A rusting, spider-webbed Ferris wheel that looked like it hadn’t been used for decades. Animal rides frozen in a lopsided moment, their smiling plastic faces smeared with dirt. An old woman walking on the deserted path carrying so many balloons that they covered her up. She had no customers.
There was still a market there, blue tarp covering stalls that sold neon toys, huge stuffed animals staring out of plastic bags, flimsy sandals, dried peas in little packs. A few Lao kids wandered around holding hands with older brothers and sisters, gazing longingly at toy trains made in Thailand and dusty Lego sets. There was a food court with an ancient smell: the smell of fried chicken, fried rice, compromise and years. It smelled old not in the way of history, but of origins–the sickly antechambers of the unconscious. No one was eating there. The food sat untouched in glass cases, as if it were just for display, not really real.
There is nothing sadder than an abandoned fairground. It symbolizes something–not just lost childhood (which is usual) but a childhood left too soon, frozen in the unconscious, painfully present in its absence. What were these play-things doing there if they were no longer used, no longer needed? It would have been better to take them away, but there they were.
Earlier that day I had met a toothless old man with a wooden box strapped to his bicycle, who stood up from the curb when I passed and saluted me. “Good afternoon, sir!” and he spoke with me for quite some time. “I sell ice cream,” he said finally, pointing to the little wooden box. “I sell ice cream to good man. You buy?” I was feeling sick. I told him I would buy some tomorrow, and I meant it, but it seemed to mean nothing to him.
It was too hot under the tarp, and the plastic animal smiles made me feel guilty, that things were ready to be used and enjoyed but instead were ignored…that something was really amiss. I realized that I probably wouldn’t see the ice cream man again, and it gave me that strange feeling of unease at the back of my throat like when I wake up from a bad dream that I can’t remember.