. Maybe it seems arrogant for me to describe fellow human beings as ghosts, but I include myself. To me they are all ghosts, the grey ones passing me in the morning, stalking their own rain-shadows to work - they pass through me without seeing me, leaving only shivers. I pass through them too. Their faces flicker past me and begin to merge like the images on a zoetrope. Laughing, shouting, frowning, empty.

Everything here seems designed to keep an obsessive mind occupied for all eternity. Late at night, where I used to stand feeling lonely on the balcony overlooking the apartment district, now I stand with a baby, gently jigging up and down. Baby likes to be rocked, and I don't feel lonely any more, but the view is the same: endless lego-block buildings stacked and jumbled like the unfinished projects of a child. Everything is square, rectangular, straight, reflective. Office buildings like grids with coloured flourescent lights, apartment buildings like gigantic nests of cubicles. The window, the wall, the building, all right-angled, calculated for spatial efficiency and economic maximization. Stack us in like sardines and charge us as much as possible. On our walls we have rectangular pictures, the frames strangling the scenes. The windows strangle the world. The buildings strangle the people. Thousands upon thousands of straight lines and right angles as far as I can see. The cellular automata we have created as our dwelling-places and artworks. Our legacy of lines and frames and grids, our blocks stacked to the sky, the triumph of the endlessly repeated unit over the organic whole.

I dream of myself as a country. I dream of myself as a battleground. I dream of myself as a videogame territory, gridlines and hexagons and cubes all bundled together, arteries like superhighways, mapped out perfectly, and those warriors, those soldiers, those thoughts, go to war over my cells. In my body's day they fight by the light of an inner sun and by night they light torches soaked in enzymes. Their feet stamp to the beat of a polka, to the tick of the metronome that replaced my heart.

The city knows I'm leaving and it turns its best face out to me sometimes. The sun sets over the river and all the glass office rooves catch fire and look like the citadels of Byzantium. The canal docks smell briefly of the sea, and gulls and herons gather on the jetty, crying. I can close my eyes and imagine myself at the beach, on the shore of an island, on a hill overlooking the ocean thirty thousand years ago. The pounding rain melts the harsh angles of the windows and doorframes and everything seems to flow in my sight as I sit in the warmth. The baby is asleep and so is his mother and my apartment sits in the sky like a bubble of safe warmth suspended over distant walking ghosts, boats, toy cars. That's how she woos us, the city. That's the bargain she offers.

One day I will miss these shining angles and windows and the million ghostly reflections of myself in windows and mirrors, but not today. Today I miss the trees. The silent language of patience, the way a stone is embraced and loved by moss and rain until it forgets it is a stone and becomes the ghost of a growing thing, a home without angles. The way I will walk ten miles without seeing a straight line that has not been broken by something chaotic - a crack, a branch, a slant, a collapse, a meander. The way I'll feel that obsessive chant in the mind weakening: the city's voice, her final siren song painting images of a timeless perfection. In the future, love, always in the future. Until it stops, and I return to where I was before; to what I always was anyway. Imperfect. Alive. Now.