The Other Side

So let’s say this young guy is living in a ramshackle room in that side of the city where no one likes to talk about. There, homes are crammed together, set over a foundation of broken sewer, competing for space in a clearly space-less setting.  This jostling for space defines the nature of housing there, extending over the horizon, filling the landscape like a canvas. There is no place for kids to play and even grow up. There you are born an adult, into the grim reality of struggle. You become aware of the pangs of hunger in your stomach before you even know your name. The air is polluted by a constant supply of noise, smoke and a dense smell of refuse. The trees, if any, are bare of leaves, their stems accrued with layers of dust. The roads are rough and filled with hurdles. Danger doesn’t have to lurk in corners, it has a presence, you can see it in the deserted alleys, in the uneasy calm of dusk. Sometimes the people do not sleep, they stay awake listening to the bang of bullets leaving the nozzle of police guns, hurtling towards unknown targets.

Let’s suppose this guy has known this to be life, ever since he became aware of his existence. To him, life is a painful struggle, then it is cut short. And there is always something that can take away life there. A bullet. Disease. Booze. When you live like this, it is easy to get sucked into a bottomless pit of despair and learned helplessness. You learn to bend over backwards to your circumstances, to submit to fate, to never demand anything from life. If you’re young and you’re living here, you can feel the constant presence of hardship, how it draws ambition from your veins like a heroin addict’s syringe. You can hear the voice in your head telling you its absurd to dream of more, or for better.

Imagine that this is where our guy was born, in the midst of unwanted poverty. He grew up in this same place, his folks were good people, but the constant gnaw of hardship kept chipping away at the good. In the end they were just people. He understood what it meant to live from hand to mouth before he could understand what it meant to be a child. No one cared if he went to school, after all, there was never enough money to give him an education. No one asked him what he wanted to become. No one asks you what you want to become when what you already are is plagued by an unstable existence, marred by the persistence of threat.

Let’s suppose that one day he left this place and traveled across the imaginary boundary to the other side of the city, the ‘good side’. For the first time, he sees homes set in acres of land. He sees hedges trimmed to perfection, lawns mowed with keenness and care. His mouth opens wide with amazement when he sees pets with names. He wonders whether these pets have personal vets when the people from his side of the city can not afford basic health care. He savors in the overwhelming atmosphere of serenity and respectable calm. He stares at the trees swaying gracefully to the silent tune of a cooling breeze. His feet tread on roads tarmacked for elegant cars to ride on. He marvels at the kids playing happily, screaming with joy, swimming in privilege and opportunity. Kids who have the chance to enjoy childhood.

Exposure has a way of disrupting your view of the world. When you finally see a life that you’ve only ever dreamt of, a paradigm shifts in your being.

I can picture this guy laying on his bed in his ramshackle house later that night, in the uneasy calm of the darkness, this time his eyes flickering with hope. I imagine his awareness becoming more expansive, his chains unlocked.

I see him shutting his eyes, sleep taking over his body. Tonight he will dream, but his dreams will not be of despair or lack. He will dream of more, of a life fundamentally different from what he has always known.

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