Diurna: an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

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Reminiscence of a City at Night (3)

The night air is a water salamander in disguise. My mother said not to wander so late at night because of the bad air it has: that mystical animal would sink your lungs and eat a portion of it. People could die because of the air they breathe at night, she said. Perhaps that is why only the misfits left roaming the streets at night; those that took different shapes but breath the same bad air. However, there is more to the story than that which reached the ears; there are unsung songs and forgotten lyrics. We shut our ears as soon the lullabies heard and to the realm of the dream we go. Lost. In a cage: egg-shaped. Not all who wanders at night are lost.

The sidewalk was always broken ever since. To the pedestrian, this is similar to a bear trap: it would be painful when one falls into it. The water drainage below it is a mysterious river: it carries unknown water, foul smelled. There are stories about human remains were found in its flow; I have never found one.

My shoes stepped on the rail. This was the point: the great divider. The dividing line runs until it disappears behind the buildings. There is no horizon to be seen; the new towering buildings grow high and mighty, and with their pride push everything aside. The small people beneath obtain no grace in the form of raylight. The shadow grows with them: spreading. Those who cry and are helpless would be unheard: the shadow eats them all.

A demon supposedly live along this railway: a trickster; a bad jinn that plays with human life. The track runs across the main street with a stopping gate that would close should a train would run over. The gate, however, serves only as a symbol, a reminder: so that one would stop and wait for the train to pass; so that one knows where one should stand in order not to get sucked into the void which the train creates. As like many other demon, this one also makes us forgetful and mindless.

My elder cousin was the first to tell me about its existence. One day, I rode with her on her motorbike. The stopping gate was slowly moving down as the signaling bell sounded. Most cars would stop since there was no way it could run past the gate. But some pedestrians and motorbikes would try to cross the rail pass the gate before any train appears. My elder cousin only shook her head.

“Even when I’m in a hurry, I would never so in a haste that I would carelessly throw my life like that.”

She spoke our unification language, but her accent comes from the region. It sounded to my ear as if she is always excited about everything or being upset. She didn’t mean it that way: it was just her accent. Some words from the regional language get mixed in when she speaks. She tends to use the lowest form: the language of the people in the market and on the street; understandable: she sells duck meats and eggs on the local market.

“I think they never heard of the deaf demon lurks around here. Ever heard about it?” She tried to turn her head to see me on her back.

“No, I never heard about it.” At that time I was just moved to this city, entering the high school I went to. Before that, I was living on the outer island.

“Well, it’s good to know one or two stories from a local, right? Now listen: people said that there is a deaf demon that lurking along this railway.”

“Interesting, so the demon is deaf?”

“No, it is not deaf. But it makes people deaf.”

“But why is it called a deaf demon?”

“How am I suppose to know about that? And that is not the main point here!”

“Sorry, please continue.”

“Yes, so: the demon would make people deaf. Do you know why?”

I was not in the mood, so I answered her without thinking, “So people could not hear anymore?”

“Oh boy, are you stupid or what? Of course if people are deaf they could not hear anymore!” she shouted at me and hit my stomach with her elbow. I tried not to laugh.

“Listen: the demon would float and cling to the one it wants to disturb. Then the demon would place its hands on the ear of that person, blocking his or her hearing. It will be invisible to the uninitiated. Without realizing what is happening, that person would find that he or she suddenly goes deaf,” she stopped for a moment. She always spoke in one breath.

“And then, can you guess what happen next?”

“No.”

“Suddenly he or she found out that the train is already in front of the nose! That person didn’t hear the sound of the bell of the stopping gates, didn’t listen to the horn of the train, or noise of the engine of the train.

“The train will crush that person! At that last moment the demon will release its grasp and float someplace else along the railway. Perhaps laughing,” she ended her story looking satisfied. I wondered how many people she told this story already.

“Is there any way to repel the demon?” I asked.

“Well you just have to pray I guess. You know that prayer, don’t you? The one used to dispel black magics and drives demons away?” she asked me back. I just told her that I know it by heart. I lied.

Ever since I was small, that prayer always came up as the first aid against black arts. Not that I think that the prayer is merely superstitious; I do believe in the power of a prayer. But the fact that many people utter that prayer in a language they don’t understand disturbs me. Faith is one thing, but ignorance? A parrot can speak words, but it can’t understand the meaning they carry.

As my thought flew, I could hear she whispered. That prayer. I didn’t know whether she understood its meaning or not. I didn’t ask her. I looked around and found, that most people whispered to themselves. I could hear faintly the foreign words, the foreign accent, coming from the recitation of that prayer. I felt the wind blew; the train just passed.

But in the night when I was wandering, no more train departed from the station. It was almost midnight; the last train just left. Afterward, the train station was the place of the poor, cheap prostitutes, and drug junkies. I reached the monument in front of the train station: a locomotive from the 19th century. I reached my bag to find something to drink: I was thirsty.

Something touched my shoe. Out of reflex, I lifted my right foot and turned around: nothing was in sight. But then I heard a small laugh, like something came out of a cartoon. Then, faintly among the dark bushes which grew near the railway, I saw the little demon laughing, ran, and then floated over the track before it finally disappeared.

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