We set out pretty early. The sun was no where to be seen. We stepped out of the shop, into the cold street. Dad locked the door behind us, the clanking noise echoing around us, carried by the harsh wind. Another house just down the street. The chimney was breathing, dark smoke flying away into the clear night sky. Besides us were two boxes, each had a clock in. Expensive heirlooms, that dad had fixed. I wonder if it was our family who built these clocks in the first place. It would make sense.
Dad places the keys in his pocket, mumbles to himself and picks up the smaller of the two boxes. He passes it to me, with a smile and picks up the other one. Without a word he starts to walk down the street, I follow.
The clicking and tapping of our feet is the only sound for quite a while. Neither one of us wants to wake any one up. We walk to the end of the street, and turn left. We walk along the line of the lamps, knowing we will be the last people to walk past them this morning. Soon enough the lamp-lighters will be out, extinguishing them. Then they will disappear until the evening. I’m not sure if it’s a lonely or adventurous job. It’s so repetitive, but being able to walk freely, with the fresh air, and knowing you’re doing something important. Maybe that’s what I want, nothing complicated.
I’ve never been this far away from my house before. The school is the closest I’ve ever been to the city. Everything looks the same though, small wooden houses lined upon dirt paths. If you didn’t know the area, it would be easy to get lost. The lamps were taller than some of the houses. We’re lucky to have two floors, even if one was just for the shop.
Soon enough we break away from the village. There is a small clearing before the wall, no buildings for about fifty metres, almost like a moat. But not a ditch filled with water, just nothing. I’ve never been this close to the wall. Cobblestone, uneven bricks, joined together, towering over me. It has stood here for centuries, stopping people from breaching the city. There are guards standing along the top, evenly spread out, looking over the village. I can just about make them out in the rising sun. Directly in front of us is a large wooden gate, split in the middle. We walk up to it, and dad knocks on the wood. A little slit opens up and reveals some eyes. He nods and closes it. There is movement behind the gate, shuffling and clanking and banging. And then it opens. Slowly. The weight of the door is evident. The wood creaks as it is pulled away from us.
Through the growing gap I can see the sun shining through, making everything on the other side glisten. Through the gap we join the light. There are a couple of guards, who are quick to close the gate once we are on their side. They replace a bar over hooks on each side of the gate, locking the world out.
“I’m here to deliver these clocks to the Fantson family, and Klivitil family. They will be expecting me.”
“I’m sure they will, Jim, just go on through.”
The guards don’t hold us any longer, the go back to their positions and we start walking away from them. The dirt path has turned into a smooth stone one. It’s completely smooth. In front of us, incredibly tall intricate buildings. Taller than anything I’ve ever seen before, and they are still quite a distance away. At the moment it’s just the path, with grass on either side, leading towards the maze of towers in front of us.
“That’s just the outside of the city,” my dad starts. “Inside it’s even more breathtaking. The towers are where people live. Beyond that is the shopping district, with the more rich houses beyond that.”
“I never dreamed it would look like this.”
“It’s weird. Completely different to where we live, to anything I’ve seen before.”
“There aren’t many places like ours left. Only the poorest of places remain like that, unable to catch up with the cities. I think they like it that way, we provide most of the food for them.”
We walk along, and finally get to the outskirts of the towers. The silence from outside the walls has followed us, but somehow seems more tranquil. The path leads between two of the towers, which leads to another block of towers with roads intersecting each one. These must have taken a generation or two to build. As we stand between them, I feel like they’re about to fall down on us, swallow us whole. They block out the sun.
We walk along street after street, in near enough silence, while I’m waiting for the towers to disappear. As amazing as they look from a distance, there is something off about being within them. Maybe you just get used to it.
Eventually they start to lower in height, and we reach a block that isn’t taken by a tower or a path, instead it’s just grass, trees and a pond in the middle.
“What is this?” I ask.
“A park. There are a few of them around the city. People come here after work, with children, at the weekends to relax and just enjoy things. I wish I could have taken you to one of them when you were younger, but I couldn’t. Sadly work took too much time.” I can see the distress in his face.
“It’s nice to see one now, even if I didn’t back then.”
“I’m glad you like it. Something about it, I don’t know what it is, but something, is just nice to be around.”
“I know what you mean.”
