I can’t believe it, I’m actually going to meet my Uncle. Finally. I simply don’t remember any other family. My Dad has always been there. I have flashes of who my Mum is, but everyone else is just a mystery. I wouldn’t recognise any of my family, even if I was in a room just full of them. And now, slowly and surely they’re appearing.
Randell walks me down street after street, winding around the labyrinth of the city. It feels like the buildings are moving around us, twisting and turning, bending into new shapes. We’re moving down dark alleys, the whole city feels alive down here. There is a murmur of chatter, just sitting on top the breeze, moving around us, people sitting in doorways, relaxing. People smoking out of window. The chatter is carried from all of them. For the first time I don’t feel safe here. Everyone seems to be staring at me, and if I move my gaze around the sea of eyes I start to feel dizzy, as if just the looks are piercing my skin. I try to just stick to looking at Randell, who has moved in front of me. He stopped speaking the second we walked into the alleys, and quickened his pace. I begin to question whether it was wise to trust someone who I barely know. Someone who claims to have a connection to someone else I don’t even know. A couple of people stagger passed me, and I skip to keep up with Randell. I don’t like it here. This is worse than the village. The air is sharp, as if even that could slice you to shreds, steal anything you own, and then throw you to the side. Discarded.
Not one piece of the wave of rabble is aimed at us, even though the eyes are. I don’t think Randell is anymore welcome here than me, but that might be because he’s bought a newcomer to the area. They don’t trust me. The air is stale with booze, something I recognise from when Troblyn stumbled into the shop one night when both me and my Dad were asleep. Both awoken by the crashing of someone throwing themselves into the clocks. He thought it was his house. I tried to help my Dad carry him outside and towards his house, next door, but I couldn’t do much. The smell that clung to his clothes and breath. That’s the one thing I remember. And here it is again. But this time, just buying a lock for the door won’t do much to help.
We move down into another alley, the buildings growing taller with each turn we make, and now I feel as if I can barely see the sky if I look up. It can barely be in the afternoon, but the sun is nowhere to be seen down here. It’s just shadows. The sun blocked from ever entering the this man-made pit. We walk down one alley that has a dead-end. This is it. This is where I die.
But Randell moves up some stairs and opens a door to one of the towers. I follow quickly, wanting to escape the eyes from windows. I instantly feel better inside. The light is welcoming, and the entranceway is empty. In front of us, is a metal door, and stairs on the left hand side. The room is pretty bare apart from that. Randell walks over and presses a button near the door. I wait, noticing the peeling wallpaper, and spray paint over the walls. Just random symbols, and pictures. Nothing really stands out. The floorboards are discoloured, where some of them have been replaced.
“What is this?” I ask.
“The poor area of the City. It’s not that much better than the villages, to be honest. This is what happens if you lose your job, or can’t work. You move here, and live of scraps and no one thinks about you. At least you have a warmth.”
“I don’t like it here. I feel like I’m going to be attacked.”
“I know the feeling. They’re just feeling you out, seeing how you react. I’m sure they wouldn’t attack you, it doesn’t look like you’re hiding a small fortune under those rags. Someone else, they might just beat and rob though. So you should be careful.”
“What about you though? You aren’t wearing the same rags as me, you look better dressed than anyone from around here. And what are we doing? Can’t we move yet?”
“This is a lift, it will take us up the building when it arrives down here. And they don’t attack me, because they know me. They see your uncle as some kind of messiah, and he has blessed my visits here. They understand that even though he works for one of the biggest and fake magazines in the City, that at the same time, he’s the only one who wants to help. That he puts most of his money into starting the charity, his own leaflet thing, it won’t just help the village, it will help these people as well. They see him as a voice of hope. And here we are, the lift has arrived. After you, please.”
I walk inside the little metal box, not wanting to. I want to run, back to the village and back to the safety of my Dad. I just wanted to find my uncle, my family, not this. No one even knows where I am. I don’t have the watch. I don’t like it. That’s all I can say about it. I don’t like it.
