He gets off the bus, foot to toe. The sun touches his skin, just as he remembered it, hot, fiery. The usual breeze that appears the afternoon is also there. The mixed sound of cars, birds and the bubbling of people’s voices seems reassuringly familiar.
Twenty years ago, already. He had not been back to his city since he had been buying beers and cigarettes by himself, but apparently, little had changed. In front of the bus stop, He could see that Miss Jenny’s little cafe was still open, but the wall had been painted pink; the old tube TV on the shelf had been replaced by a flat TV nailed to the wall, but the kitchen looked the same as twenty years ago when he came in to eat sweets and watch his father read the newspaper on Saturday mornings. He goes in for coffee.
After, he took off his coat, put it under his arm, and started down the street. Before, all of parallelepipeds had now been paved with asphalt. Traffic has increased, but so have cyclists. Bakers and mailmen used their bikes once, and still did; but they also added executives, butchers and lawyers, who preferred this mode of transport.
When he realize it, he is already digging into the old quarters, which are still of parallelepipeds, partially wooden houses and trees still imposing shading the walk. Without realizing it, he was heading for his old house as a boy. There, the air revives its memories, the scent of the earth mixed with the stone and the plants growing in the spans. Some dogs still roam the streets, loose, quiet. A few yards away, he can see the lake that runs along the avenue, lined with large stones (on which he sat to watch the sunset) and trees as old as the city.
On the other side of the little stream, he can see the old walls of the old quarter, which have always caused him to shiver. They seem to sprout from the dark, damp earth as if they were an abnormally symmetrical, sticky plant. The age marks, their faults and loose stones give an alien air to the ensemble, in contrast to the natural asymmetry of nearby trees. The walls seem smaller than before, as if the earth, in a slow effort of decades, tried to swallow them back in.
His feet, wrapped in fond memories, reach the old arched wooden bridge leading to the old quarter. He stops. The entrance has a sign that reads “Visit the old city,” an attempt the city had made to turn the city’s old, worm-eaten streets into a tourist spot thirty years ago. Only the plate succeeded. Some people come to the bridge to take pictures with the plaque, but never actually enter the little alleyways that go back six hundred years of human occupation.
Uneasy, he looks at the small bridge and the street that leads to the old neighborhood. In the distance, in the middle of the huts, he can see the tower of the old church. As a child, he had heard dozens of terrifying stories about those streets, about the people who lived there (or rather, hiding, some said) about the horrendous crimes committed in the basements. It was said that an ancient race of savage humans, disguised in the midst of the population, used the old city to hide and perform their archaic rituals.
He had spent years thinking about it, first a seemingly skeptical teenager (but who had his doubts in the dark of his room), then to become an adult numb by ordinary life.
Until five months ago.