City of sleepy subways and swift downstrokes. City of empty apartments and overcrowded hostels. A city without inhabitants, only visitors. Disgruntled in their winter jackets, following memorised but outdated itineraries, tourists wander but do not take photographs. Information is posted on streetcorners but it has been superannuated. City of scripts and small change. Sweet rays emanating from prison blocks in the seaside suburbs, ships’ lights winking off the coast. Your journey here has been for nothing – trouble follows you daily and you sleep warily at night, expecting axe attacks. The fetid air of the abandoned fish markets only serves to further intensify your unease. Flags snap in the breeze. Random parties, initiated by means of short wave radio, continue until late in the morning. Conversations are limited to a few words of introduction: name, previous location, mission. Ladders lead to the decaying overpasses, where travelling merchants set up camp. All manner of currency cards on display at small tables, lit by halogen lamps. Over by the cable car station (also disused), a carnival splutters into life and then fades, inevitably. Ghost dogs have been known to frequent some of the more popular bars. Here the chairs recline alarmingly, as if the world was in perpetual ascent. Occasionally a signal flare from one of the colonies provides illumination. Coni carries on disintegrating like a hog left in the jungle to rot, filmed using high-speed photography, the maggots seeming to bustle about their work, though in slow-mo they are merely wriggling, squirming. Darkness at the edge of cardboard skyscrapers, the end nearing, someone sets the radio frequency to the emergency, concentrating attention and dismaying the patient clouds. Shredded loads of timber, once bound for the capital, lie wet and useless by the bay. Severance from Coni might take a week or even a year. In either case the rats have everyone’s number. Yours will be called momentarily. Mice, on the other hand, are now electric and emit pulsing light as red as a bloodshot eye, as loud as a catastrophe siren. Old foreign men sit in the alleys and play childish games, without irony. Something is very wrong here but you can’t see it for the crowds of moneychangers clutching black bags, whsipering market, market. This little piggy stays home.

First published in Softblow (Singapore), June 2006.

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