The day begins before dawn. According to the clock, it’s not too early, half-past six, but when the sky outside is black and it’s -15 degrees C outside, it takes an extra ounce of motivation to get out of bed. By habit, I check my smart-phone for today’s pollution reading. 325. At least the masks will keep our faces warm.
After a quick breakfast, my daughter bundles up in thermals, school uniform, sweater, windproof jacket, scarf, gloves, helmet – don’t forget the mask – and off we go, scooting through the city against an icy breeze. At least at this hour the traffic is not too bad, and the dryness of winter, though leaving us with parched throats, means we are unlikely to ride through snow. We laugh on the way as we ride past the man who does his morning run in a T-shirt and shorts – no mask – and marvel at the determination of this man. We arrive, and I kiss my daughter goodbye, wish her a good day, and watch her run off to be with her friends.
I scoot back through the city, slower, even though my load is lighter, so that I can spot a street vendor and pick up a breakfast snack. I find one on a side street, slightly sheltered from the icy wind, his face is weathered and red from bitter cold. His language is hard to understand, he’s from another place, but then again, so is mine. The snack is a salty-spicy-sour pancake from a northern province known for its extreme cold. I ask if the weather here feels warm to him, but he is not from there. He tells me how he left his hometown in a southern (warmer!) province, to find more opportunity in the big city. He is younger than me, but his daughter is twice the age of mine. He sees his family once a year.
I wolf down my snack and scoot back home, weaving through the growing number of bicycles, motorbikes, buses, cars. As I pass the subway station, I negotiate the growing number of people who walk, faces turned down, watching their feet, if not their phones. They march, as though in unison, towards the warmth of the subway.
Like the street vendor, they came to the city to find opportunity, to find hope. But their faces, at least the ones not hidden by scarves or masks, do not express that they have found any.
They march, almost fatalistically, to catch the subway with 9 million other commuters. They march into the urban throng.
I arrive home as the sun peeks through the smog on its way into the sky. I prepare for the rest of my day, safe in the warmth of my unit, and, looking down on the junction below, again catch a glimpse of the huddle at the entrance to the subway, each person nudging the one in front, quietly jostling to get to the front of the line. I watch them compete, for their place in the queue, for their place in society, for their place in life, and silently ask the God of this city that some of them might today hear about the only true Hope.