Homeward Bound

So much had changed since he last was here. They had knocked down the old row of shops. The apartment blocks that jutted out into that ephemeral sun-kissed sky were gone as well. Glass and steel replaced concrete and brick. He could not tell if it was an improvement or not. This had never been a particularly nice neighbourhood, even through nostalgia tinted lenses, it still looked grey. Pedestrians bobbed along with the fearful walks of men being followed, watching the ground with such intensity it was as if they feared it would fall from beneath them. But of course, they were being watched. There was nowhere you could go to escape the cold soulless gaze of the watching-men. Eyes on every corner, in every shop, under every eave; no back-alley or shadowed crevice was free from their scrutiny. One of these new towers, he thought, one of them is filled with the watchers – men in suits doing nothing but observing the city, searching out the slightest taint of rebellion and stamping it to dust before it could infect their perfect world. Of course, the stamping was another departments job – another tower, more men in suits.
And the air, there was an acrid aroma to it. They had tried to mask it. Restaurants lined the first floors of their new shiny towers billowing out a battery of smells. Constant traffic – slower than the pedestrians – added it’s own burnt air, but despite all that nothing could remove that undertone. It was there from before. It belonged to the old city. When they had built over the old, knocked it down and raised it up again, they had not been able to remove the soul of it. Tintinnabulation startled him into alertness:
“Watch it asshole”
Passing cyclist. Almost hit him. The cycle lanes are new, he pondered. What was he thinking of? This place had a way of making you forget. It wanted you to forget; all the easier to lull you into believing in it when you didn’t realise what life could be like outside these cold-grey streets. He walked on, passed a pile of blankets and trash. Wait. No. A man’s inside, huddled for warmth, face masked in dirt and sorrow. The city doesn’t want him to be seen. It masks them, the forgotten, makes it easier to sell the illusion. A sniff, a taste, the old-town smell was back. Notes of bitter almonds, undercurrents of winter woes, a scent that spoke in all languages, dialects, and tones:
“This is where dreams go to die.” He spoke out loud before his mind could be silenced, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here…”

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