My submarine ported itself to Cartago seaport just 15 minutes ago and already this town is making me curious. Low houses here are like small islands in this labyrinth of canals. On the south side of the town where I’m standing the row of last houses is arrow straight and after that this sea covers the whole horizon. The air is filled with cold smells of the sea and warm, dry and dusty smells of Cartago. The sea is calm today and only a faint blow of the wind messes my hair. Houses rising on the edge of the sea show signs of past storms, some walls have almost shattered and there are huge cracks in most of them. Fallen tiles from the houses have formed piles to narrow walkways and residents have replaced then with thin wooden planks. Since my next ferry doesn’t leave until evening I decide to find out more and walk deeper to the town.
The walkways next to houses are narrow; two people can barely pass each other. Luckily I don’t face a lot of other walkers. The canal next to me, however, is full of long, low-sided rafts filled with exotic fruits, small, almost box shaped sailing stands selling gifts and souvenirs and condoles with important-looking passengers, all paddled slowly trough the mess some might call traffic. The most common thing to wear here are single-coloured hooded cloaks, most of them brown but I can see a blue, red, orange here and there. I stand out here with me T-shirt and jeans like a spoon in a knife convention. The walkway slowly widens as I get closer to city marketplace. I take note that most of the inhabitants this far are human but I have seen some Grutans (short, lizard-skinned humanoids), Rongers (slow-moving, robot-like creatures) and Foos (fat, brown and bold, “eggheads”, as we used to call them as children).
When I reach the famous Cartago central market place the dark alley I walked on feels like a night next to the light pouring from the sky. The market place is large and feels like a canyon with high, stone-build houses surrounding it and the Great Canal flowing right through it. The square is filled with stands selling the most exotic items, foods and animals, as well as traditional handworks and everyday items. I barely fit to walk in the aisles between the stands because of the multitude of the people doing their everyday shopping and talking. I also note that I turn eyes because I look different from the mass. The sellers and the customers and some separate groups of people talk intensively to each when I approach but immediately stop and turn to smile at me, trying to sell me something when I walk past but then turn back to their serious chatting when I’m gone.
I reach the town hall in the longest side of the market square and get stunned how different it looks from every other building. It is bright yellow and looks so intact compared the houses next to it. It is also the most decorated house I have seen here so far. The doors are tall, wooden and really heavy-looking, the clock tower is reaching for the sky high above every other tower in the city and every single detail from the small dragon statues under the windows to helmets of the guards make the building look even more pompous. I try to find more about the building by talking to passers-by but my Carthan is a bit rusty and the people seem to try to avoid and not to look at me. I find this very odd.
My wondering is suddenly interrupted by a small explosion in one of the stands I just walked on my way to the town hall. In the matter of seconds a full chaos fills the marketplace as people try to find their way out of the market. The air is filled with scream and shouts, the dust from the ground and a thick black cloud from the explosions place. I back off, partly because of the scare the explosion and partly to get out of the way of the people. I walk up the stairs of the town hall and try to keep out of the harm’s way. I am in luck because the people rather go on down the ground level than on the stairs. Much to my surprise people act very calm and don’t seem to escape the explosion but something else that is still coming. In that moment I hear the loud sirens of the fire brigade approaching.
A long, red boat with a dozen firemen on board curves to view behind the corner, splashing water all over the building next to it. The fireboat clears everything out of its way and stops very quickly on the side of the marketplace. Firemen (all of them Grutans) jump out and run towards the fire with a thick, green hose. One of them drops the pump in to the water and then joins his fellows on clearing out the fire. Fire is quickly put out and I manage to find courage to approach the scene of fire to see what had happened. As I get closer one of the firemen notices me and runs to stop me to get any closer. As I desperately try to argue my way I notice that the other firemen are putting something from the scene to a tiny stretcher and then quickly covered with a green sheet. The shape of the figure doesn’t resemble any creature and the firemen quickly carry it to their boat, out of the eyes of the people. I can’t see more because I have to leave for my eyes and throat and full of ash from the explosions remains. The fireman stays and watches that I leave and don’t come back to the scene. The town hall’s clock rings signalling to me that I must head back to the seaport.
Walking back the narrow walkways I see the town in a different light. I was curious about it before but now it fascinates me. It hides secrets I yet do not understand but I want to find out more. I must return to this town some other time to meet her and her deepest secrets.