Memory: Insight

It is 6:40am, and this morning like many others he wakes to find mist and silver clouds blanketing the green covered mountains to the south just across the river. From his 18th floor window, he can see the tops of the buildings beyond with their rooftop gardens, and broken tiles. He can see the black and white cat as it walks across the top of an air condition duct with ease, and unafraid of the 12 story fall. 6:40am has a way of making many things clear, maybe it is because life moves more slowly in the mornings, or maybe it is something else he still has not discovered. Life below moves normally, China in all it’s glorious strangeness does have a certain rhythm of life. With the red helmeted motorcycle taxis waiting on the street corner, to the lack of more than 4 or 5 traffic lights that he knows of in the whole city. Even to such things as the 3 tiered color coded signs in the restaurants to let one know if the kitchen is up to the governmental level of cleanliness or not. McDonalds, being one of the cleaner places in the city says a lot maybe. These little details stand out to him as he spends more and more time there. China, he thinks. The sights and sounds are becoming normal, and less alien than he expected. And on that morning, like many others, despite the mist the edges and details of the picturesque streets are sharp and in focus at 8:56am as he walks to work, everything seems to stand out more than it used to. He notices the small things, the toad just next to the rock to the left of the pathway through the park, the red shopping bag hanging on the tree, left there for when it’s owner realizes it is missing. The shoes belonging to a man sleeping just under a tree off to the right. Yet, of all the details that stand out one detail is set in focus above the rest. The looming eyes. Cameras it seems have been set in each and every corner of the city. It is hard for one to walk even a city block without counting less than fourteen to sixteen cameras of different shapes and sizes. Some are big blocky encased in white plastic shells with black faces that reflect your own image back to you. Others are small and spherical with masks covering their eyes making it impossible to know if they are really watching or not. Some are hidden, and it is only when you see out of the corner of your eye the blinking red light that you know someone is looking at you. Others still in various forms with three, four, and eight eyes, hanging from corners, in-front of doors and windows, watching each step and every purchase, capturing with light and film the passing of the days and nights, unrelenting.
Yet in these early hours of the morning, it seems that no one notices, or if they do notice they do not seem to care. He often wonders, I know, if these eyes have just become part of the background to the inhabitants of this city, something that might be a close relative or distant cousin to the white noise found on the radio when one goes beyond it’s signal, or if maybe they see a childhood friend from a school gate or street corner looking back at them. He wonders if it gives them a feeling of comfort, or if it reassures them that everything is calm and there is nothing to question, nothing to fear, that all things in the world are usual and normal. Yet as he walks across the square listening to the sound of cars passing by I hear him say out loud, “these cameras are a nuisance at best and an intrusion at worst.” I know he will never become accustomed to these eyes as they follow him down the streets on his morning walk to work recording his movements, as if attempting to peer into his freedom itself. Another step, and another, through rain puddles, and over fallen leaves. We watch him fade away as the silver blanket of mist descends down from the mountain and sweep across and through the streets and alleys. He welcomes the mist wholeheartedly if only for the fleeting moment, we can almost see it in his eyes. He thinks, it might help to obscure the view of any who might be watching behind those our unwelcome eyes, as the mist grows thicker he starts to hum a tune.


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