At night, it’s a different world. That’s what the song says, anyway. And it’s true.
It’s nothing to be afraid of, though. The darkness protects us just as much as it conceals the lurking fiend. Sometimes we can see what is there more clearly because we are not distracted by what is there to be seen. What the darkness has to tell us is that what we see is not all there is. That should be obvious, but in the harsh light of day we do so often lull ourselves into thinking we see everything and understand all of what we see.
But, of course, we don’t.
Walking the pavement at street level with tall buildings above, you hear the sounds of shouted victory in the wee hours as spectators view sporting events half a world away, but you might not know what game is being played or the final score. Walk further and a glimpse might arrive of interior life, silhouettes that fall on shaded curtains of women dancing, music faintly reaching in the dim light. On the corner, a husband paces the pavement below his apartment, and the firefly glow of his cigarette explains his exile, brief we hope, from home and warmth. Street food vendors wade about in the midst of dumpling-fog, and how they see anything through the steam is beyond our powers at guessing.
Walking dimly-lit streets, footsteps echo back from the faces of brick buildings, breezes funnel in brief and unexpected gusts that carry hints of spicy and unaccountable menu items wafting out of open windows … it can seem unreal, at times.
(But then, reality is vastly over-rated, as the schizo told his shrink.)
Hold yourself still, see this, watch that, then look elsewhere, a man is carrying a kettle and moving in a blur that looks as if time had stopped him in the traces of several quantum integers, and then gone. He’s a stranger, purposes vague as shadows cast inside of other shadows.
The neighborhood is just as friendly at night. Believe it. And it takes no special strength to walk into it, and through it. Do you belong here? No, you don’t. No one really does, that’s the secret, we have to make it our place to be. And we can do that. No sweat. True in the daytime just the same as now.
People think it’s a dangerous time to be out, and in a lot of cities that is true, but not this one. There might be some parts of the metropolis where people might wish to harm me and take something away, but I’ve never come across any place like that in many years of nocturnal ramblings.
When people pass each other in the dark, all hints of clumsiness and embarrassment vanish. It’s not the abode of madness that many would have you think, nor of blind confusion – no, there is clarity here, a clarity that comes from the awareness of what you don’t know. That old man sitting sprawled on the plastic chair in front of the convenience store, the tall green plastic bottle of rice wine on the table between the two of us, he’s sharing some wisdom and even if I understood the words slurred by the local brew, I would know that whatever comes is only a fragment, a part of something larger.
Through open windows in warm weather we’ll hear the screeching of semi-feral cats fucking, or asking the darkness for someone to fuck or be fucked by. We can imagine this same darkness extending to all corners of this half of the earth, endless old men and endless cats seeking fuck, all perpetual and all discontinuous, separated and discrete and intimately intertwined. The darkness takes the form of liquid in response to tidal energies, flowing smoothly through dense passages, viscous, now showing only shades of gray, now varying from a vast palette of colors, in turns harmonic and irreconcilable …
You’ll see others out walking as well. Don’t worry about them. It’s no big deal, but don’t bother them. They’ve got things to do, and people to be. Watch and look, okay, but don’t be obvious and don’t be an ass.
And it’s not true that darkness has no colors. Completely wrong. There are so many.
I walk back, retracing steps to the corner, and the husband with his cigarette is gone, the street vendor has closed up shop and the old man has taken his bottle of makkeoli home with him. It has all changed, every scrap of mood and nuance, and I’m okay with that.
Every dark street is an entirely new place.