Monday, 9 March 2015

Visible Cities

Eshanipur was founded by nomads who are jealous of all other cities and want to become them. Roll a d10.

1. Everyone is congregating in salons, which have sprung up like mushrooms wherever an empty space exists to accommodate one. A huge amount of speed embroidery and lace-making got done overnight and now even the dingiest storeroom looks cozy and refined. Wagonloads of tea-bricks are getting bussed around the city in preparation for the afternoon soiree. The demand for little cakes has gone through the roof. Bakers are making a fortune. The only things that will get talked about are aesthetic philosophy - the more abstract, incomprehensible and morally outrageous the better - and who is sleeping with who - same. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to trick them into publicly revealing their ignorance about either of these things.

2. Everyone is working on the ziggurat, which won't be especially big. The fastest workers get chosen for the honour of sacrifice. Priests are chosen by lottery and exempted from labour, instead getting to sit around all day drinking chocolate and fondling temple-maidens of all genders. Temple-maidens are volunteers. They do not get exempted from labour and work in shifts. Self-mutilation is going around. The preferred method involves a thorny branch and a hole in your tongue or foreskin through which it is passed. Flagellation (auto- and otherwise), is also acceptable, as is purposefully crushing your fingers and toes beneath boulders. Blood runs down the streets and children splash in the puddles, scoop it up and mix it with cement dust to make mortar for the ziggurat. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to defeat them in a ritual game involving a stone hoop and a rubber ball.

3. Everyone is out in the streets, shouting, haggling, trying to sell each other things and borrow money off each other and pickpocket each other and find somebody to bribe. Every public thoroughfare is crowded with impromptu market stalls with the debris of people's homes scattered across repurposed tablecloths. The tablecloths are also for sale. Watchmen in blue uniforms lumber about with gold watch-chains dangling from their pockets, cracking down on people for violating imaginary regulations. If you can steal one of their watches and keep it until the end of the day it is yours forever. If you get caught with one the watchmen will beat you mercilessly and drag you to the lock-up, which is already full of pleading mendicants with their hands stretched through the bars, begging for bail money. At exactly midday everyone except the watchmen will go home and sleep for exactly one hour. The watchmen will use this opportunity to steal stuff. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to plant a gold watch on them and tip off the law.

4. Everyone is sitting in sidewalk cafes drinking yerba mate and whispering to each other. Men and women in gold-braided costumes do elaborate rope tricks and juggle flaming swords in the middle of the road. Bulls and ostriches wander around jostling people. It is considered the apex of impoliteness to disturb one of the performers - they might die! As such, when there is applause it is as quiet as possible. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to startle them into making a loud noise and face public opprobrium.

5. Everyone is on the rooftops, kneeling on elaborate woven rugs, praying in the direction of a specific spot about a mile from the city's exact centre. The streets are empty. There is nothing in the location they are praying to. Fat men in towers with heavy bass voices call out prayer instructions in code language, sometimes overlapping one another's zones of vocal influence. Occasionally people will pass out from the heat. The fat men will decide whether or not you are allowed to help them. At lunchtime everyone will stop and go indoors and eat dates and sherbet. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to pray for their crops to die and their line to be extinguished.

6. Everyone is wearing carnival masks and arranging secret trysts in the gardens by the canal. The ouzo is flowing freely and the lutists are everywhere. Heavily spiced lamb kebabs, baked clams, honey-dipped beignets and those spirally potato things on sticks are available everywhere. Cloth has been hung over public thoroughfares, between houses, to make everything nice and shady. Somebody has paid for a fountain of champagne to be erected on a boat in the central lagoon and anyone who can swim out to it gets to drink their fill. Anyone who can't gets fished out and mocked remorselessly, but good-naturedly, by clowns with enormous noses. There's too much confetti. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to arrange a secret tryst with the person they would have liked to arrange a secret tryst with.

7. Everyone is doing improvisational comedy. People flock from house to house, each the base of a different, hastily-formed troupe which will accept any suggestion, no matter how unlikely. The boundary between audience and performer is ill-defined. It is considered good practice, after a successful sketch, to give somebody else a chance at making people laugh, but you can always find yourself dragged back up on stage if the troupe feels another straight man is required. As the day wears on the funniest people all find themselves gathering around the same few well-proven locations and becoming increasingly snide and superior towards the less-funny people, who will start drinking alone. They will also become increasingly competitive over what remains of the limelight. It's treated as an ironclad rule that you can't say no to anything, ever. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to get a bigger laugh than they did.

8. Everyone is beating foreigners to death. Any business with a foreign name will have its windows broken and facade defaced. Any house belonging to a foreigner will be ransacked and demolished. Paper effigies with foreign features will be touted through the streets and burned. Once no more foreigners are to be found the citizens will gather around the central lagoon, waving torches, chanting patriotic slogans and constructing huge bonfires out of books in foreign languages. Looting will take place. Some of the looting will go askew and people who aren't foreigners will wind up being targeted. The city watch will make a serious and largely successful attempt to maintain order. Most people will go to bed happy and content. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to accuse them of collaborating with foreigners and confiscate their property.

9. Everyone is indoors, reading quietly and complaining about the weather. The books are all murder mysteries. Tea ladies wheel their clanking carts around town, knocking on doors, offering cups to friendly policeman and bewigged judges. Everyone is in a uniform of one kind or another. No-one is working. Hobbyist engineers knock together impractical devices in other people's backyards. Mechanical scarecrows nod in rows along the canal's edges. Elderly couples in swan boats sit in quiet courtyards, paddling and paddling, going nowhere. Chimneys puff with smoke. Scones with jam are provided, free of charge, to anyone who wants one. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to correctly guess the ending of their murder mystery and tell it to them before they can finish it.

10. Everyone is huddled in basements, plotting to overthrow the government. Everyone is convinced that a different group of basement-huddlers, somewhere in the city, is the government. Parliament House stands empty. The members are mingling among the populace. But who could they be? Explosions rock the city. No-one dares look anyone else in the eye for fear their true identity should become obvious. Plain-clothes policemen lurch from the bushes, grab you by the shoulders and drag you screaming into dank chambers of interrogation. Rocks fly from nowhere and blind children. Black bandannas are whipped from pockets and suddenly the bank is a riot of smoke and flame. Inflation is through the roof, the price of a loaf of bread doubles every ten minutes. It is a crime to burn money but firewood is too expensive. Jails are opened, schools closed, prisoners and teachers duck into cupboards and exchange uniforms. It all ends in tears. Today's means of destroying your enemies is to figure out who they are and shoot them in the head.

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