Not long ago, while walking down one of Dublin’s thoroughfares, I was faced with what one could consider the paragon of city living. It was late Sunday, and I’d spent the day slogging from one shop to the next, collecting shorts and light shirts, because one week from that very day I was to leave Dublin. When I was to return, I had no idea.
Right this very moment, I still have no idea.
It wasn’t that I’d fallen out of love with Dublin, because, to be honest, I’d never felt particularly in love with Dublin to begin with. It was just that I had grown tired. Tired of waking up to the sky being the same color as the ground below. Tired of taking what should have been a fifteen-minute bus ride just to arrive at my destination forty-five minutes late, the reason I’d taken the trip long since departed, and a return journey awaiting my word. Tired of untamed tensions that constantly seemed to be on the verge of boiling over, dual arguments contesting their viability across city streets, bullhorns blaring as campaigns were forged against vaccines, against people, against any little thing that once seemed reasonable but now proved fodder for frustration and unfound arguments, the vitriol on people’s lips surpassing their original intentions and now entering the realm of unconscious catharsis, a life’s dissatisfaction summated with a slogan across a shirt, a cap, a banner, absolute and utter rubbish ripping through your head twenty-four seven, audible garbage contesting the litter strewn streets until there’s no escape from the pollution that confounds your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth - my god - it’s just everywhere all the time, every day for years – you’re rambling - I could go on – But don’t – Alright, back to the point – the paragon of city living.
Like I said, it was late Sunday, and I was shopping.
Dublin on a Sunday, it’s important to understand, is a very different beast to the township found on any other day of the week. Whereas Monday through Friday, one can distil Dublin down to the commuters, students, and trade stalwarts that rush for busses and swear at trams, on the weekend, the city transforms into a kind of mass pack, people no longer discernible through their respective labors and instead are thronged together into a kind of human sea that swims in caffeine and wades in anxieties, surging down small streets and navigating tight avenues from one end of Henry Street to the next, the unstoppable tide persistent until Sunday afternoon - which is the precise moment that the crowds disperse and the weeklong routine begins again, leaving little behind, but last-minute shoppers, which on this day, included me.
And it was around this time, that the head fog started to set in.
The up-down, up-down motion of sampling one too many jean shorts had scrambled my circuits and turned me into a walking bag stand, drifting from the main shopping thoroughfare and onto the abandoned upper Abbey Street, which in that moment, had taken on a rather picturesque persona. It was the setting sun that first stopped me in my tracks and demanded my attention, drawing my eyes towards the horizon and along the tram lines that cut through the city streets in rigid sets of two, ending at my feet and guiding my gaze back towards the setting sun – My goodness – In following those lines, and looking one last time at that burnt orange sun, enormous against the backdrop of the squat city shops, my tired mind almost started to construe the image as a kind of goodbye, the closing of a chapter in my life that so far had been…
‘What in the world was that?’
I squinted my eyes and looked harder at the sun that seemed, at that moment, to be producing some sort of blip, or blob, or perhaps even a thing - No, it was definitely a thing, but what sort of thing I couldn’t quite make out. It travelled fast - Yes, it was definitely a fast travelling thing that was coming from the sun and hightailing it down the deserted city streets which until that moment I hadn’t realized were so empty or so lonesome. I looked around quickly – Mother of God - I’m the only one on the street, in the presence of this fast travelling thing that was coming from the sun and headed in my direction, taking on the shape of a man - but no man I knew could move so fast or emerge from the sun unscathed - Wait – He’s taking on a shape, but what kind of shape, a strange shape perhaps – Oh most definitely, a strange shape, the strangest shape I’d ever seen, part man, part machine, with wheeled legs that could have been - Dear God - it’s a man-cycle, or some sort of man-cycle derivative, or a man on a bicycle, travelling faster than light and emerging from the sun towards my stationary position, unaware that the tram tracks - the bane of all inner-city cyclists - cut off right at my feet. The man was headed towards disaster, and I was trapped in a heady haze of jean-short drunkenness that wouldn’t abate even as he came closer and closer. The man on the bike who emerged from the sun had eyes, a nose, and a mouth – Family orientated? Perhaps! Who cares! He’s almost here. He’s headed for the tracks. He can’t stop. I can’t warn him.
He collided with the tram tracks and went head over wheeled heels, his man-cycle anatomy tearing apart upon impact and dividing into individual man and man-cycle components, each section laid bare across the tracks - Lord – To decide which part of the man to help first was impossible. Both had been integral to his being as I’d known him, but digging deep, I decided the man half had more to lose with an impromptu arrangement with the ground than the cycle half had led me to believe thus far.
It was upon approaching the man that I first realized something was spilling from his prone form - My God - It wasn’t red like blood, but darker like motor oil. The same kind one would expect to drain from the innards of a man-cycle – Dear lord - Do carnations even grow in March? Or daisies, or lilies, or snapdragons? The man would be buried bare. His metal frame is his only - Snap out of it! Get back to the point. You’re stood above him and he’s leaking out. You’re trying to voice the words that would sound concern, but nothing is coming clean. Continue from there – I was stood above the man and trying to voice the words that would sound concern, but nothing was coming clean, not even a squeak that would elicit a response from the sprawled fellow. I must have managed three half-stutters before the man began to move, and a moment later against all odds, got to his feet. The two of us must have shared a similar height because it was then, standing face to face, that I realized this was no regular man - or regular man-cycle for that matter - but a special breed of man, near-mythical in his abilities and totally enigmatic in his motivations. He was the lifelong city dweller - the paragon of inner city living - Regularly equipped with a face that makes plain no discernible age, and a body type that is at once wonderfully slim and incredibly durable, the lifelong city dweller is a man or woman weathered against the elements and tempered with a temperament that’s capable of withstanding unimaginable damage. Their ideologies and leanings are up for debate and their debates and their leanings are littered with ideologies that fall in their laps, adopted on three o’clock speed walks to nowhere before being masticated and discarded once their destination has been reached. Their vernacular is both the cornerstone of their local environment and entirely foreign to it too. They’re forever amongst the crowd that travels through the streets but are never shaped by that crowd. Instead, they exist as concrete unicorns, ever so slightly out of view and imbued with all the city has to offer, drinking its manna and projecting their fill to color the streets and bolster its buildings, ensuring the rivers never cease flowing and the sense of home never leaves, even in the face of negative elements that have twisted home into something other.
They’re unkillable and incredible - stewards of everyday life – and this fellow stood in front of me now was no different.
The man, still standing upright, looked from his bike littered along the ground to the tram tracks from where it had come undone. With his hands fixed upon his hips and his head cocked, the man sighed and muttered, ‘Joke tracks.’ He then reached down and gathered his bike, wheeling the red frame fit for a child towards the scene of his crash where along the ground lay a crumpled can, still leaking the once assumed man-cycle blood. The city dweller took a swig - this time with a sigh of content - and mounted his small red bike, steering the cycle with one hand and finishing his drink with the other.
Never once did the man show signs of injury or upset at his accident – Why would he? Like I said, city dwellers are unkillable – Much the same way he never once acknowledged my existence or seem to care for it either - Why should he? Everybody knows - whether they admit it or not - that there are people who make a city, and then those who are just passing through.
For now, I’m happy to be just passing through.