Her raucous, roiling enthusiasm. Her deep purple nights, all neon glare and shrieking trams. Her sensual skyline reflected in the river that runs through her. Her glistening bridges. Her true scent, which fills the air when fat raindrops hit the sweltering asphalt.
I know someone who likes to get herself off in front of an open window.
‘When I do that,’ she says, ‘it’s like I’m making love to this city.’
Here free time is a luxury, an indulgence. Letting the moment pass without making yourself useful, or at least being present – being seen.
I’m lying on the rumpled duvet, vaping and waiting until the THC oil kicks in and my body becomes heavier than my thoughts. I try to be bored, but my mind involuntarily wanders to my favourite porn clip.
A woman, her legs wide, labia spread open, glistening pink. How she fingers herself until she starts squirting. You can’t see her face, but you hear stifled moans. Behind her, on the wall, there are three small, square picture frames: a starfish, a seashell, a sailboat.
Outside, the city’s nightlife rushes by under my balcony and tells me that turning inward is an illusion. This city – she is screaming for attention. I know so many people here, but there is no one I truly understand.
I know someone who never goes to the supermarket. Who has all of his food brought to his door. He finds it reassuring to know that he only needs to have the bare minimum of human interaction.
I know someone who would kill for a cortado with soy milk.
I know someone who goes on a different Tinder date every evening.
I know someone who loves the smell of freshly poured concrete.
I know someone who is never seen without a pair of pink sunglasses.
I know someone who once pulled his pants down, just like that, in the middle of the living room.
‘I’ll show you mine,’ he said, ‘if you show me yours.’
I looked at what he was offering; the city snuck a glimpse through the venetian blinds. I took a drag of my cigarette and showed him what he was asking for. That’s as far as it went.
I know someone who has never cut her hair.
I know someone who lost his virginity in an underpass.
I know someone who works at City Hall. I bring her coffee and we smoke cigarettes in the courtyard, which is so quiet and green and peaceful that for a moment you forget all about the city.
I know someone who pees in the bath.
There is a young mother who has sex at construction sites. When I think about that, I think about fingers prying their way inside, leaving snail trails on the body.
There is a psychiatrist who told me about a woman who hiked up her skirt in a busy square, moved her panties aside and let him have a good look at her.
There is a student who creates ‘special content.’ Usually she is asked to masturbate in bed, sometimes in the bathroom. One person asked her to do it in front of a mirrored office building. He gave her the address and instructions via DM. She watched herself doing as she was asked with the business district in the background and, upon request, wiped her wetness on the glass.
‘I pictured the people standing inside looking at me,’ she said. ‘And I realised it wasn’t all that different from what I normally do.’
There is a man who catches pigeons. He often stands in the square wearing a nice suit. He carefully scatters seeds on the ground, on his shoes and his shoulders. Then he patiently waits for the birds to come. He grabs one each time and shoves it into his black leather briefcase in a single fluid motion.
There is an art collector who holds objects like they are lovers. I’d rather feel like a thing than a person when I’m with him.
There is a guy with a little dog that looks like a Giacometti sculpture.
There is a married couple. They own one of those posters with a well-known quote by Arthur Schopenhauer. The worst is yet to come, it says.
There is a beekeeper who has hives on the roof of a high-rise apartment block.
There is a gamer who has a pet pig that he walks twice a day on the grass near the canal.
‘It gets me out of the house,’ he told me when I asked him about it once.
The pig is always on a leash, but doesn’t really seem to mind.
There is a girl with an amputated leg who says she can feel the subway shuddering through her missing limb when it courses underneath the city.
There is a boy I know from the bars. I took him home once. The two of us meandered from North to West, watching the screaming gulls fight over the contents of a bin. We couldn’t stop talking, until we were sitting on the balcony and a strange silence came over us. He pulled me into his lap. His whole body was throbbing, the velvety softness of his sex.
‘Go on,’ he whispered, as if he was offering me a present. ‘Take it into your mouth.’
My high is finally peaking. The people I know are starting to evaporate. The images from the porn clip are the only things that stick. The three framed pictures behind the woman’s convulsing body as her index finger circles her clit. Where exactly is the camera? Has she set it up or is someone holding it? There is a towel underneath her, I can’t remember what colour. I keep thinking about her coming. Spasming inside. I want to watch it again. To remind myself of the details. The only thing I need to do is lift my pinkie – my body will do the rest. Grab the laptop off the bedside table, open it, type three letters in the search bar and I’m there.
My nipples are still tingling. The hours melt away in the dark and I hear the city slowly calming, the rhythms of her streets change from a staccato pulse into a soft sloshing, ever so slightly out of time.