Animals of the Megacity
By Rachael Thomas
Illustration by Sarah Courtauld
A clutch of chickens fret at the floorboards of a 21st storey apartment. They scratch the polish off the wood to pick up crumbs of fallen things, half grains of rice, the fractured leaf of an orange stem, a plastic pearl from a daughter’s bracelet. When the new rooster wakes the lady downstairs for the seventh time in three days she threatens to call the police. So the rooster’s neck is wrung and is handed to the neighbour wrapped in bloodied newspaper. The smell of boiled chicken fills the apartment for hours and the air seems greasier.
A skulk of foxes live on a rooftop. The youngest have never seen the streets, not that there is anything to see down there that they can’t see up here. The rooftop is flat and wide and stretches seven blocks long. The people inside the mall can’t imagine the feet of these cat-dogs wandering above them as they drink bubbles of tapioca inside their tea and drift from shop to shop. The foxes have no concept that they live more metres from pavement than most free foxes have ever been. The foxes live off the pigeons who will never accept that predators could live here so close to the sky.
An intrusion of cockroaches live in the kitchen cupboard. One of them walks across the counter-top, climbs up the glass sides of a cup and falls into a pool of papaya juice. Hours pass where he discovers gills. Later, he is tipped inside the and lands on something dark. The juice drains away and he discovers breathing. He moves his feet around on the soft floor, tries to walk up the wet sides. The floor buckles and he is spat out onto a hand. The air is very loud and there is shouting. The cockroach is crushed with a shoe and then thrown into the bin. The cockroach begins eating. There is enough food in here that he could live forever and he probably will.
A flock of birds sing from bamboo cages. They are chained to their perches but their cages are clean and beautiful. They line the street, hooked onto tree branches, sitting on stoops. They are carried there by old men and they preen and flutter and sing as the men play chess. Their faces are curious and their eyes are bright. Their feathers are too vivid to name. The females are not as pretty as the males but they are treated with the same tenderness. At intervals they are fed live crickets from chopsticks.
A single of dog sits at a window. He is alone. A lonely of dog sits at a window. There is a balcony but he is not allowed on it because the other dog squeezed through the railings on firework night and landed a very long way down. She never came back and that is why he is a lonely of dog. Everybody gets up and leaves at six in the morning and then it is just the carpets vacuumed into stripes and the sofa he isn’t allowed on and him. There is an airport five miles away but he doesn’t know that. He only knows the muffled sound of screaming as airborne crosses pass through the sky.
An endangered of panda sits on a piece of grass. She is very fluffy and this makes people press against her enclosure, leaving mist and handprints on the glass. She sits with her legs wide and her fur seems too baggy for her. This makes her more adorable. She eats bamboo shoots in a cute way, and the people laugh when she rejects a shoot for not being tasty enough. She is a bear but she looks more like a toy. She is the symbol of worldwide conservation. Her habitat is being destroyed but as long as she stays here she’ll be alright. There are t-shirts with her face on in the gift shop.
A congregation of people move in a great number at a large number of levels, orchestrated by lights and sound. There are as many types of people as there are adjectives to describe them. They sleep and eat in varying amounts. They live as fully as they know how. Most of them love something, even if it is just themselves, or a film, or a certain type of food. A lot of them like to buy things and then throw them away again. Some of them speak to God but most of them forget. The mornings are misty and often the days are too. At night they hear the screech of things they cannot see.