Mizu is in the city of Centralia. Only five city dwellers live here because the place is literally on fire. It can perish anytime, even as you read this story.
A realization of sorts had dawned upon Mizu. She was sipping on a cup of coffee, with a 77-year-old man, in a wooden cottage in Centralia. The city outside was in fumes; but inside the cottage, it was as cool as winter in Japan. The old man loved this city. He let go of his family to stay back in burning Centralia. He could die any day now. But, what is death when you have only the city to lose?
In moments like these, Mizu thought about life, what it meant to live for a city, and die for it too, to love an inanimate object like a city that breathes life into its inmates, to live like the city lived, withstanding fate.
Mizu knew that Centralia had outlived its prime. A century ago it had shops and restaurants, its economy was run by the local mining business … But, 60 years ago, a fire set off, deep into the coal mines of Centralia. It spread into the underground alleyways and then burned as if it were the very core of the earth; if hell was a place on earth, it would be here, in Centralia,
Back then, many people lost their livelihood and soon left the city. Only a few stayed behind. The population went from 1000 people to five inmates. Mizu had come here to meet these five people, to understand why they’d chosen to live in a city that was filled with building carcasses. But, she only met the old man, there was nobody else around … was he alive or dead? Nobody could tell, not even Mizu. She only knew that she was here to see the city and meet its people, before it all vanished from the face of the earth.
The mines have been burning till date – 60 years. It has turned the whole city into a leaky volcano. How can something like mining, that once sustained a city, destroy it ? Was it all planned, for some country to gain monopoly over the mining business? These thoughts made Mizu weary, but she didn’t have the heart to tell the old man.
Mizu sipped on her coffee and heard the old man talk about Centralia, it’s close knit families that moved to other parts of Pennsylvania. She asked him, if there was one place that he could visit from the past, which place would it be.
“The city’s drive-in theater “, he said, with an affect of deep misery. He and his friends would take flasks of hot coffee to the drive-in theater every Saturday. There, they would sit under an open sky and watch Pippi Longstocking on the big screen until it was midnight. The coffee would keep them awake. The entire city was there at the drive-in, whiling away their Saturday night in the haze of the screen.
Soon, the old man grew weary talking about Centralia. He then said he was tired of Mizu’s questions, although she had asked just one. He suddenly seemed to take on a hostile demeanor and Mizu took the hint to gulp down her coffee. It was still piping hot. She told the old man that she would have to leave as she wanted to desperately look at the city.
Mizu stepped out of the white house and into the fuming city. As she walked around, she ended up on streets that led to nowhere. She saw pumps and vents on the grass that were simply vestiges of human life. Street signs were missing and the city felt directionless. There was an eerie silence, quieter than the one Mizu heard in St. Petersburg.
Imagine visiting your city with absolutely no one in sight, no noise, no activity, just a residue of the past, accumulating in heaps, and fleeing in fumes.
Mizu was hungry, but there was no place to eat- it was truly a deserted city, as her mother had described years ago. Luckily, the coffee she rank at the old man’s house would sustain her till she reached Centralia’s graffiti highway. This was the only thing she wanted to see before she left the city for good.
Mizu walked past several trees to reach the highway. The more she walked, the more quieter and lonelier her journey became. An immense surreal feeling came upon her as if she were all alone in the world, with none to care for, it was just Mizu and the city.
She soon reached a downhill pathway that was covered with colourful graffiti. It seemed like those drawings you find on a new cast, only this was a fractured city. The scribbling was carelessly drawn as if with an urgency of hope. It was a long long road with doodles filling up little spaces. This was where Centralia’s life was, in this graffiti that seemed to catch on and spread just like the underground fire.
The road went on and on for miles. Mizu saw empty paint cans on either side of the highway. Breaths of smoke constantly rose from the cracks on the road, as if the mining monster was sighing heavily. Luckily for Mizu, the heat had no effect on her body, she had never felt hot or cold in her entire life. Paying a visit to the underground mines did occur to her. Afterall, she would find answers to the ultimate mystery of the burning coals. But, was it necessary to know who started it? Would it bring back those who abandoned the city? Mizu looked around and thought…probably not. Sometimes you have to let the past stay unanswered, because it can’t change the present.
Mizu walked the entire stretch of Centralia’s graffiti highway. She thought of the old man and what would happen to him if the city went up in flames. Would he think about sipping on his coffee in his drive-in theater, for one last time?
The sun had begun to set and it was time for Mizu to leave the fuming city… Where will she go next? Find out next week.
If you’re wondering what happened in Hong Kong, here it is.
Mizu declined Koshi’s invitation to join the troop. You should know Mizu by now. She couldn’t go back to her past…especially after she left Tokyo because of it. The girl from Shibuya cat street had recognized Mizu from back in Tokyo. Mizu was once part of Miyayuka’s band of thugs. But it was only for a brief time, she really needed the money…The troop knew that a Miyayuka girl meant money. But, when Mizu declined Koshi’s offer, the troop let her go, they didn’t want any trouble from Tokyo.
There’s a lot you don’t know about Mizu, but you will… eventually. All I can say is look for symbols. See you soon. 🙂