Gas cylinders are being loaded. Loaded gas cylinders. It's cool here where I sit, on a flight of hidden stairs, clutching the shoulders of the building, looking down. The man flings the cylinders into the back of the truck like he's splashing buckets of water. They wait: shiny new among old orange, so many clanking barrels of gas. Behind the truck is a ground, hidden like me. A burial mound of old cylinders black with so many kitchens. One red rim escapes and catches the sun and then catches my eye. The sound is methodical. Timed to precision, so I know, without looking, that the thin man in the flappy khaki shorts to his knees is bending, picking, throwing: as unflinching as a clock. The leaves shine awkwardly. The pumphouse is locked. So neat, like a housekeeper's wish. Two doors, one plain and flat and locked, the other slatted and pale and locked. A young man opens the plain door. Inside, a white plastic chair gleams, glad to be discovered. Patch of leafy sun on the floor in front of it, waiting for a person to plant his feet. Neat inside, as it is out. The man is leaving, two empty Bisleri bottles in his hand, summer is coming and the cool wind threatens to breathe its last. A checkerboard path leads to the open door, maroon and green squares neatly following each other to the steps. Green for grass maroon for cunningly laid-down tile. The man comes back. He wants to hop: zigzag up to the door, maroon square to maroon square: hop stop hop. He doesn't. He is weighed down by his bottles of water and his adult sense of shame. What if someone's watching. The eyes in the back of his neck see me. Can he?
The clanking has stopped. Crows fill the space and sometimes a chirpy bird, cheeky. The crows have claimed the silence. And yes a rooster, cocksure that it is only just morning and the world is ready to be woken. It is way past ten. Empty buildings all over the city are filling up fast. It is an infestation. Cockroaches scurry to hide. The rats, large and sturdy and ancient, vanish into the rafters of old ceilings that have dared to stay up. Lift doors are opening: gleaming metal Otis 24 persons only, cranky rusty stubborn cages that agree to stop only if a liftman crankier rustier more stubborn yanks the bars of the door two seconds before the floor of the cage touches the floor of the departee. Small cramped claustrophobic cerulean blue lifts silent going up with a rising emptiness a subtle sinking in the stomachs of those who ride. Tea is being drunk out of a million cups and mugs and glasses thick with sweetened syrup. Slurped sipped stirred with spoons or pens when nothing else is handy. Yawns are being stifled. Sleep washed out in a million ceramic basins cracked gleaming odorised spitoonized. (The truck with loaded gas cylinders leaves hurriedly. As if it knows it's late.) The world is long at work. Phones call. Faxes fax. Computers don't say a word. A few thousand fans stir the air. A few million people complain about air-conditioning. Too hot too cold too mean of the company to insist still on fans. A few hundred million people shift uneasily in their chairs. It's work. And must be done.
And here only the crows are trying to be busy. A pool of trees green and unsuspected, sunk between TV towers and old abandoned mills. One chimney smokes. That factory still kicks. They wait the empty buildings, rusting slowly. Fire hazards all. Brittle and flammable in their complete lack of purpose. They need those feet those hands those busy mouths and eyes. Somewhere a cloth mill - eaten from the inside into teeming termite tunnels - houses offices. Advertising agencies with posters in the foyer and insolent women on the phone. Banks with prissy faces. Rickety bones of stairway lead into the rooms. Pigeon coop for humans. Half the pigeons are dead. The other half are dying.