[short story, by Sha’Tara – part 4]
“The City in the East”
I had to get off here, I had no more money. This is Montreal, so it is called, but you know? It’s “The City” because no matter where I go, it’s always the same City. There’s no escape from the City. It’s where you go to earn a living and to get beaten into the ground by the Patriarchy. There is no other place because every other place is an adjunct of the City. Without the City all the outlying human settlements crumble into dust because the money that sustains the world comes from “The City.”
This eastern City speaks two languages. That’s fine, they happen to be the two languages I speak.
“Pardonnez-moi madame, je cherche un apartement à louer. Pouvez-vous m’aider?”
“Mais oui ma chère. On descends cette rue et voila: les apartements Fontainebleu. Ils sont bien, et pas trop coûteux”
“Ah, merci bien.”
“De rien, chérie. Mon plaisir.”
(“Excuse me ma’am, I’m looking for a rental apartment. Can you help me?”
“But of course my dear. We go down this street and there you are: the Fontainebleu apartments. They’re nice and not so expensive.”
“Ah, thank you so much.”
“It’s nothing honey. My pleasure.”)
Easy. I find an apartment I like and leave without committing to anything. I need to find a job now. I need money.
As I thought it wasn’t hard to find a position with a newspaper. Just enough money to pay rent and bus fare to work and back. A beginning. No, I mean another beginning. And life resumes “this petty pace from day to day to the last syllables of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” (McBeth – Shakespeare)
I feel weighted down with my own thoughts; thoughts of death. I feel a cold that doesn’t come from outside and I’m alone and so terribly lonely. It’s as if my life has been taken and placed on a sacrificial altar. And little wonder: I’m a proof reader and the news I read over are enough to crush the toughest boulder. How can they stand it? How can they do these things; how can they write these things? How can they read these things?
And then, after shutting off the TV and turning off the lights, as I get ready for sleep in my “new” apartment, in my little single bed with the bad and noisy springs, I begin to relive some of my own experiences. How can they? They can because they can’t humanely relate to the stories they observe, write up and read. They have no empathy, even less compassion. Horror and terror; torture and death: they enjoy it. They like it. Icing on the daily grind cake. And there’s money in it, lots of money. Death and destruction are always profitable.
Letters to the editor, some comments I run across make my blood run cold.
“It’s happening to them, not to me: why? Because they deserve it.
“It’s OK, they’re used to that way of life; you can’t help them.
“Why do they keep having so many kids they can’t feed anyway?
“They’re lazy, that’s why they live in squalor.
“They don’t care about their kids; they sell them as slave labour or prostitutes for cash or cows.
“The world’s better off without them.
“They could have a democracy if they wanted it.
“They don’t want to understand the values that make us great.
“They’re all guerrillas and terrorists and they’ll just as soon kill you as look at you. If it were up to me I’d nuke ‘em all.”
And I ask myself, here in the dark with a weak street lamp testing my threadbare curtain: who are the real terrorists? The question grinds away in my brain and I can’t sleep. Finally it hit me: I have a calling. And, I need to find another job, as a reporter. I need to write my own stories again. I need to gather material, evidence, facts. Impulsively and agitatedly I get up, get dressed for the bitter cold of a night in a windy city, and I step outside in the misty yellow haloes of street lights. No wind tonight. I start walking, down towards the docks, the forbidden territories of gangs and derelicts.
I feel the call and I’m no longer scared of being grabbed and raped, beaten and killed, or left for dead. Suddenly I’m immune; Wonder Woman; all powerful. But my inner strength doesn’t come from the illegal switchblade I’m holding tightly in my coat pocket – it’s from realising that my personal life isn’t what’s worth defending now: it’s “their” life that demands it of me. It’s “them” who are waiting for me to speak up for justice, to expose the major sins of the City. And in my head I’m writing again. Story after story pile on and in my head I’m sitting at my small table, with my small typewriter and on my cheap yellow paper I’m writing my very large story for a very large audience.
Let the games begin I think to myself as my footsteps on the uneven sidewalks echo against the dark facades of derelict tenements abandoned by the City fathers, the banks, construction companies and their surroundings no longer in the care of the City’s maintenance crews; forgotten in fact by everybody except those who hide inside their depleted shells. The old, the unemployed, the sick, the addicts, the wanted and the unwanted; the prostitutes now out plying their ubiquitous trade somewhere in more prosperous and better lighted sectors of the City.
I think, this is going to be my world from now on until I’ve understood it and written my stories describing its sins and exposing its stinking underbelly. And I can just imagine, if I had any friends, or family in this City, what they would think, and say, about my wanderings tonight. I admit to myself, I’m certifiable for coming down here alone in the night. But I remember that Eureka moment some moments ago and some things just cannot be explained. Some things are bigger than us yet insist on being borne by our weak flesh. I’m pregnant with purpose; I’ve engendered a story. Nothing can stop me except my own cowardice.
[end of part 4 – the city in the east]