There are four official paths from the road (where the bus stops are) to where I live in the village. This is my favourite path.
An inconspicuous opening along the roadside pavement leads down a few steps to a little concrete footpath. On the right is a stretch of wire mesh barely fencing in a rusty shack, moss-stained grimy walls, the corrugated roof half-fallen through. When I return home late at night, the shack will occasionally be lit up from within. Through the fence I catch a bare bulb here and there, cluttered shelves or a glimpse of a shift in movement—small clues to betray its inhabitant’s fleeting presence.
To the left of the path is a small clearing overgrown with ferns and grasses and wild taro. A little gully, formed by the annual rains and floods, connects to the underground drains by the main road, and separates the clearing from the path. Dry for most of the year, the gully swells during the rainy season and becomes a miniature rapid when fallen sticks and leaves get caught on the jutting rocks. When I was little, and the streetlight at the end of the path had not yet been put up, my grandmother fell into the gully and sprained her ankle while walking home with us one moonless night.
Beyond the clearing is an abandoned one-storey cabin. A sign just outside the property reads: “Works area: no unlawful occupation, dumping or excavation. Offenders will be reported to the police. —Main Contractor”, words which have not been heeded nor acted upon for the past decade. Strangely enough, a pink-and-white leather case (unlatched) has been left outside the iron gate door (locked). An official-looking notice is zip-tied to the old metal mailbox, reading “Warning: poisonous rat-bait is being laid in this vicinity”. It has been signed twice, each time dated in July, year unknown.
The concrete footpath opens to another gravel path wide enough for cars to drive through. Sometimes I find unexpected gifts on the ground. Dry leaves curled into curious shapes, cow-pies, overripe starfruit and jackfruit fallen from the trees above. Come spring time, little bunches of purple sorrel push their way out of the ground. When I was young and innocent and cruel, I used to pick them by the handful and put them in Yakult bottles where they would grace the dining table for a few days.
A few months ago, big trucks started driving into the empty plot of land across the main road. And just last week, developers lay down a dotted line of concrete barriers to mark the spot for, as my friend informed me on WhatsApp, future parking lots, clubhouses, a golf course (but where, then, will the cows go?).
For now, the path remains my daily respite. After the noise of the city, the streets, on trains and buses, I find comfort in the musky damp of the path. And in the cool shade, and the sudden opening of the vista of trees framing a tall green mountain in the distance, a southwestern sky, where cicadas might still be able to drown out the noise of the engines and exhausts from the road just a few metres away.
First published on Agora as part of the summer series: Pride of Place.