It was dark when we got to the intersection, the streets completely deserted. The night was much warmer than we had any reason to expect, but the air still held the chill of early autumn. Signs taped to telephone poles and stop signs led us down streets and around corners until we suddenly found ourselves in the Lost Horizon Night Market.
I had been picturing a market straight out of Neverwhere, the streets teeming with the shadowy inhabitants of New York Below, children who had tumbled out of the Maclaren and been quite forgotten, tall bearded men who carried too realistic swords across their backs, perhaps even a scrawny, pale faced girl wearing layers of dirt and old prom dresses. Instead it was a rather more prosaic scene, the streets silent and almost empty aside from a number of box trucks parked along the curbs. The crowd didn’t begin until we’d gone halfway down the street, and despite a number of feathery headdresses and glittering cheeks, it looked rather like the Sunday morning farmer’s market crowd.
The trucks waited for us to approach, engines off, lights dark. Some were open wide, their secrets revealed to anyone who could see through the crowd of bodies. Others were more coy, hiding behind drapes and curtains. The low notes of a bass guitar drifted out and across the night from one. Screams, deep and primal and almost hysterical came from another.
A lone tour bus sat almost at the end of the market, cigarette smoke drifting through the open door. As we walked up the stairs, a blond girl in a black lace shirt handed us headphones and whispered, delicately, “the struggle.”
The music pounded against our ears, electric beats spun by a scrawny kid with oversize headphones and a T-shirt sitting in the back of the bus. Silver and black balloons lined the ceiling, bobbing as they were punched and tugged. Headphoned market-goers lined the walls, bobbing and twisting in time to the music. Orange Chinese lanterns hung suspended above our heads, the dim glow mirroring the lighting in a club.
Then we took off the headphones (to hand them over to the next people in line) and were dropped into silence, into utter and complete stillness, broken only by the sounds of people brushing against the balloons and shoes scraping the floor of the bus.
The rest of the night passed like something out of dream. We meandered through the Market, picking up a hat eerily reminiscent of something Gatsby’s Daisy would have worn at the Project Runway Sweatshop, dipping our fingers into bright neon paint and creating meaningless designs in the Blacklight Painting truck.
We left some time after midnight, attaching ourselves to a small group of people drifting out of the Market and back toward the subway, the sodium yellow glow of streetlights floating down over the closed down, boarded up shops. And perhaps a bit of the magic stayed with us, because I wore my hat the whole way home without once feeling self conscious or awkward or even aware of the fact that the thing on my head was not a vintage piece from the ’20s but rather a few pieces of paper and ribbons stapled together in the back of a rented U-Haul.