The road was glistening under the fine summer raindrops. It was a late Friday afternoon and traffic was moving tediously. He left the motorway driving down a two lane dual carriage way heading for the suburbs. That was his favorite part of the journey. He had traveled down the same road every season and knew it like the back of his hand. There were rows of poplars on one side, and fields with farms on the opposite side, flecked with white or brown spots of sheep or cows. The flecks were usually animals, not people. He could not remember seeing any people although he would drive on the same road twice a day almost every day in the last ten years, but he never had never seen a soul.
Everything looked perfect, as always, green and tidy and without a trace of human presence. As if an invisible hand had taken care of everything, moving it in the right place, keeping the grass low, and occasionally trimming the hedges. Sometimes he wished he could stop, get out of the car, and breathe in some of the air over the farms. But he never did. Nobody would stop to just breathe in some air. It would have probably smelled of burned car exhaust, anyway. He could not remember the last time when he did something outside of his usually routine. It was simply impossible. His existence was scheduled months in advance just like anyone else’s. He passed by the farms and turned down a lane with rows of bushes and foliage on each side. It would not be unusual for a fox or a rabbit to suddenly cross in front of the cars. He slowed down. The rain had stopped, and a few rays of sun managed to break through the thick filter of clouds, reaching the wet branches and making the raindrops on the leaves shine in different colours.
Suddenly he noticed a motionless pile lying ahead on the road. He hoped it was not a hedgehog or a dog. He pulled out, got out of the car and walked towards it. The air, surprisingly crisp, hit him in the face. It did not smell of petrol, instead it smelled of lime trees. It was a squirrel hit by a car, only a few minutes ago as its little body was intact and not yet smashed by traffic. He went back to his car, took a few newspapers and a pair of gardening gloves and returned to the squirrel. Carefully he lifted the body, placed it on the newspapers and put it on the front seat of his car. Its tail almost covered the body except for the paws with protruding pink pads. They approached the park, where he used to walk his dog.
Dusk had just started to unfold. There were enough parking spaces at this time of the day. He took the newspaper with the squirrel and headed into the direction of the beeches. He was looking for something. He could vaguely remember seeing a hole by one of the trees, dug out perhaps by a dog or another animal. Yes, it was still there, vacant. He carefully put the squirrel inside it and then started to cover it with newspapers and some dried branches and leaves.
Then he started to cover it up with soil that he was digging with a plastic toy shovel, with a broken handle, which he had found in the boot of his car. The strange thing was that he had never done that before. He had never even had a pet as a child. But somehow he knew what to do.
Then he walked back to his car, started the engine and switched the lights on. It was almost dark. The traffic had calmed down and his car was gliding on an almost empty road. All the windows were open and the air was whooshing in, bringing with it an indescribable sense of being alive.
He suddenly started whistling.
It had rained and the horizontal rays of sunset were shimmering between the wet tree branches. They were to disappear soon leaving the muddy road to be slowly swallowed by dusk. A white pulsating cloud appeared high up in the sky, twisting and shifting its contours before falling down to the ground. Seagulls, dozens of them, landed on the ploughed field, pecking ferociously the furrows. It was in between seasons, neither summer nor autumn, just that hazy trail of warning in the air, like an invisible floating cobweb, that a change was imminent.
A small greyish-brownish dot popped up behind the turn, and its owner following behind. The man and his dog knew the itinerary well. The two of them descended, passing by the ploughed field and cloud of seagulls. ‘Is there not enough food along the coast’ angrily thought the man ‘ why they had to come here, hundreds of miles inland, there is no sea or rivers around here, only fields’. He did not like changes, like the seagulls that coming from faraway coasts.
The chaotic flickering mass of birds suddenly started to thicken, moving and lifting itself up, before shaping into a cloud again which disappeared into the narrow slit of bright sky left just above the darkened silhouettes of trees.
The country road was soon to end. The man and dog were now amidst the roar of evening traffic. Waiting to cross could take them several minutes before traffic would slowly and angrily come to standstill. They crossed hurriedly, walking up the road into town that was also busy at this time of day with an endless queue of vehicles and air filled up with monotonous murmur of engines and car exhaust. Walking on the narrow sidewalk they were passing by an old cemetery. The outline of old gravestones over the stone fence could be seen from the road, and even though the cemetery was hardly ever used these days there was always that peculiar queasy smell of rot. It was somehow eerie, as there were no other beings, only cars passing by indifferently. A sudden bustle of wind coming from the graveyard brought with it that peculiar smell of rot, layered mixed with moist and a whiff of fertilizer. The dog had stopped and was sniffing around for some time. The man also stopped and looked around. In the dim blinking yellow light cast by a streetlight behind a willow tree, he could see a small ceramic vase placed on the stone fence. He had never seen it before. He stepped towards it to take a closer look. It looked like an urn. ‘Someone must have left it behind – ridiculous’, he thought. Then the very thought struck him as even more ridiculous . Ridiculous, and funny, at the same time. ‘What if someone wanted to be…. to be on display here, on the fence, instead of going deep down in the ground? At least they could watch the world goes by. Not that there was anything worth seeing from here – just bloody traffic’.
Suddenly, he saw a bunch of skeletons across the street. They were moving fast , in their black patent leather boots with white hips, femur bones and ribs painted on their black tights. ‘Ah, Halloween, the American masquerade’ he thought contemptuously. The skeletons crossed the road walking past him, lively, noisy and young, then the party walked into the nearby pub. A smell of roasted meat was filling up the air. The dog was looking at him in anticipation, with its tongue out and ears perked up attentively, apparently smelling the barbeque. ‘Well, we are leaving, sorry’, he turned to the urn, ‘ enjoy Halloween if you celebrate it’.
Dr Kapka Nilan researches global tobacco control policy. She also writes short stories trying to explore the extraordinary in the ordinary.
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