Asphyxiation. The town is clean as a chalk. It is the men, the rodents of the empire that roam around on their regal horses in an anachronism, something that just makes my breath itch. Tyrants, however jewelled up, are tyrants. They retard everything in the vicinity. We have some sleeping hut houses here. All their colours faded into a metallic uniformity. But truth be told, we were always dreaming here—that’s how they got us. This was one of those parts of the world where people go to escape their identities. Fucking wishful thinking and a load of crap, that’s what I say.
The blue men on the horses are out on patrol. It feels like they are walking on my neck. My steps pick up their pace even though my age no longer allows it. The curving street seems to shield me. From here the slope rises up. I am near the stairway now—it is a hill covered in stairs. I hold onto the roaring gales when my back breaks. They howl above the town where the silence is no more ringing. But I don’t bother about it. I feel like I can finally breathe. Down in the colony, they had roped up the sun too it seems. It balms my face here at the twirling angle of the stairhill. Probably a bad idea to stick out like a sore thumb. If I can see them, they can see me too. But I think I see some of our own now. No, there is nothing to think, I can see the very lines on their faces. I know for a fact they are our own as if their horses were trotting in a different rhythm. Our kitchen song.
But I do not understand it. If they had to confront the blue men after all, why are they dressed like them? Well if they fucking wanted to intimidate them with all the horses, they still look like they’ve pissed their pants. Two of them stand facing the curving street. They are hiding their faces, but from where I stand, I can see them. One man takes courage and trots to the centre. Him against five blue men who stand in the shade—their horses rocking gently, shifting their weight from one leg to another.
‘Do you have the medicine?’
‘Sir, we would request you to step down from your horse.’
Without losing a moment, the leader of this gang swirls his horse around and run to his waiting men. One of them is a teenage boy. He is crying, but cursing. They all run as blues prepare a chase. Just as they do, the copper haired man on the pastel brown, whistles his officers back. He knows it is a stage. The ship is a set. The waves are made up of third market mist fans. Turbulence. Rebellion. Drama. He wipes his brow and move out of his shade into the impotent sun.
He waits. He whistles.
Footsteps. The teenager from before. He must’ve run all the way back from wherever his friends were hiding. He is no longer wearing the regal blue. An oversized pastel brown T-shirt. Tousled mud like hair. Wind-eaten. The face same as before—crying-cursing. The copper haired man steps down from his horse and goes up-close to study his face. He has to slightly tilt his head to reach the boy’s height. There is a mocking in his manner. He is testing the meat before putting it up on the pan. The teen stretches his left arm out, his jaws locked in submission to the incoming pain.
‘Willy, bring me my kit’, the blue chief has his nostrils all flared up.
Will trots off to the left. Despite the elevation, I can’t see him no more. He is back in minutes though.
‘Thank you Will’, the blue chief exhales like he could finally breathe.
I despise hospitals. But yet I’m familiar with how the doctors go about their routine. Will they be doctors if they are stripped away from their coats and hand-sanitizer odour? I mean it would freak me out to be cut open in a random tailor’s shop. It was indeed a scareshop. The crossroads they all stood must have folded like a cup and all I could see was that man trying to find the right vein to push his injections into the boy. The boy’s lip quivered and before you are pausing for breath, this fucking devil is putting in another one.
‘What colour do you like boy? I have chocolate.’
The third one now. Three injections dripping into the boy’s arm, taped with a black ribbon tape—the ones that athletes used to wear to rebel some wrong.
Seconds trickle like blood. I become the boy. I am as frozen as him. But my jaws are still locked. He is sobbing. It should be over now. But the man has a last trick up his sleeve.
Some kind of screw driver is the only way to describe it. A drilling machine for human flesh. But the boy has stopped sobbing. Perhaps, he is relieved that there will be nothing harsher than this. Certainty is good. Or is it?
Revolution is no fun.
She squats on her legs and plays with her hairclip. She is smiling. He had placed a small box on her head and left. The box had this hairclip. 24 carat gold.
The sky is dead as usual and an eagle circles it. Behind her is the open-gapped fence they put outside garbage pits. She plays around with her hair for a moment, daydreaming. Makes two pigtails out of them and roll both of them in a bun, tying them around with the golden hairclip. Gold hairclip.
But there is no time to fix your hair, wash your face or even sleep, these long-long days. They don’t need calendars in this part of the world. Everyday, people like her remember everyday. No time for amnesia or numbness. Short term quickness. On your toes. Cat like—wild-cat like. Sometimes you hunt, sometimes you get hunted.
Or just sleep and die—it’s not that bad, some days she would think. That’s what people used to do here. Sleep and die.
Not today though. Thursday. You have to keep things in motion. 11:45. She was never late. 19th Block. The building that looked like muck. She learnt some maps. Blonde haired man. As if all the rain fell on only one spot in the town. 11th floor. Why did she choose the stairs? Black Jacket.
Black Jacket. That’s what they called him. She was going to meet him for the first time. For some reason she put her clip back in her pocket and let her pigtails fall.
It really felt absurd when she said it. The girl with the pigtails talking in secret code names. But he just opened the door and stared at her. His apartment looked handsome from what she could see. But she couldn’t see it for long. There was some sort of hunger in his eyes. His teeth were sharp, she knew and he didn’t even smile. But she knew. And she had a job. She had to go through this.
He closed the door.
There was ruckus outside the lobby window. The sounds from the road came up as if travelling through tunnel. It felt like listening through a wall, she thought. It was a woman. She was wailing. They had killed her son. Overdose. There had been more than 40 cases of this and they call themselves civilized—the blues? “Vessels for medicines”. How cruelty breaks in some men’s bones, she had no idea.
Black Jacket must be tackling this. When this happens, they personally come to meet the relatives. Often the relatives get violent. The result is predictable.
This is what was going to happen now. The boy had two siblings. Teens. But in times like these, you become a soldier pretty early on. Things were in motion. But unplanned. Unplanned was never good. That is why they had people like Black Jacket, people to govern the outbreaks. Though whatever he was doing wasn’t going to prevent the immediate massacre that could happen. She had to be quick. Cat-like.
She used elevator this time.
The power went out.
‘Black Jacket. Yes?’
‘There was bloodshed. That lady. She lived in your building. Thursday? Did you see a girl? Dark hair. Brown coat. Golden clip?’
‘Oh YES. I had fever that day. But of course we can’t have the luxury of that. I did negotiate and saved what I could. But I told her to reschedule. This was before Marcel Red come trotting by.’
‘I see. Sorry for taking your time. I mean I’ve heard a lot about your work…man. You have saved so many lives. I better leave now.’
Black Jacket walks back to his house.
‘Oh and use the elevator.’
He smiles. He does have sharp teeth.