Evening time. Workers streaming out of factories and workshops, vanishing somewhere in empty space. The chill of rotting leaves slowly envelopes all. Before us once more the vast and rather inconsequential mystery of life playing itself out – slowly seeping through everything.
Icy silence, black abandoned trees, grey empty parks, hollow streets, the smell of chimney smoke, alleys abandoned and extinguished, littered with leaves. The light cool already, slowly departing, so unlike that which fully warms in July. Now is time to put on a thick sweater, a woollen scarf and hole up somewhere far from people. Reading books, firing up the stove, taking long walks in deserted parks, studying this slow and silent provincial life; shrunken women wandering through the dusk after work, shopkeepers noticing and with some ever so subtle gestures letting us know they too sense the same melancholy and the cool, ancient sadness, in spite of their inherent coarseness. This chill wraps itself round us in these evening moments, and is enough to send shivers down the spine. We then dream of a duvet in a warm house, of a cup of tea, a cigarette. Parked on a bench we, as if hypnotized, stare into the distance, toying with the cigarette in the darkness. We can be found only by its glowing ember, the rest fading into the surroundings. And so we become the cold, the darkness, the damp – become autumn. Children still running around, life apparently moving at its own pace, though everything feels as if seen from behind a window pane, from a silent film, a departing train, as if moving further and further away. Like the fading sound of an old vinyl record, stuck, playing back the motif of some unfamiliar melody. Beyond which we sometimes hear other sounds, sounds not on the record, opening a “sub-world” of sorts – a different sort of reality, one from a forgotten, dusty attic, dust falling on everything around: shops, cars, billboards. Everything as if recorded on that scratched, vinyl, whispering record, pulling us into a parallel world in which we play the role of the lonesome soul, haunting the parks, reading through the evenings, by candlelight, volumes on magic.
There are houses filled with light at dusk, and abandoned streets. And everything happens as if in slow motion, as if the city did not exist, beyond time. Only when you get some distance away do you begin to rcall the cosiness, to wish you had dissolved in its urban softness. Only when you find yourself standing on some evening by an empty “exit road” on the edge of such a town where your only company is the failing twilight and cars drifting past, filled with warmth and light and people. That’s when you feel your belly spike and pulse with relief upon seeing a petrol station, or a passing car – sensing the presence of others. When you see abandoned, provincial train stations and travellers rushing somewhere, well-dressed students, women, men moving in a predestined direction. And you, wringing your hands for warmth and smoking a cigarette, you inhale the smell of autumn apples. You are part of the crowd, but apart from it also. Same as those moments in airports, when exiting, when everyone greets everyone else, hugging and departing for homes and then suddenly, following such hubbub, it becomes empty and quiet again and you are left alone, out in the terminal’s wide open space, ashamed of your own loneliness. Coach stations are the same, but there this impact is less pronounced. There is frost, there is a cigarette, a station, the smell of trains and that characteristic chill. Where would you leave Bydgoszcz for on a cold autumn afternoon?
The road is now empty. You start to see that you are beyond, utterly insignificant to the world, dying here – no one will care that you’ve lost your home, that you went beyond some safe parameters and that you are now longing for something – that you would give plenty, surrender so much for a duvet, a cup of tea and a good word. This whole stupid myth of the journey, the road, the adventure always told sans that which is most important: that the road is nothing special, that it’s just a means to, that those who became “travellers” did so against their own wishes, like the shamans of our world. No choice was involved. Continuous wandering seemed like the only answer to the problem of their inability to adapt to anywhere. Constant momentum letting life carry on.
A woman makes tea by the kitchen window, cold out already, autumn. I’m walking past, wearing a brown corduroy jacket, glancing inside the windows of houses becoming light. I like these walks, like it when my skin crawls with this old, late chill, like to smoke then and physically, yes, physically absorb the autumn, its smells, the frozen air – melting into it. Damp trees, buildings, the slow frost and the lethargy of the evening. Everything seemingly coming to rest. Cars apparently losing speed, as if some invisible additive in the air hampered their progress. All these signs of presence, of people’s existence, give shelter, warm you within.
