Stories from the City : Subashini Navaratnam
"This morning, just like every morning, a constellation of faces greeted me
before I remembered who I was." I say this out loud
to remember who I was before I started forgetting things.
The figure by my side waits expectantly, but that is all I have to say.
Stories from the city are like long, eventless afternoons,
the dull knife of antipathy scrapes against your ribs.
Today, just like every day, it's becoming harder to breathe in the city.

"Everyone starts out from the same place of expectation,
only to end up with bags under their eyes:
bruised half-circles of disappointing, forgotten afternoons," Hanuman* replies, here at the corner
of where the rivers Klang and Gombak* meet in the colour of milky sweet tea.
The last time I saw Hanuman was six years before my father died, in my father's
green Volvo that was large and ancient: a fortress of misplaced dreams.
"Why am I here?" I ask him, knowing he made the answers. "This place will erupt in catastrophe."

Doors simultaneously open in a hundred different buildings in the city, and
faces stream out towards us, despondent elated careful suspicious carefree faces.
Faces spill over into the streets, float on the milky, sweet-tea river.
"Sometimes the faces start to look alike, yours and mine. I can't tell apart 
corpses from dolls, masks from facades," I tell Hanuman. "Today, just like every day,
it is becoming harder to see in the city."
How hard would it be, to lift the city up like Dunagiri* and take us away?

Hanuman laughs. "The city is you," he tells me in that voice I've come to hate.
"It doubts itself, putting up bright lights one day, erecting concrete skyscrapers the next,
allowing manholes to eat up chunks of gravel and doubts and fears. The city is you, it
blows out the stars and gnaws at the moon. All your forgotten afternoons are the result of dull
antipathy. It is becoming harder, every day, to breathe with your body, to see with your eyes."
I remembered him as a gentler god, an apparition with a monkey-face. But now he stands and laughs
at me, saying: "The city is you, it will erupt in catastrophe."

As his voice faded I began to recollect the streets, scattered with misplaced faces.

*The confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers is the birthplace of the city of Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia.
*Hanuman is the Hindu monkey god.
*Dunagiri is the mountain in the Himalayas Hanuman is said to have lifted with his hands.