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Wandering Souls-6

October 2, 2013

 Ahead of him an alley end, darker than the street but flickering with some internal illumination.  A slit between the backs of two buildings where one would expect rubbish bins and rats but, as he passed through it, widened and he was in a market, an open market of tables and booths rather than shops, lighted by naked bulbs dangling from a web of electric wires but brighter than you’d expect from just those and the cafe, it too open, only roofed by an awning, where everyone was eating noodles at rows of tables, sitting together at tables with thin steel legs and fake wood tops on sheet steel folding chairs eating noodles with spoons from large bowls.
     The kitchen at the front, a concrete base with a sheet steel firebox, the pots of boiling broth sitting on holes cut in the iron top, naked flames peeking through, licking the pots black, heat hammering out from the stove, sizzling and moaning with combustion and warming waiting pans of cooked noodles, shrimp, pork and beef, chicken, vegetables.  Two women at the stove, watching and, when it was needed, one plucked noodles into a bowl, scattered meat and vegetables over them, the ladled
the boiling broth over it all and the other woman carried it, cradles in her two hands, to the tables.
     A thin boy sweating in a white t shirt with a towel around his neck, came from the back, from the sinks with a plastic bin and collected empty bowls; carried them back and washed them in a racket of clashing crockery and splashing water.
     People ate, bent over their bowls with spoons.  When the bowl was done they sat back.  The boy picked up the empty bowl and the woman brought a full one and they ate again.
     Above him the towering buildings, cement and brick with laundry hung balconies climbing so high finally they dazzled the eye; came together at the far end of his vision and blocked out the sky.
     The lady beside him, smiling, she said, “Hunger lasts a long time.  It’s a problem.”
     “But you’ve never been one for food.  No more than you must.”
     “Your hungers are for other things.”
     “I guess.”
     “Yes you do, guess.”
     Then he was retreating, back from the seething, closed and crowded night of the alley through the crack into another night, the same but different as it spread through a universe littered with stuttering lights, a night smelling of cut grass and whistling with insects.
     “Time to go,” the lady told him.
     He called back to her across an expanse that was at once insignificant and infinite, “Who are you?”
     “Guess,” she said.


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