I walk the empty streets, stare into windows and imagine myself diving in and lapping up their warmth, the warmth emanating from behind the window panes, walk past them envying people their security and ordinariness.
I like these simple gestures, the drinking of warm tea, the smoking of cigarettes, when everything seems to change its meaning, to become its opposite. It all becomes more intimate somehow, more quiet, the cold outside bringing us closer to one another in spite of this all-encompassing chill, this sadness and dying outside. The windows of homes contrast with nature, with the dark trees, with the wind, with weak leaves dancing in the crowns. Two worlds, twins melting into one another. In such moments it’s possible to feel complete abandonment, and loneliness, when all life escapes inside homes and on the streets and in parks the cold starts to run riot.
Light bounces off the beer mugs and glasses in the bar, wooden tables, chairs, wooden fittings, tankards. Warm, this whole “light manifest” pouring outside and mixing with the cold, autumn evening, an evening filled with life and nostalgia. In such moments, I like to sit in these dives and drink mulled wine. I know that outside it is cold and I will walk out onto the empty street, where at three in the morning there will be no one around. There are people here for now, however, gathering slowly as the night drags on. Here we can hide, move from the cold to the trembling of many bodies. Here we can come together as one, as old tribes would have done once round a camp fire. Without thinking people are drawn to one another, towards warmth. You can sit for hours by the fireplace, delighting in the flames theses spirits fill you with. Delighting in the company of others, their dialects, their simple existence. What you say then is secondary, what counts is that you are, what counts is presence, laughter, smells, desires.
I remember the mornings on the Isle of Man, when I rose each day for work. Dark and cool dawns in tiny rooms in tenement houses or cheap hotels, where there is only one bed, sink and television set, stained with old wallpaper, the room no more than twelve feet across. This cold and the shivers you feel after rising from the warm, comfy bed into the chill, dampness, emptiness, wind, rain – it’s like a daily rebirth. You rise and exit – this moment hurts the most. The penetrating cold of the wind sneaks beneath your coat, regardless of how tightly it is buttoned and wrapped round you. Elements stabbing the eyes as you walk the abandoned morning streets, when the city is still sleeping, where every wall, each image echoes the chill and greyness, where apart from you there are only shadows of the bin men and their voices far off, where everything happens automatically, as in a labour camp… In this moment no one can hide it from you – on the streets there is nobody, not even yourself to lie to.
Nights, abandoned streets peopled with hobos, sometimes the odd taxi passing, the wind gently glancing against your face, then toying with leaves.
Cold, night-time stations, huge, square halls on the outskirts of towns – where, in secret, hundreds of souls every day give up their blood and time.
Evening. The street vendor selling hot rolls is staring into the distance, waiting for closing time and for her trip home to the suburbs, her son and father waiting. One of these a modern child, whose only defence against the world is an ever- thickening skin. A child who plays at copying his idols – those who, in a single day, can earn the same as he will earn in a lifetime. Both wear baseball caps, baggy shorts. All look alike, as if suffering from some debilitating lack of imagination, as if trapped behind an invisible line, a line inside their heads, cutting them off from weaklings, from students, from gays – all those united in weakness. They hang out with those tiny, down-market girls from the suburbs – the future stars of Tesco checkouts, of the Leviathan chain, our future hot roll vendors.
