You may ask how I came to know this city, considering the restrictions placed on those allowed to enter it, so I’ll admit that I have never laid eyes on it myself. This recollection was told to me by a young man who had just left, his eyes full of regret and something else – something somber and twinkling. The description he gave to me was so rich that I felt like I had been there myself, a long time ago, or maybe in a dream.
The city of Paidiá is populated entirely by children. Once every nine months, a hole opens up at the base of a great oak tree, and a pair of shaking hands shoves a four-year-old child through the hole. The child blinks and bawls, until he hears the voices above. There are guttural screams, hoots and screeches of laughter that are too irresistible for him to consider staying at the base of the tree. So, the child begins to scramble up the trunk.
When he finally reaches the first layer of the city, the lower branches are hung with hammocks and blankets made from stitched-together clothes. An entire tapestry of ropes, forts and hidey-places connect the swaying forest. The child is stripped of his clothes and painted with colours streaked across his body. Each child becomes naked and genderless, with long hair and a dirty face. It embarks on an ever-upward climb.
Meals are tossed down from the older children above, who receive them in brown packages from angels in the clouds. In Paidiá there are careful rules about sharing, especially in the first few layers of the city. Every month one child falls sick, and the others fawn over it until the entire city is plagued by running noses and chesty coughs. Pebbles, dirt and paint are all experimented with to find The Cure. Bathing is abhorred.
Everyone is a game-maker, and the game-makers come up with city law. The Game is infinitely complicated, with rules too intricate for any adult to comprehend. Rule-breakers are tossed through holes in the tapestry, and must climb for years to be able to return. Some do not make it.
Children are allowed to keep the shoes they entered the city with, to use as ammo in The Wars, but the shoes cannot be worn. Over certain spans of time, sometimes minutes or sometimes months, the city climaxes into A War. Clans are created and food is no longer shared. Weapons also include sharpened sticks, rocks, and taunting jokes, flung from the darkened spaces between branches. Just as quickly, feuds are forgotten, especially when someone gets hurt. The Game changes and shifts during Wars, it is re-shaped and molded during each one.
The young man I met had just left Paidiá, driven out because he could no longer understand The Game, or the chattering language he’d spoken the entire time he’d lived in there. Now that he was A Deaf One, he was forced to seek a new city. He was wearing the stitched-together tunic that had been his goodbye present, and stubbornly refused to accept the pair of shoes I tried to gift him for the wonderful story.
This piece is part of our Invisible Cities series.
Artwork by Icinori “Promenade”