Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
Welcome to the City
> Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not.
The streets took me soon after my arrival. I’d left town to escape the web there, a network which suffocates all caught too tight in spaces so socially confined. Some had simply ceased to struggle; my lot was not so easy. The whole would have killed me had I not escaped. My uncle, I saw that he had died there. He still walked, of course, but you could see it in his eyes. You could see it in the way he drank his beer.
Here I was free, or so I felt at first. At last, I felt certain—yes, at last I could carry myself as I was rather than a posture contorted by webs of expectation. This was the freedom of the city, that for which I had cut ties with even my beloved cousins. None of my qualms had anything to do with the quality of the people there, or at least not all of them, that was the tragedy; a strange miasma hung over the town.
I still remember that first day, stepping off the train and feeling my chest expand. The air was by no means fresh, still there was a freshness to the cold and a novelty to this unfamiliar sense. This was a place that you could feel in your lungs; it was present in every breath. Stepping off the train that day I rejoiced in this sensation.
Everyone was free here, so many faces strangely painted passed me on the streets. From the very outset it was obvious that I could be anyone and none other would bat an eyelid, even if I walked right by them. I seemed to be the only one amazed at the sort of people seen; though the constancy of this parade soon sapped this first impression, still I remember that day. Hardly did I see the people, even then, but what they meant for me. This was a place I could swing my arms, walk no longer hunched.
Those first days I bounced along, so full of energy was I then; it was an elastic potential that had been building all the while in my anticipation. All of a sudden I felt myself released, that I went then and there immediately to the largest stores and spent a little of what I’d saved just for this day. I was to be a person, and for that I needed an outfit. This much was apparent for those I’d seen on the streets. I did not necessarily need it to be loud, still it had to be something; it had to be me.
I found the perfect uniform there, a piece which represented me and mine; it was not the boldest outfit but one which fit perfectly with the image that I sought. None can ever truly shed their origins, those that try the hardest merely end up trapped by reaction; so my clothes now reflected the town from which I’d come and the life I’d lived up until now. Here and there were mixed icons of the city, signs of a call heard.
Throwing my old clothes away at the store, I strode back onto the street; then I felt myself myself—at last, myself! I felt that in acting this out I had finally come to know who I was. Somehow walking that day a thing felt missing, concluded then that this required a further change: hair, jewelry—what else? These items acquired and still somehow I felt myself strangely invisible.
Days passed, weeks. The money I had brought began to run low; still there was not much to left to buy. I had made myself, now the problem was asking what remained. As my money ran low I began to think of work, recalled that had always been the plan: arrive a while, find myself, find work—a life, in other words, that was what I intended.
Each morning I would scan the newspaper, would mark out advertisements with a thumb pressed in coffee and then slyly tear out the page when the waitress wasn’t looking. My weeks revolved around the stained clippings thus identified and the places indicated by each. With these I would wander daily this way and that, ever a smile in my outfit pressed perfect.
Every day I would visit offices and sit on couches alongside others much like me. We were all there, however different, for the same purpose. All waited with the same stark smile. None of us would talk nor look long at one another, though few could have said why. It was as if there was something in our eyes that we did not want to see. We refused this mirror, rightly so; it was better not to see.
Somehow each interview went the same. We were asked questions, meaningless things which seemed serve only to confirm the impression made at the outset; it was already clear to them that we were each and every all superfluous. There must have been something in our bearing that gave this away. There was nothing there. A piece of paper with our name at the top, notes taken in the meeting; then we went away.
Thus my life drifted, that I had come here for freedom and found a void. Some days it felt as if spinning endlessly in an infinite absence. The air I had once breathed with promise of new ease now began to dry the back of my throat. There was something missing, something that I had never known nor could I even now think. This was the essence of the city, though then I did not know it yet; this the presence of an absence.
The city could not have been what it was, neither for itself nor me, without this aspect. There was here the freedom for all things, that this was symbolised even in the blank concrete pads which paved the place entire. Graffiti here was a sign seeking desperation designed to break the infinite repetition with at least a single point of meaning individually imposed. Of course, this alone from inside; those yet without soon saw only a pattern writ ad infinitum now of concrete covered curling scrawls.
Every one of these a little scream, a small rebellion; yet all so soon consumed by the same which impelled and was their origin. The city sat triumphant devouring all that presumed itself a contrary tendency. This was its great power, that those who sought escape conformism found their individuality swallowed by this void of freedom. Here I sought myself only to lose all I had; another body filed away and forgotten.