Randell follows me in and presses something on the wall, I stand in the corner and watch as the doors close. My eyes drift down and stare at the bubbles in the metal floor. Layers and years of dirt shoved into every crack, and crevice in the box. The lift. I can’t control my breathing. I shove my hands in my pockets, wanting them to stop shaking. It takes everything to just breath in and out, and not lose complete control. I’m going to fall over. I can feel it. My legs can’t keep me up much longer. Is this thing moving? I’m going to be sick. This is how it works? I should have just taken the stairs. I know where I am with them.
“Don’t worry,” Randell starts. “It’s a little weird the first time, but it’s safe. I won’t make you do it again, if you want to walk to the fifty-sixth floor, then that’s completely up to you. I would rather just wait in here though. You will get used to it.”
I don’t answer, but bring out a hand to steady myself against the railing jutting out of the wall. Something about it is slimy, but it helps. And before I can count to ten the doors open again, I stumble out before Randell and nearly fall through the window opposite the box. A long hallway stretches out to the left and right, turning at each end, going behind the lift. But right in front of me is a window, and through it I can see through more towers, but that’s not what I focus on. I make the massive mistake of looking down, and I can’t see the floor. At least there is sunlight coming through. The shining rays shimmering down from above. Randell walks down the hallway, without a word. I stare at the view for a few seconds more, and then follow him. As much as I just want to stand here, and stare at the height, I don’t think it’s going to achieve much. I can’t believe how high I am, after such a short journey in the box, we’re up here, closer to the sun than I thought possible. I’ve walked so far today. I can almost feel the blisters forming on my feet. The sweat between my toes shifting with every step. I’m not even half way through yet. I change to a quick jog to catch up with Randell, and then resume walking at his speed.
“It’s the second door after the turning. That’s where Maz lives. Has done for as long as I’ve known him. I’m sure he will be glad to meet you, after all this time.”
“I don’t know anything about him, I only heard about him the other day. Dad showed me some of the photos he took of my family, well our family. Some of the only pictures of my Mum. I just want to know more about her. And I can see how much it hurts my Dad to talk about, so this seemed like a good idea.”
“Are you not sure now?”
“I don’t know. I had this image in my head, walking into the City, finding him, getting a drink in a cafe and talking about our family, his achievements since moving to the City, stuff like that. It just isn’t what I was expecting. This is just. New. Different.”
“His achievements? That’s what people will call them in a few years. He is on the cusp of organising one of the first events in the City hall. He’s going to invite everyone he knows to it. Near enough every big name in the City. Once the guest list goes around, everyone will want to be there. It happens all the time. But this one will be different, once they are there he will spring this all on them. The poverty of those outside the villages, and he will force their hand. It might seem unjust at first, but as more people hear about it, the wheel will start to turn by itself. Poverty will be a thing of the past. He just had to build his persona, make the world know him. His connections have connections now. That’s his plan. Years in the making, and so close to paying off.”
“Don’t people know about the villages?”
“Of course they do, but they don’t feel the need to do anything. This will change their mind.”
I don’t say anything to contradict him. I see enough people enter the shop in the Village, and no one cares. I would rather live there than in this part of the City anyway. We reach the door, and everything stops. I watch in slow motion as Randell raps his knuckles on the door, three times. Nothing, and then “come in” echoes from within.
Randell opens the door and walks in, for a moment I want to follow, but I can’t. I have to go back. To the village. Back to Dad. That’s where I want to be. Not in some kind nightmare. My feet take over and walk inside the room. The man inside, is older than I expected, with a receding hair line, and tired eyes. He looks at me, but doesn’t notice me. He’s working on something. Somehow he looks older than my Dad even though he’s got to be around the same age. His whole body sighs and he places the piece of paper down on the table.
“Hello? Do I know you?” he asks, straight to me.
I don’t know whether to let Randell answer, or speak for myself. I’m not usually in this position.
