“Are we really going back to the city?” I must have asked that question a hundred times. But there we were, not even a days ride from the city, and I was still asking that question. But this time he just led me to the top of the ridge and pointed. There, spread across an expanse farther than I could see, was the city. “It’s beautiful,” I cried out and looked with my binoculars. Would it be like I remembered?
With the buildings reached the clouds, skyscrapers topped with flags and banners, waving in the breeze. The Sun setting, making the glass covered buildings erupt with brilliant orange light. Oh the smoky haze from the factory, small brown houses on the edge of the city. I knew in my heart how they would all look. The people washing their laundry and hanging the shirts to dry in the dusty breeze. Teenagers on bicycles, racing past the factory gates to bring a parent some lunch.
There would be a school, with young children pouring out into the playground at lunch, while the older students sat in their classrooms and looked outside, longing for freedom. But they were trapped inside the drab school house, a prisoner to their teachers. Their life was quiet, people were friends. Even as you moved closer to the inner city, things were still very suburban. A relaxing town, perhaps a park or two, with fountains and flowers. Older people walking hand in hand on their way to play golf or tennis. Oh those places were their now, in my mind.
Is it a sin to look back and remember how things were? The way the graffiti arced along the walls of the man made river. ‘Joie’ and ‘Tarcer’s Rock’ among other illegible spray-paint scrawls, written by the tough, poor, lonely kids who inhabited the ghetto district of the city. But no city was perfect, not even this one with its slums, filled with starving people, child and adult alike. And yet those places held there own beauty, when I could seen the deadlocked, barefoot rastafarian’s playing on steel drums, beater guitars and what ever other instruments they had.
There was a time I rode the great iron horse through that part of the city, and I saw a bonfire, raging, with an animal across the spit. The train paused long enough for me to open my window and wave at the people. They were happy, singing, playing music, and they waved back. “Take care, sister,” they yelled to me as the train moved by, “Peace!”
And they had the right of it.
These thoughts poured through my mind as I looked out to see the city. It had been years. The city of my dreams was no more. I looked out and I saw blackened, broken skyscrapers. I saw people, huddled by a fire in a ten-gallon drum, not singing or dancing. The joy I had seen in that city was gone. It was as if someone had snuffed the light out of the heart of the city, leaving only the dull glow of fear. The vibrancy, the love, the pleasure. It was all gone.
He saw my face, “Well?” He was calm and relaxed, and when I asked him what happened, he shook his head, “It was always like this. It’s always been like this. But back before, when you hadn’t seen the world, this city WAS your world.” I put my binoculars away and I shook my head. “Now what,” he asked?
With a sigh I spoke softly, “Now we go home.” Turning my back on the city, I went to the car.
And we did. My last ride into the city, and I never again stepped foot inside its limits.