The scientists came to the city from somewhere far away, though they were not forthcoming about where exactly. They said they had been sent to examine the city. The understand it. To explain it. “This is not just for our benefit” they said “it is for everyone.”
They set about their task with a commendable vigour. They could be seen everywhere, on innumerable street corners. They could be glimpsed briefly staring down from high windows, one talking whilst another nodded and jotted notes on a clipboard. They were in the back seat of passing cars. Standing in the corners of bars and clubs and restaurants. At the foot of the large monument that gazed down upon the city day and night. Always with their simple white coats and gentle but serious expressions, like the extras in an advert for designers spectacles.
People grew used to them. They became part of the scenery. Part of the landscape, to such an extent that it came as quite a shock when one day many months later they announced that they had finished. They called a meeting in city hall. The clamour for tickets was incredible. Huge screens were installed outside and in parks nearby. The radio and television news would carry it live. People gathered outside electronic stores to watch on the banks of televisions in the window. Old sets were hauled into place in classrooms and care homes.
To see them all on stage was quite a shock. There were so few of them. They began quite plainly and humbly. They thanked people for their co-operation. They apologised for how long things had taken. They hoped they hadn’t been a bother. They hoped their work might prove useful. They hoped they would be remembered fondly. A powerpoint display flickered on behind them and they began in earnest.
Their method was a simple one. They took everything, and divided it in two:
Streets where you looked up and streets where you looked down
Restaurants where you mainly ate and restaurants where you mainly talked
People not afraid of running in public and people who were
Animals that if large enough would attack you and those that wouldn’t
Parks used in sit-coms and parks used in police procedurals
Cars trying to look like the future and cars trying to look like the past
Shops where you felt unwelcome and shops where you felt ignored
Pedestrians who looked left first and those that looked right
Dogs that seemed to be smiling and dogs that seemed to be angry
Bus whisperers and bus shouters
Automatic revolving doors and those you had to push
Bars that filtered their tap water and those that took it straight from the tap
The saved and the damned
Places where the signs were in English and places where they weren’t
Districts with banks and districts with cash machines
Car parks underground and car parks on the surface
Music that could theoretically have been performed in the sixties and music that couldn’t
Lovers and fighters
Trains with air-conditioning and those without
Shops that played the radio and shops that played CDs
Adverts dreaming of the sea and adverts dreaming of the mountains
Cracks that were concealed and those that were displayed
Streets that looked better by day and those that looked better by night
The wrong side of the tracks and the right one
It went on and on, each new category followed by an exhaustive list of where everyone and everything fitted. Nothing was ever left out. The presentation took seven days. They took it in shifts, always with the same measured tone, and plenty of bottled water. People drifted in and out. Some left cameras and dictaphones running. People camped in parks.
It came to a sudden end. No flourish. They thanked people for their time, placed their laptop back in its case, and left.
People took some time to come to terms with what had happened but in the end they decided that all things considered it was a very fair assessment.