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In the City

L. Caballero


The city can have its glamor, like a dollhouse made in China. The structure has nothing to do with what it has become because, as with everything in life, it’s what’s in the heart that counts.  As time goes by architects compete to show their best work and the skyscrap­ers get higher. But with all its changes there is one thing that remains the same, in the city.

One day I sit, observing.

I hear a woman ask the cashier to call the cook. She wants to know if her food has MSG or gluten, and the cook assures her that there is none of that in the meals they prepare, in the city. We con­cern ourselves so much with what goes into our mouths that we for­get to mind what comes out of it. The flesh is well fed, but the spirit remains lost. We have concrete hearts like the walls that surround us from 9 am - 5 pm, every minute pushing closer to happy hour. Well, we all know that’s just an escape. A chain of smoke around our neck, in the city.  

I see a man well into his 40s, dining with a young woman; she is beautiful and full of life, but his eyes, like elevators, are looking for something better.  Commitment has become the new dine-and-dash and fidelity is an old-fashioned sentiment replaced by excuses and justifications; after all no one likes accountability where there is too much to choose from, every color, shape, and price, in the city.

Everywhere I go they are there. The fat ones indulging. Small ones, meekly eating a small bowl of greens. Tall, short, old, young with too much paint on their faces and heavy vanity around their necks. Some with a vague look in their eyes, plugged, always plugged. Through a small electronic device, the world on the palm of their hands, yet the mind still in a box, unable to hold a conversation with another human being.  Synchronized, they walk out of the build­ings, eat as fast as they can and then go back to their man-made pris­ons to make more green, to wash the clothes they wear to make more green. Flashy lights and constant entertainment—there is never a dull moment, in the city.

Then a young man catches my eye. He is sitting near a flower bed at the corner of one of the edifices holding a blanket and crying.  No, wait, he is mourning. I want to ask why, but I am a coward. He cries in agony. He is dirty, with knotted long hair, and holes on his shoes. All I can think of is how when he was a baby crying in his mother’s arms, perhaps the world made sense—and now here he is consoling a dirty blanket, in the city. No one else seems to notice him, as if he had been sitting there for so long that he has become part of the structure. The stores around him display glamorous fash­ion clothing, nothing that he can relate to. I suppose it’s not impor­tant what one wears when sad, in the city.

Then another catches my eye. He stares into space, lost, trying to find meaning. He is standing in the middle of the fancy courtyard, pulling up his pants which are being held up by a shoelace. He looks around and then starts to check on his valuable possessions: a cart full of cans, plastic and glass bottles. He shakes his head and lays down on the ground. A woman, clean and sophisticated, is walking by. Oh wait, what will she do when she tries to walk through the courtyard, if he is lying in her way? She lifts one Jimmy Choo over him and then the other, like one does when walking past a puddle of water after a rainy day. Her Chanel No. 5 masking the stench of urine. They’re all over the place, both the crazy and the insane, in the city.

And then of course, the house sparrows nesting under the nearby bushes. I say to them, “You’re birds for heaven’s sake. Fly!” They look up at me, waiting on crumbs.  The trees are gone and there are needles in the crevasse of the concrete where they could nest, in the places that belong to them, in the city.

I see them all, and then from one of the window screens a shine catches my eye, and I am lured into the dollhouse made in China, and I too forget they exist, in the city.