Saturday, 4 June 2016

Children of Chirica

It is rare, in Chirica, to see a child playing in the street, or hear the cry of an infant from a high window. There are children in the city, fat and quiet as maggots, hidden in the inner rooms of palaces and slums: but there are not enough. Something in the city strangles the desire to make new lives, just as something - perhaps the same force - stifles the urge to end one’s own. A birth in Chirica is a rare and solemn occasion, or a shameful secret. Some of the old families retreat into even deeper seclusion, ceremonially, for nine days after a birth. Others, among them some of the grandest, maintain the rituals of announcement, and can be seen, robed and processing with the swaddled body of the infant to the nearest public square, where the child is stripped and raised above the crowd by a strong-armed servant, there to be held until the sun goes down. The purpose of the ritual, if it has one, is to show that the child has no deformities. But who now remembers the proper ritual response if one is observed? And who among those who pass through the echoing squares dares to raise their eyes?

The city sustains its population through other means. Many of its citizens die slowly, and some do not die at all. Some breed in ways we do not recognise. The rotting bodies pulled from beneath the Red Bridge wake up, sometimes: which is why they are hung from the parapet for seven days before they are buried. In a silent bell tower near the Carazzo, it is said, something somewhat like a spider sits and spins, and around the tower sometimes lost and voiceless children can be found: and unlike in the rest of the city, stray cats there are rare. In a disused glass factory, someone forms mud from the bottom of canals into shapes like men, and studs the muddy forms with shards of glass, and sometimes men are seen to leave - but they seem to be true men.

And there are also many who appear in Chirica’s streets from somewhere else, though they do not remember where. They arrive in the knowledge that they have left somewhere, and knowing that they have not seen the city before, though sometimes they seem to know certain things about it. They are strangers in the city, outside the ancient, motionless society: and there are those in that society who have a use for strangers.

Which is where you come in.