16. August 2021.
That was the last time I walked the usual path to my bus stop.
I say “my” because the bus stop is mine, as much as the path to it is “mine”. My most frequent and familiar walking space. That is, if I overcame my urban laziness and caught an Uber.
It was one of those paths you kept in your pocket.
The entrance to my building was anything but respectable looking, but it was part of a once respectable street, the central living vein of the old part of town. Her zebras divided us into the Uppers and Lowers, the real old and old citizens of this city (whatever that means).
Right next to it, along the upper part, following the remnants of the city’s forgotten history, hiding in the shadows of long-stolen plaques of our respectable tenants, my path begins.
I did not intend for this day to be any different from many other “to the bus station” days. I guess every story has to have a beginning, and this time I was lucky enough to feel it, like a sign of a million unrelated coincidences. Created to show me everything we all see, but don’t look at.
And if I had to explain my particular frame of mind at the time, it would be of an enthusiastic tourist full of vigor, just landed in an only-saw-it-on-the-internet city. The tourist in me was eagerly preparing to embrace this newly found city and soak in its preconceived glory.
His eyes narrowed with excitement, as the nearby streets, tree lines and signs, old townhouses like fireflies in the dark (and the darkness, I apologize, fell a while ago) lured him with stories about a better, long-forgotten time.
The weather was boiling hot, the way it can be these last years. The tourist took a brave step out onto the street of a former king, from where the cacophony of blunt sounds — or as they’re colloquially called today, beats — were being played.
This deep, deep house beat was the first thing his tourist’s ears heard in this city. Along with the sound, he felt a certain atmosphere in the air, which, as much as it was artificially created by simply clicking on a YouTube link “BEST SUMMER DEEP HOUSE MIX ❤”, was tickling his surroundings like an approaching thunderstorm. The phrase “there’s something in the air” could be applied here, he thought.
The source of these beats was, to be honest, local cafes awakened to attract their cheerful guests. The chairs were scattered along the sidewalk, like an obstacle that only a local knows how to cross.
The first thing that every tourist pays attention to is his current fellow residents. People make every city come to life, no matter how much the history of the dead has taught us.
The passing groups shared their youth only among themselves, not really looking where they were going. Our tourist caught every word he could, thinking that this way he could learn some secrets that they freely shared among themselves, like a phone number or a favorite hangout. But all he could discern were loud and clear convictions that “he certainly didn’t see her at the party.”
“And neither his friends!” one of the passers-by categorically denied.
All this seemed too coincidental to be a mere coincidence, our tourist muttered to himself. The smell matched the sweet taste of what was to come, and he took a step deeper into the city.
He approached the center at the end of this royal street, where there was a large stage set, with dry ice spilling from a fog machine onto the sidewalk. The only thing our tourist could perceive was that blunt sound again.
The beat was back, stronger and more persistent this time.
The fog mixed so delicately with the beat, like two sides of the same coin. This provided an opportunity for many to come together more intimately, swaying with the beat of the music, cuddling and hugging their sweaty counterparts (in their defense, I must mention the current heat again).
From time to time, a random exclamation of joy was brought into the light, which met absolute approval from this cheerful crowd. Everyone was celebrating their unrestricted freedom, for a moment irretrievably lost.
Although our tourist knew this was a splendid chance to get closer to these ideals of freedom, he continued down his path toward his destination, leaving the participants alone in their ecstasy. He slipped through the crowd and continued onto the main street, or promenade if you will, of this metropolis.
He was greeted by street musicians along the sea of people scattered in various restaurants and nearby cafes, overwhelmed with a desire to sit, touch, lick, smear, nibble, and swallow anything or anyone that would fall into their hands or delicious-looking plates.
While no one expected it from them, some took out their small plastic bottles of glycerin and alcohol to wash their hands before eating.
Everything was bursting with life, like a murmur of endless stories heard endless times before.
Our tourist went further down the cobbled part of the path, full of old ateliers and studios built in days when art commanded a higher value. Today, the rent price was the only valuable constant, as more chairs and tables, neon signs, and standardized beats brought people to gossip, scheme, or simply enjoy their freshly made latte.
The street itself had a certain beauty; undoubtedly so for tourists. With old tree-lined avenues wide enough to provide an almost perfect respite from the heat, a raised view of the river and a place bordered by a library destroyed while the war was still a world thing, left as a reminder of all the knowledge forever lost.
Along this cobblestone street, in a clearing large enough for at least another 50 seats, there was a film festival. Or at least a screening of a movie made in the last century. French, if you wanted to know.
The tourist glanced and continued along, as those who attracted his attention this evening did not live here. Only the old folk chatting about how even movies were better then, and those forced to listen to them.
Fortunately, those who attracted him were always there, a few steps away, continuing their personal, shocking struggles.
“I don’t like the way my thighs look in the picture,” the girl complained to her photographer-for-the-day, with a sour, brazen smile, made to warn more than to forgive. “We all know that the camera adds at least five pounds.”
As soon as that simple letter “a” followed by the crashing “d” echoed across, the photographer immediately calmed down her dear client with a retort, “Don’t worry, I can fix it all later.” A phrase she used many times before, it felt.
Our tourist pretended not to notice this drama, because, in all honesty, he didn’t care; he had reached his bus stop. Before he entered and crossed that single station straight into the epicenter of every night’s events, he heard a drumbeat followed by the distortion of its neighboring guitar. Then a brave falsetto and the murmur of an excited audience.
Looks like everyone’s out tonight, he thought.
After his descent into a world of beats, flashing lights, and drunken stares, our tourist turned to one of the many clubs there, looking for his favorite beat. This is where we leave our tourist alone.
Now we go back to the very beginning of our path. We go all the way back, away from the crowds and the beats, into my apartment, where we can faintly hear the breaking news that started it all.
“The Delta strain of COVID-19 has spread among the population and now accounts for 90% of newly recorded cases. Citizens are asked to adhere to the measures in place and maintain social distance.”