Taelin

I was born in a small village of a remote province of Lorn. My family was quite modest, as both my parents worked the land. I went to the local school, and after school hours I helped them with the work in the fields. It was quite tiring for me to help them, but I loved our lands which were planted with apple and cherry trees and in between my parents grew potatoes and onions and turnips and many other vegetables. We also had some fowls and a couple of sheep to take care of and nourish in the wild field that sprouted around the village. Our village was built on a hilly mountain, with many stone houses huddled together. Most of its inhabitants were peasants, except for the local pastor, the school teacher and an apothecary who was also claimed by the village for his healing skills. I lived a happy and uneventful life there for the eight first years of my life.

When suddenly we were informed of a decision of the regional department that would upturn our existence. Authorities decided to build a new city, a metropolis designed to shelter two millions inhabitants, in the middle of the plain by the Zuur river. Zuurcity, that’s the name this new metropolis was going to take. Works had already started and the city would be completed in a bit more than one year, and within two years we should all have moved there. How that you may wonder. Well, all the lands on which the village was built did not truly belong to its peasant, as it was a statal property. And the state had decided to unpeople five hundred villages of the region who would become the first inhabitants of Zuurcity, us included. Their purpose was to industrialize the region. The construction of Zuur would be accompanied with the development of a highway and a railway connecting it to the capital city. Zuur would become a giant production site, attracting many national and foreign industries, which would have plentiful of cheap manforce, as the Zuur province was quite poor and undeveloped. All the people who were to be moved to Zuur had not truly the choice of refusing, for they didn’t have the means to move to another place by themselves, and they were promised a free dwelling in Zuur as well as a job in one of the local industries.

That’s how we planted the vegetables in our garden for the last time in our life, and picked the last cherries and apples. Some in the village were grim to abandon the life they had always known, especially the elders. But the young ones were enthusiast to move to a real city where they already imagined a bright life with plentiful of opportunities from the stories they heard.

I was conflicted about this change in my life. I loved all the nature and the cool mountain air and watching the sunsets and dawns and listening to the quiet melodies of birds and exploring the wilderness and the forests around and watching all the mountain peaks surrounding us and imagining all the life and the landscapes there. And yet, I was also curious about moving into a new reality, meeting so many other people when here in the village there only were twenty other kids of around my age. I loved reading but there only were a few books here and I imagined that in the city I would find thousands of books and a lot more knowledge about the world. Beyond books, I had a passion for drawing. I drew on all the pieces of paper I could find with the pencil I carried everywhere. I imagined all the colors I would be able to find in a city, and the inspiring scenes I would see, and perhaps the museums I would visit. But what about my parents. Wouldn’t this change of life reveal too abrupt for them?

Indeed, it was. We said our farewell to the village and were carried in buses with all our belongings for a long trip of six hours or so, until we arrived to Zuurcity. In fact, the city was still in construction. It looked like a forest of the tallest buildings I had ever seen. In the village the tallest building had three floors, and I had never been farther than the surrounding villages. But here in town, the buildings had twenty, thirty floors. Our small apartment was located at the seventeenth floor and it still smelled of fresh paint. There were many cranes still working on the building around, and the wide asphalted roads still were an extension of construction sites with trucks and wires and deposits and workers. There was a new car fabric where my father had been set to work, and my mother would busy her hands in a clothing industry. I was to join the school of the district.

And so started our new life, uprooted from our village, drowned in a city a thousand times greater than what we had always known. My parents worked around the clock and at night they complained of being exhausted, of headaches. They were not used to all the noise and the strict rules in fabric, when they had lived all their life in the slow rhythm of nature and fowls and sheep and potatoes. Now they had to learn to be fast, productive, not to daydream or stop in their work to discuss with their neighbor. If they didn’t follow the rules, part of their pay would be retained. And in fact the apartment we were given to dwell in was not free as we thought, but half the salary of my parents would be needed to pay it, and so they couldn’t afford to work according to their whims and were forced instead to comply with all the rules. Instead of eating what our or nearby farms produced, we learnt to do our grocery in large supermarkets which contained tons of products we had never seen all wrapped in many plastic packages. At school, instead of the sixty or so children divided in four classes there were in the mountain, now there were a thousand kids divided in dozens of different classes. We all came from different villages and small towns, and I learnt that each had their own accents, their own customs. It was a good opportunity to relate with other, new people, as no one knew no one, but I was not very good at this game as I was quite shy and reserved and I was more comfortable staying in my corner and reading. The library at school contained many youth books and I started borrowing one after another.

My parents didn’t take very well their new life, but I only discovered it too late. When my father started coming back home late at night, drunk. When my mother started complaining of his behavior and he started shouting back at her. When she finally decided to disappear too during all the evening, and return at night with no explanation given. She would come back from work, prepare my food, and disappear again. She had taken into drinking too, but less heavily than my father.

It was heart-wrenching for me to see them in this state, fighting, drunk, when all what I had known before was harmony and peacefulness and at worst complains about the harshness of the weather or the bad crop. Now they had become other persons altogether, as if the city had fed on their souls, depriving them of their goodness of heart. I often cried, but they were not here to see my tears. One Sunday, the only holy day of the week, I tried to confront them when both had awakened from their overhang in the beginning of the afternoon. My father had said that life was harsh and that he still was bringing the money home, and that was his role after all, no one could reproach him of anything. My mother teared up and said everything was his fault, and they started fighting and shouting. After that I avoided discussing the matter with them, as it seemed to throw oil on the fire instead of quenching it. I saw their faces becoming yellow and sickly instead of the healthy tan the mountain sun gave to their skin. Their skin started to parch and their hair to gray, as if the city fed on their health as well as on their soul. It was a constant suffering to see them becoming the ghosts, the malevolent spirits, of the parents I loved before. I still loved them, of course, but I started to stay in my room to avoid seeing them, to avoid thinking of them, to avoid suffering helplessly. I cried sometimes. I wanted us to go back to the village, to the field work, and never hear again of the tall concrete tower and the ruthless industries of Zuur.

‘But that is impossible’, my father told me, in a rare moment of lucidity. ‘All you can do, son, is to work hard, very hard, at school, so you obtain a state scholarship and pursue your studies in the capital, and avoid ending up doing the life your mother and me are forced to lead.’

And so we stayed and Zuur became my new reality, almost wiping away the memories of the life in the village from my mind. I went to school and studied and read books and drew. I drew the characters I read about, I drew all the ideas that passed in my mind. I could draw for hours and hours. I always had a small notebook with me. I even drew in class sometimes, when I had a sudden flash of inspiration, or when the teacher was too boring. My results were nonetheless really good, and when I reached sixteen, I applied to the state scholarship at the main university of the capital city to study fine arts and I was taken.