The day’s first light has not quite made it above the horizon but the dawn sky says it’s coming. The city’s suburbs are stretching themselves awake from their slumber. I’m travelling at just the right moment: the morning’s engines have not quite started and the only thing slowing me down are the red traffic lights on the way, mainly stopping me for imaginary vehicles or invisible people.
Yet there’s light all around, but it’s artificial. As the morning yawns, announcing a new day, all the lamps seem unnecessary yet turning them off would make it feel nighttime eerie. There’s a strong pulsating white headlight from a bike coming down the hill; a cyclist adorned in orange high visibility. You can’t miss it although the beam might be blinding. As we cross over the bigger highway with empty lanes waiting for the morning rush, there’s the throb of an orange warning light sitting atop of a recovery van while more people in high visibility scurry to attach a vehicle to the back. Travelling through the suburbs there’s a momentary flash of emergency blue from a police car but I have no idea why he’s pulled-over, alone, on the side of the road.
There are lights in the block of flats to my left but, with curtains drawn, any movements are invisible. Did somebody fall asleep with the light on? Who’s awake at this hour? There’s a lamp in a hotel room creating a shadow of arms dressing – no curtains, but more anonymity. Passing an office block, the lights of the third floor illuminate in a sweeping movement ahead of a shadowy figure with a machine sweeping the floor in preparation for the arrival of the worker’s feet. There’s a fully-lit supermarket with lines of lifeless shelves waiting for the day’s first shoppers and the dancing movement of a man and a mop. And there are more shops, partially lit, yet locked-up to all: their night-lights highlighting a small portion of the retail space, with a focus on the empty cash-registers, seemingly saying ‘there’s nothing here’ while lighting the wares.
Every car we pass has a brightly lit dashboard that’s announcing the route or the currently playing track. The mid-80s music playing from the easy-listening station is more alive at this time of the morning than it’s been at any point since it was originally heard 30 years ago. There are a couple of people at the bus stop; their faces lit by a combination of the countdown screen announcing the next arrival and the faint glow of the mobile screen. The white headphones suggest music accompanies their journey too.
As time ticks by we drive in the opposite direction to the arriving bus. It’s empty now, I can see the security screen taking a continuous picture of unoccupied seats. I know the automation will be announcing the stops to nobody except the driver. I wonder if she’s listening – checking she is running to timetable – or if the repetition of the ‘next stop’ and ‘stand clear of the doors’ has rendered her deaf to the voice.
We speed past a group of young people; laughing. Those of us that remember that mid-80s music the first time wonder if they’re coming home or leaving for the day. Where do the pretty young things go at this hour in the middle of suburbia? The idea of an early-morning house party seems at odds with the neat driveways and solar-powered garden lights of this part of town. I see the smiley face of the speed-check sign showing we’re travelling within the allowed limit: the language of the smiley and the emoji is more from their generation than mine yet the sign is aimed at me. A digital sign-face that provides a reminder that, even in dawn’s first light, the machines are still watching us.
And through the tunnel to the airport: a tail-back of traffic through a strangely uniform light beneath the ground, emerging, after just a few minutes, into the crisp, bright morning light. The sleek glass buildings reflect the early morning rays as the morning finally wakes. Yet the purple glow of the airline’s colours can still be seen high in the vaulted entrance through which I pass into a different world. For the next few hours it could be day or night. Inside the terminal it can be hard to tell what time the sun-dial might show, but, finally, time has passed and we board. For once there’s a blue and cloudless sky through which we climb, seemingly, towards the burning, never dimming, rays of the sun.
This day is newly born.