The city blocks where we were born and raised shone into view, dark and silvery — heavy conglomerations of structures and sprawling treetops. Apartment blocks with darkness pooling in the hollows between them, like water in the holds of sunken tankers, shone into view. Windows and balconies, antennas and ladders shone into view. Arches and doorways, telephone poles and kiosks shone into view. Bricks and tin, grass and stones, clay and nighttime earth shone into view. Spiderwebs, filling the air like thin veins, shone into view. Down toward where the river ran, the buildings dropped off and the roofs of warehouses and auto repair shops shone into view, and the cold mercury of its current shone into view, and on the opposite bank were the spectral pipe of the old windmill, the lights of houses, and the white smokestacks of furnaces and factories. Thick silver flooded the earth and the sky, and you could only guess who lived down there and what was happening.

Banks and stores, 24-hour kiosks where you could always get a pack of cigarettes and 24-hour pharmacies where you could always get your particular drug cocktail lined narrow streets packed with advertisements and automobiles. Flashy dresses and jewelry burned pink and green in display cases, serving men carried heavy water jugs out of the stores, rushing to bring them to local kitchens, where cooks were lighting their ovens to prepare exquisite Italian and Arabian dishes for the heads of their households. Restaurants and coffee shops were welcoming their first patrons — those who’d arrived from other cities that morning or hadn’t had the time to grab a bite to eat after a night on the town, or those who lived in hotels and nightclubs for weeks on end and just wanted to be around people, so they followed the alluring morning smell of cognac.

Students gathered in cheap cafeterias, spilling beer all over their lecture notes, taking out hunting knives and vowing to gut deans and professors, catching up on the latest news, and reading protest poems aloud. Businessmen were sitting in expensive restaurants and closing deals, pricking their fingers and signing contracts in blood. The women standing on the streets smelled like sleep and love; the children were running to school, re-creating the magnificent stories they’d seen in their dreams the night before. Their screams soared up into the sky and disturbed the trembling currents of air — they froze and changed direction.

The saints stood there in the blue, invisible space beyond the currents of wind and pockets of turbulence, feeding the birds of the air straight from their hands, listening to the voices down below; they were giving the city fathers an answer, and it went a little something like this:

“We are doing everything we can. We would like things to go well for you, but how they go is not entirely up to us, so you shouldn’t rely on us alone. Most of our woes and crises of faith stem from our own unwillingness to separate our actions into two categories — good ones and bad ones. We have our love, but we don’t always use it. We have our fear, and we rely on it more than we ought to. There are two paths in life — one leads to heaven and the other to hell. Those paths often cross, though.”

© Serhiy Zhadan

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