Street names meant nothing around here. You knew where you were by following the noises, the smells, and the lights. Turn a corner, and you were surrounded by the enticing allure of the egg waffle salesman. Turn another, and the streets turned red and green from neon signs and window displays. Around here, you were either a local, or you were lost.
It ‘s not a shady part of town, and it's certainly not a dangerous part either. Not if you have the mind to not nosey too much in the upper floors of the celebrity-endorsed seafood restaurants. You keep to yourself, and you will remain yourself in your entirety. Here, like the skyscrapers that housed different ethnic cuisines on every floor, you were going to find something to your needs. If you knew where to look and which doors to open.
This is where I met the hit-man. He never told me his name, and never told me his profession but I knew who he was. People who had met him had suspected him to be a retired pop star, once a legend in his own right. He had even once maybe graced the big screen once or twice, but this was no longer him. He was a hard man to find, and an even harder man to talk to.
He told me, usually, this was done over a line. Fax, phone, whatever. Just not in person.
I didn't have a request. I just knew I had to meet him now.
He asked me what I wanted done, what was needed of him. He did not understand the nature of my visit.
I left him, and visited the girl he was with. She lacked personality, but made up for it in spirit. She proudly displayed her individuality through her hair – a large explosion of colour and tangles – and her clothes, which were similar. Her quirks defined her. She liked to sing one song over and over again. The hit-man stayed with her, because she stayed with him. He did not have many anchors, but he took the one he was given.
I will admit. Her spirit was strong, and smart. She knew who I was. She understood the story she was in. Her eyes, wide and punctuated by eyeliner, reflected the dull cyan neon that lit the room. A part of her regretted her choices, but as she glanced at her beau, in his state of confusion and misery, she felt an overwhelming pity. She stayed with him. I don't exactly check, but they were still together when I last saw them.
Elsewhere, across the water, a cop was starving. He had not eaten all day, for a single reason: the girl, with the pixie cut and the tiny shorts who worked in the late-night food stall, sandwiched between two much better late-night food stalls. She knew him by name, but she had never told him hers. I watched their story, with interest. I had no business with them, but they fascinated me. He ate in silence, watching her serve other men. I could feel the sensation of jealousy in him, in this simple act. She did not notice. She smiled at him when he came, and he cried later. I knew when I would see him again, and it would not be for some time. I could see then, that he would still cry for her. When he stopped coming to her stall, she would not notice.
He finished eating and paid her, always more than it cost, for her to keep. As he walked away, disappearing into the throng of ragged men and women selling cheap plastics and stray wires, the person I had come to see emerged. He shouted at the girl, who he had seen pocket some money. She defended herself, and he gave up. The patrons were watching, and in his old age, he could not handle the stress of arguing in public. He moved into the shadows at the back of the stall, into his filthy kitchen, where he was the sole person to cook.
He beheaded a goose, and for a moment, thought back to his time in the School. His bones were old now. He could not move like he did then, but he still liked to practice. Crane stance was always his favourite. He tried it once more, and never again.
He told me afterwards that he knew, in the back of his head, that he couldn't do it again. I asked him why he had tried, and he had answered that it was worth it. Being found with a goose head in your hand was not impressive. Leaving behind a legacy you thought people had forgotten, that was more important. I agreed with him, and thought to the hit-man.
Elsewhere, several men in suits. Some good, some bad. Possibly. Who's to say?
None of them were surprised, when I showed up. Their security had not screened me, but their security looked like they had been expecting me. One of them asked me if they could remove the red from their shirts now. I shrugged. I have never had that problem.
One more place, and then I move on. They were the eldest. They sat on a bench, in a place they had once lived. The woman told me about the place. She told me of the buildings on top of other buildings, and the strange, agoraphobic community she had grown up in. I looked around, at the trees, and the little stream. There were little evidence that this had ever existed.
The man stayed silent, but the woman told me that the old had to go eventually. The broken, the dirty, the sick. All you can do is manage, as age and illness stacks. It leans on itself, threatening to end it all. And, inevitably, it does. Eventually they are all replaced, she said. She looked at the little stream, which shone with yellows and oranges as it caught the light from the street and the buildings that towered above, and smiled.
She was happy it was gone. If only for the stream, and the fish inside it. The buildings had to go, to make room for the fish. She was glad they were there.
I had heard all this before, but I liked hearing it.
She called her husband, who I only just realised had been sleeping, and told him to come along. He said that he wanted to sit and watch the sunrise, like they used to do. She knew that was not possible. I nodded.
On these streets, there was always a tragedy. They seemed inevitable. Tragedies unfold slowly, revealing themselves and their true natures long after you can do anything about them. I dealt with them. There was a sadness, and I understood that more than anyone. But sadness was temporary. Everyone I had ever met eventually realised this.
Elsewhere, I heard another heart stop. I had planned to watch the sun go up this time. But that would have to wait.