Friday, 28 April 2017
It's the dead of the night and the outskirts of the city have fallen into a trance. Old wooden street lamps with peeling skins of red and blue paint illuminate the hushed narrow laneways. Rusted metal bikes, plastic crates, and bits and pieces of gnarly wet cardboard are stacked high into hills of junk against the walls of people's homes.
In this part of town, the folks lived in old, low rise tenements; sleeping, eating, and shitting in flats so small they could barely be called 'rooms'. Cockroach infestations. Piss stains. And walls so thin you could hear a neighbour's cough from the left, and the screams of a woman being beaten by her abusive husband from two doors right.
Many of these flats were inhabited by depressed housewives looking after young children while the absentee fathers slaved at some chemicals factory fifty miles away. Sometimes, there is also a moribund grandparent deteriorating in front of the television, blind to the colourful images flashing on the screen, their eyes having already succumbed to the milky blue sheen of late stage glaucoma. If men lived here, they were drunks and losers whose bodies or minds no longer enabled them to work. All these people stuffed like sardines into weathered, dented, cold war era cans... rotting away their souls in a frothing stew of hopelessness and boredom, spiced only with what was available - wanton crime and adultery.
These tenements were essentially prisons. They were grey, and boring, and the windows adorned by a facade of steel bars. To keep burglars out? No. There was nothing of value to steal here. The more appropriate answer was to keep little kids in - from falling and splattering their brains on the asphalt, or to stop mothers from jumping to their deaths, fed up with husbands who never returned, and who were themselves dying from the lethal amounts of ammonia they inhaled daily at the nearby factory for unlivable wages. It was a woebegone backwash of a town.
And I needed to be free from it.
It was freezing, and I could see wisps of my breath dance in front of my eyes. It probably wasn't a good idea to take a stroll in this weather, time, or location, especially not as a lone woman.
I had no phone on me, nor items that could be jerry-rigged as a weapon at any given moment. Assaults on women were notoriously common here, what with the lack of husbands around. Men drunk off baijiu would often roam the streets in the evening, scouring for prey. But it didn't matter to me. Not tonight.
I weaved through several more laneways and trudged past mounds of inexplicable textiles, a syringe, an old broken scooter whose parts have yet to be taken by an entrepreneurial passerby, and finally arrived at my destination.
I had never been this far and was surprised that the river that stretched before me had not yet transformed into black still ooze strewn with Coca Cola cans and plastic bottles. Surely, despite its somewhat salubrious appearance, the chems from the factory two kilometres ahead would have poisoned it already. I wasn't complaining though. It would at least help make the end more pleasant.
I walked over to the shoddy steel bridge and looked over the water. I knew it was deep. A few children have drowned here over the last decade. With the parents away or occupied, toddlers were always falling out of balconies, running in front of trucks, getting stuck in drains, or wandering into rivers. Always dying gruesomely. Would there be any bodies left in here?
I climbed up onto the railing, and it shuddered beneath me. My hands gripped the pole, but my fingers were trembling. For the fifth time in the last thirty seconds, I inhaled deeply, sucking in the air until I could no more. But this time, I held it. I had played this over and over again in my mind - dreamt about it - desired it. And I knew I was more than ready.
I leaped away from the railing, arms wide open, eyes closed, and suspended in the air for those brief milliseconds - I embraced my newfound freedom.