Monday, February 23, 2009

The Nonexistent City

This morning on the subway I saw a messenger bag printed with an image of old trolley tracks on cobblestones surrounded by and disappearing under asphalt. I thought: beneath this city, there is another city. We live in one city, not entirely different from the one that came before, only partially plastered over it. However, many still live in that other, nonexistent city.

An old lady gets on the bus slowly and says, at the top of the steps, "Bus driver, live while you're young. It only gets harder." Once settled, she starts talking about elevated trains. "Driver, you're too young to remember them. We had them on second, third, and ninth avenues. I rode to work along the ninth avenue line, at least until ninety-sixth street."

In that city, with its trains rumbling overhead, she moved freely. Here, in the existing city, she stands up anxiously and the bus driver tells her, "We're not at forty-third yet." She says, "We're at forty-fifth." Him: "There's traffic. Sit down. Take a load off."

She obeys. As she leaves the bus, she moves so slowly. The bus hydraulics sigh, lowering the bus down. We all hold our breath, imaging the fall, the bones broken, the woman lying in a pile, never to heal again, if even to live. Then, with intense focus, she alights and our watching minds kiss the ground that steadies her. Against a seething crowd, she moves as if blown by a breeze, held up only by her orange knit hat. She moves in this new city that is exiling her into its nonexistent quarters.

Her body does not fail her because of its years. It fails her because the air has changed, and her lungs have not changed enough to fully breath it. The food has changed, and she cannot entirely gain sustenance from it. Locations have changed, and this disorients and confuses her, causing her accidents. She lives not as we might live in another country or city, but as we might on another planet. Yet that's a poor analogy, since existence and nonexistence are not different places, but are the difference inherent in the same place.

One day, she will decide to move out, to leave existence for the nonexistent city entirely, stop her constant shuttling in between. She will lose her timeshare in existence and we will stop noticing her on her brief visits. She will stop this tiresome existing and move into the covered-over city year round, riding its trains, walking its streets, perhaps occasionally peeking back from an illustration on someone's messenger bag.

No comments:

Post a Comment