I arrived and the city was alone, I mean alone, alone. Like that intimacy of a static shock, that emerges from the centre of silence to the very tip of each hair on the body. Like when you touch the cold toe of your father to realize that he is dead. No turning back, his first day as a dead person.
Well, the city was defunct. They say that when one leaves a place behind, the last photographic image is frozen and the memory is made. This loses warmth, gains coldness, and remains petrified, so that one by one they can be piled on the back. Perhaps this is why old people walk hunched over, from all the weight of so many memories. This last photo-memory makes it difficult to understand that even though one is not present, the place that one left behind remains alive. The first light is still lit every morning, the last light is still turned off every night and the motherly early dawn keeps taking care of the drunk, showing through the puddles his wandering soul zigzagging.
Because of the rigidity of the memories, it is not easy to understand that the liquids of the place one left still run through his veins. The racket of the city inhales and exhales, and that the birds sing in the neighbourhoods and escape from thousands of open cages…whether one is present or not.
Here the city did not remain alive, it remained dead. I don’t know why and I don’t know when.
The place is the same as before, but I don’t recognize what I see. I am sure that it is the right place, because I walked in and there was a welcome sign. The kind that the councils place so that you know you arrived.
While I looked for the street where I was born – maybe looking for my mother’s arms – I thought I saw a child. But, what would a lonely creature be doing in a deserted city? What looked to be a young girl, it really was. She got closer to me and beckoned to follow her. I wanted to ask what she knew about what was happening or better yet, not happening? I followed her. She started to run and forced me to run.
I yelled, “stop, be careful!” Watching a little girl run on a big deserted avenue seems much more dangerous than watching her on the same avenue full of cars. She turned around a corner where a group of children were playing in a schoolyard. The children pummelled the silence with laughter. The mysterious creature and unique inhabitant joined the group of mysterious children, unique inhabitants. While I tried to understand first this loneliness and now the presence of the children, someone who seemed to be a teacher came out into the schoolyard, but quickly returned to the building. The girl ran from the schoolyard and I followed her saying, “be careful, you can’t run like that through an empty city!”
The little girl entered what looked like a market. I got closer to find myself in a typical local market. The creature was always visible, but now frustratingly unreachable. The market full of new unique residents (and noisy ones), gave a view, far away, of a completely transited avenue: horns, motors, whistles, police officers, ambulance sirens…people coming and going. A subway entrance also emerged, with open rivers of people entering and leaving indefinitely. There was no longer any sign of the girl.
The lifeless city was alive. The spaces earned their existence. They filled slowly and continually like the waves of a river when a rock is skipped over the surface. I found myself almost on the outskirts, pushed and welcomed at the same time by these reconstructed scenes.
These aren’t the people that I remember; they are all different. I ask myself, where were they the moment I arrived? And where are those that I left? Could it be that in the distance, memory unkisses, unhugs and retrieves infatuations? Could it be that one takes with themselves the souls of people they know and doesn’t return them to their bodies and those bodies must make new souls?
I suppose that one, upon arriving to the place that was left long ago, draws new bodies, faces, and loves…or perhaps after everything, the place that hasn’t been visited in a long time, does die and is revived with each visit.
Words: Helen Blejerman
Translation: Laura Davis
Photos: Sam Valdes.