Today we are on the premises of The Giant Factory and The Ranch for People Beneath Class. They are reared well, have shops installed close to their homes, get fed the cheapest products from nearby hypermarkets, inevitably fattening them up, same as you fatten geese – a rubber hose stuck right down their gullets. There are many who will fight against this, but they do not get outside Sector B. Sector A is separated from it by an invisible wall, though for those who still have a little vision, whose perceptions have not completely been worn away by the daily grinding of the tram outside, it is tangibly, painfully clear. Slowly, the landscape changes from pretty town houses into something more unpleasant, more grey. People gradually change, get used up, crumpled, quieter, fewer elegant gestures here to catch the eye – those delicacies get left behind in Sector A. Slowly, we sink into the net of poverty, the drudge, the dumbness. Buildings speak of it, and people. Adverts and billboards no longer protect you out here. Out here that stuff doesn’t work, it just can’t manage the effort. Simple shopkeeper women turn into exhausted, deformed versions of their old selves, trying to remain cheerful in the face of this psycho-farce of pennilessness and petty thinking. Perhaps this is their chosen play, known only to those in the know? Babes infected with rickets fed grilled sausage by their mothers, wearing the cheapest rags. Children laughing the shameless, empty-dull laugh of the Gestapo agent. Its echo breeds fear – far from expressing pleasure, it feels like the eruption of an excess of aggression, like the outpouring of joy at the robbing of a drunken hobo, as soulless as a machine. Their only choice is illusory – their imagination intentionally limited to a narrow perspective. Their wallets too. Is there an escape, an exit – perhaps in car washes abroad, in the rest rooms of the West? Foreign factories, in which everything can be achieved: saunas, gyms, dining halls. So comfortable and so close to home that you can start dying here and now.
That’s right, we are here. In our tiny hovels the future consumers are reared. The customers, the subscribers. Those moulded by the best image experts are then covered by the best banks. The twinkling lights of tower blocks, hundreds of hovels. It’s quiet, it must be quiet – everything which is forbidden is here condensed into the smallest possible space, so as we don’t kill one another. It only seems that we do not share the fate of lab rats or beasts for the slaughter, for we too are condemned. Everything resembles a cheap joke or second-rate cabaret. Fat, deformed, diseased bodies stroll the pavements with their sausage dogs – personal projections of their own suppressed animal selves. Everything resembles a vast decrepit factory, where daily meat is recycled into more daily meat. There is no magic here, or it is beyond our comprehension and we cannot stand to look it in the eye – same as we cannot hear the beating of any one heart in the city’s tumult. The subconscious of this place is like the estate basement, in which little girls stumble upon pleasant, perspiring gentlemen holding up lollies. Artists do not reach here, perfumes, tourists – everything happens at a preordained pace. Certain that no one will disturb it.
The centre of town is not far off: simply walk between the lines of garages, pass a few abandoned buildings, cross the train lines and you will meet them: ladies in grey overcoats, in grey halls and workshops, in the dark corners of railway outbuildings, making chocolate. This is where the specialities come from, the ones which sweeten our existence. It’s here, among the grey, rotting walls of warehouses falling in on themselves where they surrender their most precious gifts – their time. Everything has stopped here – it is as if you have been shunted back some three decades. Time itself stands here, like concentration camps which, though said to no longer operate, go back to gassing people once the tourists have left.
“Secure Labour Camp”.
We walk on in the direction of the city centre. We see bald men, their faces like those of dumb and violent dogs, leading their women into town, holding them by the scruffs of their necks, like insolent bitches. Everything soaked in sweat and sperm, the centre no more than a giant knocking shop. Here everything happens simultaneously, like on the back pages of cheap women’s magazines, where the tiny photos of kids with teddy bears mix with photos of pricks being sucked off by three sets of lips.
Our blood coursing with MDMA, we’ve already covered a dozen miles through town and its peripheries, smoking one cigarette after another and talking. A lonely old woman in the murk is burning dried branches and leaves in her garden, prodding the fire with her walking stick to give it some semblance of life, presence and warmth, drawing us in. Everything is drowning in the dark. Reality is cold and stiff as if half-frozen. Homes, streets, buildings, parks, all departing as if a dying submarine sinking deeper and deeper in the uncharted abyss, its steel bowels squealing with overwhelming sadness as they catch on buried mountains.
Translated by Marek Kazmierski