Marco

 

Marco stood on the crumbling stone balcony and looked across at the diorama unfurled before him. As he steadied himself on the rampart he could feel the stone beneath his hand, not cold and solid as it was, but powdery, eroded and dissipated. How was it so? He whispered to himself. For years now when he was asked how long ago it was he had founded the Bright New City and its surrounding empire his reply would always finish with the phrase, “and yet it seems like yesterday”. And it always had. When had this changed? He looked out at the city now and it did indeed seem so very, very long ago.

He had settled on this spot with a view to staying perhaps a year or two, just to see how it suited him to stay in one place and offer other merchants and travelers a place to shelter and trade. He was weary and had a mind to take some responsibility and cultivate something. Whether that thing was agriculture, or as it turned out, culture, he had no idea at the time. All he knew was that this location, on the coast, and in and around the ruins of the old city would be as good a place as any to settle for a time and see what he could generate - and what a creature it had become.

At first his small caravanserai attracted few people, an almost pitiful assortment of traders and thieves, all paying a small sum to stay in the relative safety of his incipient settlement. With the money he received he started the long task of rebuilding the old city, stone by stone. There were conflicts in the camp, of course, and he soon recruited a team of guards to keep order and, equally importantly, ensure payment. He was de facto president and sheriff, and the security and fairness of his administration attracted more and more residents - some of them more, some less, permanent.

The sluggish progress of the restoration soon made it apparent that the rebuilding of the city proper would take a great deal more labour and materials than he had access to, but Marco, ever resourceful and never daunted, hit upon an idea. The project was in need of a large financial boost, and Marco offered a select coterie of his more permanent and wealthy occupants the chance to purchase the land on which his or her shanty was garrisoned. Not all were tempted by this idea, but enough of them were to ensure that the rebuilding project could go ahead with renewed vigour. He employed a large number of workers from across the land, who were paid well for their work, indeed well enough that they could afford to rent new spaces from Marco and expand the caravanserai itself. Walls were repaired, brickwork replaced and repointed, and fairly soon at least a quarter of the old city was in a decent enough state to accept inhabitants.

Of course the first to be offered places in the new city were the very merchants and traders who had taken him up on his offer of buying their land. They wouldn’t have to pay outright though. No Marco suggested to them that they rent out their land and pay for their houses and apartments in the city with the money they received. After all the rebuilding of the city itself was attracting countless workers every day, and surely they would be willing to rent the land from them in order to be close to the site and to their work. Most accepted this offer with magnanimous gratitude, but a few, who felt maybe they couldn’t quite stretch their finances to afford the regular payments on a house in the city first bought another patch of land, usually the one next to the plot they already owned, and rented both sites out at a higher price, usually to the workers who had arrived to build and maintain the city. Eventually these numbered more than the merchants themselves and land could be rented at a premium due to the demand of the market.

Some years later the city was completely restored, and full of wealthy merchants, making good from the busy caravanserai outside, which was now a proper favela, teeming with labourers and their families. The renovation completed, the city started to expand and the merchants who owned small houses and apartments realised that they could afford to build new, larger houses from the rent they could accrue from combining the income from their smaller house and the income they still had from the land in the favela. More merchants had arrived throughout the years, but in the main, the new settlers consisted of unskilled and semi-skilled people who could be trained to provide the city with whatever services they needed. Educational facilities were set up to facilitate this, and some of the original labourers, who were masters of their respective crafts, or perhaps had picked up the kind of life skills which would be necessary in a burgeoning πóλις, agreed to become the teachers for these new arrivals.

Some of the workers had now formed companies, employing other, more recently arrived workers, and through the formation of this labour market - for the amount of workers available was more than was needed so they could be employed for less - they became wealthy enough to move into the city, and eventually to build larger houses for themselves and their families.

Thus was the genesis of the Bright New City, and Marco now looked back on those days with a yearning wistfulness that tore at his very essence. How could it have come to this point? His intentions were honourable, at least in terms of his genuine desire to do right by himself and his friends, and then for the people who had come to him, had trusted him and who had believed in his devoted and just stewardship. Now there were certain sections of the citizenry who he felt genuinely harboured an intense hatred towards him. They felt cheated, perhaps they felt they should have gone off east with Photeus when they could have - perhaps they could have stopped that project from falling into the mire of poverty and recrimination. Well fuck them. Fuck them! They have their freedom, what more do they want? He couldn’t nurse them all, feed them all, no, they needed to help themselves, get themselves out of a bad situation. Work shall be its own reward, there are only individual men and women, and there are families.