“Um, hello? I’m Nymia. I’m your Niece. Your my Mum’s, Maria’s, brother.”
“Am I? Really? That would make you. My God, how is he? How is he? Jik? How is he.”
“He’s good. He told me about you, and I wanted to meet you.”
“I can’t believe it. This is such a surprise. I can’t believe you’re actually here. I’m so sorry that we have to meet like this.”
All of a sudden he becomes so lively, gesturing for me to sit down while also running around grabbing glasses and filling them with water. I sit down, and he hands me a glass of water, the outside wet, where he was rushing around. I switch hands and wipe the wet one on my top. I take a sip, and my thirst floods me. It takes every restraint not to gulp down the whole glass in one. I don’t want to be seen as some kind of desperate child, not in front of family I haven’t met before.
“I can’t believe how old you are,” Maz starts. “I mean, the last time I saw you, you were in a crib, and all these years have just zoomed by. Has it really been that long since we lost Maria? I can’t believe it. Time really does just fly by. I kept on meaning to come out to your village and catch up with your Dad, get to know you. But things happen. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. Dad, he said the same thing. Life just gets in the way. I understand. I just wanted to get to know people. I want to find out about my Mum and her family. Find out where she’s from. I just know that my Dad could only tell me so much. And it hurts him talking about her. I want to hear from someone else. Then I found you.”
I take another restrained sip.
“She was a wonderful woman, and a lovely sister. You kind of look like her, when she was your age. I miss her.”
“Thanks. I can’t really remember her.”
t r “That must be hard, but at least you know she loved you. At least that’s something. A lot of people don’t even get that.”
“So how did you find me?”
“My Dad told me that you moved to the City to become a photographer, to show the poverty in the villages. So I came to the city without a plan, and luckily ran into Randell, and he took me straight to you.”
“Really, you just ran into him? Just like that? Must be fate.”
“I suppose it is.”
“I moved here years ago, to this flat. I spent a few years working for anyone who would take me, until I got a steady job. And now I’m in charge of PRF. Poverty Relief Fund. To get money to the villages and poorer areas of the city. I’m actually organising my first fund-raiser later in the year. Maybe you and your Dad could make it.”
Hearing him talk about it, made it seem so real. Unlike Randell who has a weird obsession with my Uncle. He made it sound so much more sane and normal.
“Maybe, I’m sure he would like that. He spoke highly of you.”
“I can’t believe you’re here. I’m sorry I keep on saying that, but it’s true. Jikwin’s child, my niece, just turning up out of nowhere. I honestly can’t believe it. I knew him, before he met your Mum. Years and years ago, I went to his village as part of a university project, taking pictures of small businesses, and I met him there. And then all of a sudden he was delivering clocks in the City for his Dad and I bumped into him, took him to the cafe your Mum worked at, family discount, and then he met her. Didn’t realise at first that she was my Sister. Kind of funny when you think about it. Almost love at first sight. They were such a beautiful couple. Hard to believe how long it’s been.”
“He’s told me bits, and he showed me the cafe.” I stop myself short, knowing I don’t want to reveal the stopwatch to him. I don’t know if Dad told him, but somehow I doubt it.
We spend the next hour or so talking about my Mum. How he visits his home village a couple of times a year, and would love to take me there one day. How his charity is doing. How he hopes to make enough money to bring his family in the City. I don’t tell him that I think that’s a bad idea. The area he lives in still scares me, even this high above it. Before long I notice the time. He offers to walk me to the City limits, which I take, knowing I probably couldn’t find it by myself.
“Please, don’t hesitate to come back again. I would love to get to know you. It seems so weird knowing there is family so close, that I don’t really know.”
Tell me about it.
“I’ll try and come back again soon, but with school and the shop. It might not be for a while. You could always come to the Village. I’m sure Dad would like to see you again.”
“Probably,” he laughs. “It would be good to catch up.
I say my goodbyes and start my trek back home.