We move on from the park, taking a right, and move in between two buildings, still three or four stories high, but smaller than the towers we’d seen before. We walk past a few shops, I see one selling books.
“Is that where you buy me books from?” I ask, nodding towards it.
“Sometimes, there are quite a few around. We can have a look on the way back if you like?”
That sounds nice, but I don’t answer. We walk past a cafe, and while I was sure dad would point out the one that mum worked at, I still stop breathing for a second.
The first place we arrive at is a building bigger than the school. Enormous. A massive manor house inside it’s own walls. We are escorted from the front gate to the front door by one man, and then led through the grand entrance by another. Finally we meet the man we have walked so far to meet. In his private room, filled with more books any one person could read in a life time. All I want to do was drop the box and open one up. So many books, so many stories and adventures. I can’t focus on anything else.
“Ah, Jikwin, what a surprise. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.” The man of the house, stated with a smile.
No one calls my dad Jikwin in the village, it’s always Jim. That’s the name he uses, but people from the city always use his birth name. That or our surname, Volund.
“It was finished early, and I was already in the city today with another visit, thought I’d drop this off today. This is my daughter, Nymia.”
I smile, not knowing what else to do.
“Nice to meet you, another clock maker in the family then. I suppose it’s good to hear the line will be continued. There isn’t a clockmaker anywhere close to your fathers skill around these parts. I hear that people come from the next city other to visit him. That no matter how old, he will fix and it will appear brand new.”
“No need to flatter me,” Dad says.
“I’m sure, she’s seen you fix it all, I suppose there is no need to tell her what she already knows.”
The two of them start talking about the clock. My dad puts the box he was holding down on the table and starts to unfold the cardboard lid, he lifts out the clock from inside and gives it to the man, whose name I have already forgotten, despite being told it several times over the last few days. He lifts it up, a simple clock. It would sit nicely on top of a shelf, A long panel with angel carvings on either side of the rather small clock face. My dad not only got the gears working again, but also retouched some of the paint from the delicate wooden carvings. No idea how old it is, but it does look brand new again. The man looks happy, and places it on top of the one of the tall bookshelves. I wish I could just get a little closer to the shelf and feel the books. I try and make out some of the titles from the spines, but they are either too faded or not there at all. These books must be older than any book I’ve touched before. Even if the school ones seem beyond ancient, these ones are older. I wonder how many generations have passed since these forgotten stories were gazed upon. The mysteries sat here, locked away from anyone who would want to read them.
Eventually we leave the house and end up back on the street. My dad takes away the box I was carrying.
“I’ll take that now, no need for you to hold it, if you don’t have to. The next place is just down the road. Not far.”
“Thanks.” I said, wanting to ask more, about the cafe, about mum. About the city. It’s so different from the village.
Everything somehow seemed brighter. Even though the houses were tall and bigger than most of the buildings from the village combined, it still felt fresher here. No beaten down mud tracks, with centuries of boot marks etched in the world around us. No dark colours, of just wood and dirt, repeated over and over again. Instead the bricks seem fresh and vibrant, smooth. My mind is made up, I wanted to live here. Away from the village. Maybe find some way to change things for everyone, even though I know that won’t be possible. It’s just so weird to think how close we are to such riches, and yet most of us will live our entire lives without being within sight of it.
I’m not stupid though, and it’s not going to be easy. But I can’t just live in the village for ever. There has to be more to it than just that. Mum went to university maybe she could have made something for herself, if she didn’t get married.
“Why did mum come back with you to the village, if she went to university?”
Dad almost seemed shocked at the question.
“Um, well, she wasn’t from our village, but one a little way off in the west. That’s where she was born and raised. And then through a scheme thing she got a place in the university. She went there, and got a job to keep herself afloat. That’s where we met, and then things moved so fast. Before we knew it, university was over, she moved in with me instead of going back to the village. And then we got married and had you. She was going to find a job in the city, she dreamed of showing you around, taking you to the places she visited during her university years. As you know she studied history, and wanted to teach it. She loved this place. I never really understood that. To me this will always be full of elitists. Something I’m proud we’re not part of. But she could see beyond that, beyond the living, and look at it with naivety and innocence. Probably the best way. It’s not the buildings that towered over us for generations, it’s the people inside them. Anyway, here we are. We’ll make this quick and then I’ll quickly show you the cafe. It’s not that far from here.”
To be continued….