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Slum

The city comes and goes slowly and haltingly. The trolley seems in no particular hurry: it’s like a great earthworm creeping over saturated soil, stopping to inspect morsels of rotting food. The stops aren’t identical, but they may as well be. The people aren’t identical, either. But they, too, may as well be.

It’s what has always shaken me most about humanity: how vacuous most are, how barren, how desiccated and drab, how unoriginal and incurious and sparkless. How violently anxious they are to be just like everyone else, and for everyone else to be just like them. I look at the woman in the scarf. I study her. She’s sitting directly across the aisle from me.

She could be a great-grandmother. Her wrinkled face is like a prune that’s been dipped in wet cement and left to dry in a public toilet. Her gray hair is tied up under the scarf. But it’s not gray hair: it’s a stringy mix of used adult diapers and stale cigarette smoke, of a corrosive and ill-spent youth and conspicuous-consumption landfill, of lost days and Chicken McNuggets slathered in pus, of back-alley abortions and liposuctioned fat dumped into a forgotten and beaten-up washing machine found in a junkyard.

She’s staring at the back of the seat in front of her. She doesn’t notice me. Her eyes are bottomless with the will to nothing and yellowing like her teeth. The trolley stops and she rises to get off. I watch her go.

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