Our city is one of two in the same space.
Let me explain.
There are the day dwellers, and there are the night dwellers. We do not cross paths, we are strangers to the other. I do not know why. Our laws were made long before I was born, and their reasoning was lost even longer ago.
I am of the people of the night, in the city called Kef. Our life is lanterns and music, venders and firepits, dancing and whispers. We work and play and sometimes we blur the lines between the two because they look so similar in the flickering light.
The grey hours before dawn is when we scramble into the shadows before the sun can burn us.
They say that’s what happens. I don’t know how the day dwellers survive it. I imagine their skin is red and scarred.
I imagine their eyes are blinded.
I’m told the sun sets in a flaming sky, and the haze of dusk is the smoke left behind. At day we draw our curtains and close our eyes to the light that pierces through the cracks. At dusk we wake, and we don’t dare open the curtains until the darkness truly settles. We do not venture into the dawn. We do not set foot in the day.
I am breaking that rule today.
* * *
There is a city within my city that I have never known.
Let me explain.
There are those who live in the day, and those who live in the night. Neither knows the other. They cannot. It is law.
I’ve always wondered why.
I am of the people of the day, and ours is the city of Heliol. When I look down from my apartment I see flowers and hats and carts milling in a kaleidoscopic mass. We trade goods and whistle on our way to work and call out to each other from across the block, because why wait to start a conversation when you can already see each other?
When the sunset spreads over the sky before dusk, we hurry home before the darkness can pull us in.
They say darkness is cold, and it never lets go. They say the shadows hide monsters of claws and teeth. I want to know what kind of people would live in it. I imagine their skin to be blue from the cold.
I imagine their hands have sharp claws.
I’m told the night sky holds thousands of flames, but that not one of them warms the earth. At night we close our blinds and hope that sleep comes before the darkness sets in. We wake at dawn, but we wait until the first rays of light peek between the blinds before opening them. Since I was old enough to be sung lullabies, I knew not to step into the faded world of dusk. We do not wander into the night.
I am breaking that rule tonight.
* * *
My heart is pounding, each beat asking me why I didn’t listen to it sooner. Dawn is lighting up the sky, and I’m the last one left scrambling down the street for the safety of home. I was out far too late. Home is still blocks away, and the sunrise has already begun, lighting the once-dark and comforting sky with flames of color.
I’m out of breath, and I know I won’t make it. The first rays of light will come down any minute and burn me. I duck off the street and head into the still-darkened end of an alley. Perhaps the light won’t reach me here.
Perhaps I can sleep somewhere and wake again in the comfort of night.
* * *
My blinds are still open. I’m waiting in my room for the city to go to sleep, and I can’t stop watching as the last of us scramble to get home. The sun is setting, turning clouds pink and orange against a fading blue sky, and I can’t tear my eyes away. My breathing is fast and nervous. We do not step foot into the night.
Not until me.
The sky fades into dusk and into a world I’ve only ever shut my eyes to. I wonder how much of it is something I will be able to see, even with my eyes wide open. The streets are still, and darkness falls upon them like a featherlight blanket. Maybe I’m scared. I would know if I were paying attention. I grab a jacket and slip out of my room.
Maybe the night has always called out to me, and I am finally answering.
* * *
Everything is so bright. I’m still hidden in shadow, but it is only a faint echo of what shadows should be. Noises are rising from the street, the sounds of voices and cart wheels and bells. I haven’t dared to look towards the commotion. Doing so would mean poking my head out of this fragile remnant of a shadow and exposing it to the light that burns.
I am wide awake.
I am shaking.
I cannot stay like this, waiting forever for the day to be over.
There is nothing for it. Not in my mind. I lift a hand out into the light, wincing in anticipation. Waiting for the heat and pain and regret.
Instead, nothing happens. I stare at my hand, then cautiously peek out from my hiding place, letting the light hit my face for the first time. It is warm, but only barely. Lighter than the warmth of a hearth fire.
And beyond the alley . . .
Their skin is not red and scarred. Their skin is not pale like mine, either. They are . . . they are . . .
They are colors and detail and contrast.
I step out a bit further.
* * *
The city is washed in a shade of deepest blue. Edges and corners blur into their surroundings. People are once again filling the street; their skin is pale, but I do not see claws or fangs. They carry lanterns, big and small, warm flickering light amongst the blues and purples of night. I am afraid that if I move I will break this moment.
I am dreaming.
I am breathless.
I need to join them before they fade away.
It is not as cold as I thought it would be. The night is still, and the warmth of the day seems to linger in the ground and buildings around us. I take a few steps to the edge of the street before stopping in wonder.
The sky holds thousands of lights.
I’m not sure if the sky has ever felt so vast before now. The lights twinkle and shine, clusters of them filling every space that isn’t blocked by a cloud. I swear I saw one move, flashing in a streak of light and then disappearing so fast that I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t imagined it.
Slowly, I lower my eyes, and before me . . .
Flickering light beckons to me. Soft music streams by my ears.
This is . . . this is . . .
This is soft and vast and hidden.
I slip into the street.
* * *
There are so many blooming plants, their petals open and exposed to the gentle breeze. I hear people calling out to each other from across the street, some only making a passing remark before carrying on, leaving their friend to laugh as they part. Everyone is known here. Everyone is seen.
The music is coming from an open fire, and no one notices as I watch, swaying to the medley. I hear whispers all around me, but it’s as if they are coming from the wind itself, disembodied and entrancing. A few others are dancing, and I realize I can join them. They don’t care who I am. I’m just me.
An elderly woman nods to me with a warm smile, and a gentleman says ‘good morning’ as I pass by. It is as if I could stop and have a chat with anyone I come by. I want to try it. I want to talk in more than whispers.
I am floating, I am flying, there is music and laughter and dancing and nothing else. I reach out, and someone takes my hand. We dance together, not a word spoken, but I feel in my heart that we could be friends. I don’t want to stop.
I call out a greeting to a vendor as I approach, and he leans on his cart to ask me about my day. Just like that, I’m having a chat, and it is open and joking and warm.
The music ends and begins again and again, pushing and pulling at us to dance and watch the flames and dance again. Someone whispers hello and I whisper back, and we say nothing else. There’s no need to.
The day is not nearly as long as I thought it was.
I look up, and realize the lights in the sky are fading.
I don’t know, * I’m not sure,
I think I might, * But could I,
Want to– * Just for a while–