City of warm breaths and gentle men. City of pencilled notes begging forgiveness, expressing praise and cementing friendship. City of shared liquor. I met a man who told me his name and with that simple act declared his genuine sincerity. We walked by the river and talked aimlessly, covering neutral ground just as easily as the more rocky paths. Later we met for dinner and discovered common threads, some secrets and one tale of infinite sadness. City of affection. Students who bow to their teachers and teachers who put their students at ease. Laughter in the gambling halls; quiet words of sympathy in the everlasting streets. City of cotton, whose twigs can draw blood but whose flowers are harvested to manufacture handkerchiefs, soft towels and bed sheets. City of polite propositions and thoughtful refusals. Judgements remain infrequent. Fruit sellers wander through the day, loudspeakers transmitting recordings of their most secret desires. City of crumpled faces and wet exclamations. Cries of recognition. On the newspaper wall, fresh sheets nominating today’s dead, or tomorrow’s resurrection. Inquiries continue into the whereabouts of the boy whose parents were found drowned in a wild stream. Groups of men who walk for miles in search of stray flowers, a perfect drum. Can you hear the old drunk singing to the turtle rooftops? Bring me strong spices and a small mat on which to sleep. Bring me a different season each day. You can take this television away. I prefer the human broadcasts, updated with each heart’s beat. A city whose name means subterfuge but whose bodies, even in sleep, reach out for another’s hand. City with no directions. Parades of retired soldiers, rubbing shoulders with mischievous youths who will never know war. City of spittle and pissing against stone walls. City of sad guitars and tearful melodies, known to everyone. City of piano accordion players wearing imperial soldiers’ helmets. City of strangers about to become friends for life. A city no one living in my home town has ever heard of, nor ever will.

First published in Snorkel #3, April 2006.

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