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Chapter 39

Floating through the broad spaces of the 5th street boulevard, a vast highway lined with high towers and filled with bubble mobiles, one might catch sight of the huge concrete building complex.  This is the Otoyk City Citizen's Institution for Sickness.  Massive beige walls lined with identical, un-openable foggy grey windows stand at 90 degree angles.  A fortress for disease, it's towers rise into the grey sky.  I rarely pass it when it is not raining. 

At night, a line of small black spaceships wait at the entrance.  Each ship houses a lonely man, waiting to fly someone somewhere.  But here, as everywhere else in Otoyk, there are 10 small black ships for each customer who needs to ride.  To drive a little black ship is a life for those who have lost their "meeting grounds," their work, their reason.  For a while I taught had a student who was one of these men.  He was not interested in my Nacerima language; he was, at one time, an interior designer and we talked about design.  Eventually, he came less and less frequently and even told me that he was losing his mind and spending time in an institution.  Then he came no more at all.

I have a friend who lives in a bubble tower of aluminum and plastic across the street from the Citizen's Institution of Sickness.  Climbing the stairs is like climbing a ladder into space.  It's dizzying to look down at a small stream far below.  The stream is coated with concrete and lined with fences, to keep people from getting to close to the surface of the earth.  Beyond the stream sometimes I find my way into the old dyers quarter.

Between the abandoned workshops and dye factories, old market streets still wind through the clusters of old houses.  I walk them sometimes, and I feel a joy doing so.  Despite the emptiness that has fallen like twilight, the narrow alleys and curves make for exciting walks.  Each store sells some hidden delicacy crafted by ancient hands. 

At an old fruit stand an old woman, unable to stand, swivels her body on a low chair in the shade.  She barks orders at those, a bit younger than her, who can still move and help the occasional customer.  The oranges are a good price, and so are the golden fruit.  I buy a bag of fruit halfway between lemons and oranges.  An old lady recommends them to me; she says, "I like the bitterness."