“The dust and sweep of the city” (2014)

“The dust and sweep of the city” A Descriptive Essay about twenty-four hours in the life of a city:

Have you ever felt irrelevant within the goings on in the world around you? As if it wouldn’t make much difference if you were present or not. Well, most would say that’s what being part of a city is like. I however disagree. You see I’m the square-shaped clock with the discoloured face that perches above the Eason’s bookstore in Dublin’s city centre. I see your apparent irrelevance every day. I see everything really: the 4am silence and the junkie that phases out beneath me, the early morning rush hour as you all frantically attempt to get to where you’re going to, right up until the eccentric nightlife in our capital city. Maybe I’m the one who is irrelevant because, to me, it is the life in it that makes the city what it is.

The contrast I witness in this city in twenty-four hours is something extraordinary. For example, it’s 9am and the city has life again. It’s Friday so everybody has that ‘Friday feeling’ they all seem to strive to get. I notice a man and woman walking happily together. They are dressed in suits and discussing the business headlines. The man stands out for me. He is dignified sure, but I notice the trickle of the ink of a tiger tattoo running from the back of his neck downwards as they pass. Next comes a young schoolgirl. Her body is weighed down from the weight of her schoolbag. She takes out a cigarette and lights it before checking me for confirmation of the time I provide her with. She is satisfied now but stressed. I constantly see the tension of the youths as they cope with the pressure of exams. I don’t know whether I pity or envy them, as sadly an old clock never gets educated. She stubbed the cigarette into the brick wall and I watched it fall to add to the dust and sweep of the city floor.

The usual morning hours passed with lack of any definite level of busy intensity. Buses came and left again, tourists snapped photographs of the Spire and one even stood beneath me for a photograph. I noticed the bland and vibrant colours that differed from person to person, styles and fashions clustered together into one city blur. The collection of people really accumulated at about 12:30pm. The midday sun beamed as people surrendered to their bodily needs and swarmed the city in search of nourishment. It really is a time of rush when everyone is hungry. The food differs from the savage ‘BigMac’ to the petite garden salad. The name of the game seems to be to eat your daily catch as quick as possible, while on the move to the next thing on your agenda. One must wonder ‘while there’s a breath of life in our bodies, we are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around?’

There comes a time in the city day when the clouds dim and evening appears to roll in. Everyone I see is on edge as they attempt to flee from the city chaos, all at once in want for their weekends to start. The public transport systems are compact and clogged, filled tight with indifferent people thinking of their own destination alone. The fumes of exhaust unravel from these moving boxes and I notice the discomfort of the surrounding city people. Those in cars drag themselves slowly, hardly moving, through the packed streets. The traffic warnings boom loudly from the car radios and although each person is to their own, there seems to be a sense of commuting community as everyone is stuck together, trying to break free from the city hold up. This finally dies down at a time close to 7pm. There is a sense of ease and calm as doors of shops are shut and the sun disappears to its final resting place after the working day.

What surprises me really again is the contrast. The hours drift into night until finally the second world of the city is upon us. At about 10:30pm, that’s when the city begins to flourish again. The demand to be here in the ‘in-scene’ is huge. The nightlife is peculiar to me. People surround themselves in the dark atmosphere of a pub or nightclub and light up, chug down or snort some awful concoction and tell themselves they’re having a good time. I hear the high-heeled shoes click by me again and wonder how girls are immune to the cold night temperatures. Some fall and skip and trip below me but laugh it off like its all part of the fun. This is a new life form than the daytime one. I see the same humans but there is a definite difference. Like the chameleon who can change colour but remain the same creature. I, the clock, am disregarded as these few hours of the Friday night drunken slander roll into one combination of a ‘good time’.

Ice forms above me on the roof of the building I’m attached to. As the night turns to morning of approximately 3:30am, I recognise the man. The tiger tattoo printed on the back of his neck. He is still being the man of business at this hour, but I feel it’s probably a different line of work than his daytime regime. He pushes the girl around a bit as she doesn’t seem to take him seriously enough. She appears dazzling in a short sparkling dress but more dazed as I notice her distant eyes.  A black car pulls up in front of us. The woman smiles as she is rushed into the car. Money exchanges hands and our pimp walks away with the lout. The car turns and vanishes as I see the obliviousness of the woman, as the man rests his hand on her thigh.

It’s a rare time when I experience silence. I can actually hear myself tick. It never does last long, but it’s a time I treasure. See, I don’t get to embrace the beauty of the flowers in St. Stephens Green or the treasures of the libraries or museums. I rely on the views of the life of the city. Twenty-four hours goes by quickly to me, maybe it does for you too I don’t know. The life starts again for me at about that time just before the sun rises. The woman who was earlier sold returns to shoot heroin under the shelter I provide to her. Her face is tear-stained and desperate. I watch for the few minutes it takes for her to gain her desired feeling. Her pimp returns momentarily to provide her with some damp cardboard and a sleeping bag – he needs to keep her alive at least. She finally loses all sense of this city we’re all a part of and passes out below my place of stance. The sun comes up and the man clears away, not before spitting on the helpless girl and mumbling an insult. I savour the final moments of quiet before my twenty-four hours begin again.

You see, they say the city never sleeps but here, I’m the only one who can’t rest. The injustice I witness in daily life is something of strangeness that I can’t help but notice about the human lives in the city. The man goes to work at the beginning of the day discussing business headlines and ends it spitting on a prostitute he sells for profit. If you look deeper into the hustle and bustle of the dust and sweep of the city, you may not see the twenty-four hour detail I see, but the fact of what the reality means in our beautiful, yet tainted, capital city. Time is the essence, I as a clock would know, but a lot can change in a little over twenty-four hours.