In The Opening Hours (2013)


In the early evening, and in the opening hours of morning, is when a city comes to life. The morning brings promise and a low buzz that fills the entire day, as the city slowly awakens like some vast organic thing. Ashen faced night workers, eyes blue with tiredness make their way out of the cracks of alleys and back entrances to kitchens and bars, passing on their weary journey to the first buses of the day arriving packed with office workers looking much the same.

Trash trucks lumber down the streets to pick up the detritus of the night before, little men scurrying in and out of them to pick up the cans and dump their contents into the back of the truck. Cafes and bakeries start to open, wafting their intoxicating aromas into the crowds of businesspeople, drawing some of the dazed into their warm bellies. Newspaper men open their stands up, jaunty flat-caps pulled over their bushy brows, cigar stubs dangling dry out of the corner of their mouths. Newspapers stacked high like towers surround the stands, neatly tied with lengths of coarse twine.

The rising sun flows through the streets, golden and pure, glinting off of the glass of the buildings and illuminating the asphalt and concrete foundations. It warms the cold places tucked and hidden away and exposes the imperfections of the streets before they are swept and scrubbed away. The light breaks through the haze of mist that has settled in the city like an imposter the night before, vaporising the tiny water droplets and clearing the air.

Deserted parks begin to fill with brightly clad joggers who move swiftly through the paths like red blood cells coursing through the heart of the city. The leaves on the trees change colour slowly, first midnight blue in the pre-dawn then golden orange as the sun rises, finally settling on verdant green and filling with the sound of songbirds. The click and swish of bicycle wheels mingles with the birdsong. Some of the little birds attempt to fend off the trespassers but are foiled by the zip-ties sticking out of the hard plastic helmets.

Trains screech and creak slowly into the city centre, rocking their sleepy occupants back and forward while they read or listen to music or simply sit and stare out the window at the approaching skyscrapers, at the rusty train tracks or graffiti tags on tunnel walls. The beasts snake into the station, a muffled voice announces that the destination has been reached and the travellers stream out of the doors like water. They swirl and break and channel into the escalators and stairs, still lost in thoughts of the coming day and the glow of their phone screens.

The magic of the wakening morning is soon lost in the chaos of the day. The night fades back into memory as the city-dwellers go about their business, concentrating on their work and study and troubles and woe. The day speeds along inexorably towards the night and as late afternoon approaches the sound and activity reach a fever pitch and then —

Silence. The city inhales and then exhales and relief fills the air as the occupants begin to leave in droves. The late afternoon sun sinks low over the buildings, a purple haze of smoke filtering and scattering the light. The windows of the steel and concrete behemoths shine bronze and copper, and as darkness falls the insides glow fluorescent green and blue or are otherwise extinguished one by one.

Streetlights begin to flare into life along the roads and highways, tiny pinpricks of light that illuminate the exodus of cars and trains and buses from the city’s slowing heart. Shopfronts are shuttered and the owners either retreat to apartments above the awnings or join the other citizens on their journeys back to the suburbs, far into the outskirts of the city. Some linger on into the night, burning the midnight oil or heading to bars to drown away the day’s work in snatches of music and smoke and conversation.

And as the night goes on those weary people slip to sleep one by one as darkness falls upon the city like a veil. The witching hour is reached and the city becomes silent and watchful, any small stirring away from the busy streets becoming echoing crashes in the night. A hungry stray cat knocking over a pile of trash, a drunk wending his way home wailing a Bruce Springsteen song at the top of his voice, a baby crying out for its mother in the dead hours. All stir the attention of one or two lonely people for just a second, before they forget about it and sleep re-takes them.

Until the early hours of pre-dawn, when everything starts anew.

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