The many cities above line 5

Lao Zhou sits on the courtesy seat of the subway with a bag of spinach and pork between his feet. For the past six decades, his life was lived around the creek and the buildings next to it. Sepia-tinted memories of a thousand bicycle rides alongside the water, girls, and French Phoenix trees — the creek which below the subway now commutes.

Next to him sits Momo, who holds tight the pink teddybear her boyfriend gave her. Shanghai is made of dreams, buildings floating amid pink clouds, tied to the Earth by invisible subway lines.

Standing across Momo, Yvonne quarrels on the phone. The city isn’t the promise she was told it would be, held back by conservative managers and untrustworthy clients. LED-lit meeting rooms, half-shut blinders. Lonely meals and crowded commutes — last minute project-changes on the phone. Her battery is about to die.

The doors open and Zhou leaves — Xiao Song enters, who plays a game on his phone. His Shanghai is his bedroom, the classroom, the canteen or the KFC close-by, and whatever is beyond his phone yet within his peripheral vision.

Grace sit nexts to Xiao Song and watches him play his game. Some impressive scores show on his screen, but to her they’re just illusions of accomplishments. She clutches her phone, cased in a Starbucks cover, and opens her LinkedIn. No replies yet to her applications in the United States. Because to her, Shanghai is just the starting point.

Their wagon speeds through the dark subway tunnel, and as such they — and the millions of others of Shanghai, spend their lives in the many different cities that share the same space above line 5.