I walked through the narrow streets of people and cars, brick and concrete. I shuffled between bicycles and taxis, steered clear of oncoming hawkers and dodged madmen on motorcycles. I peered upward at all the buildings and all the signs on all the buildings and felt dizzy, drunk on the moment. My nose absorbed every odor, strange spices, exhaust fumes, the smell of rain. My ears rang with sounds of bells and horns, of foreign chatter and industrious sales pitches, of engines revving and people laughing.
With each corner turned I discovered new distractions and greater obstacles. To my right stood the Carpet Man, hissing and pointing into his wall-to-wall shop. Coming from straight ahead was a toothless man wearing a peculiar grin and fidgeting with a small wooden chess set, “No? Maybe backgammon?” And on my heels a young boy, dirty as his shine box, “Sir, I can fix shoes for you, can shine for you. Sir? Please sir.”
Jagged intersections inside the maze require cat like reflexes and unwavering faith. The people don’t notice the vehicles and the vehicles respond by trying to drive through the people. ‘Sidewalks,’ I wished aloud. Mad hatters on 1950s bicycles rang their bells triumphantly while pedaling through the shifting masses of humanity. The jerk and wiggle movements of a taxi, an ambitious driver searching for a fare, an evening dupe, “Hello friend. Taxi? I take you.” Speeding horns screamed from hidden corners and people jumped away with slow motion urgency. Those madmen on motorcycles narrowly missing side mirrors and elbows. “Going too fast for conditions,” my old Driver’s Ed. teacher might say.
Thousands of neon signs clung to buildings and peered out of alleyways, jockeying for an advantageous position. A plentiful display of unpretentious illumination, like a sky full of stars on a moonless rural night. ‘Hotel Pacifist.’ ‘Yeti Airlines: Experience the Shangri La.’ ‘Massage 3rd floor.’ A fresh rain had just fallen upon the mystical city, sparkling brown puddles surfaced everywhere. Music poured from doorways and hidden alley hangouts. People drifted back into the streets, grouped together and sang into the cool night. A herd of wet tourists erupted into hearty laughter.
Congestion thickened as the central artery of the city became overwhelmed with night prowlers. I shambled through the identity crisis of Western searchers in local dress and locals in conservative Western wear, beyond all the strange faces of the world looking past, at or through me. A cartoon like scene of stray-missile headlights, soaring-decibel motorcycles, happy-hour clamor, pedal-powered rickshaws and street-savvy concierges, ‘Rug? Shawl? ‘ Hashish?’
“Hmmm. Hashish, you say?”