Still feeling the pangs of thirst I was thankful for the slight gust of wind blowing once I was outside. There was a cool, welcoming hush from the trees that seemed to offer excitement too; and I remember it was necessary to catch the iron gate at the last minute to stop it banging shut with a clang. It was as if I was being reminded to appreciate the wildness of outside.
I looked up and down the lane to see there wasn’t a soul in sight; although a second glance caught the familiar stray cat watching me from under one of the few parked cars along the way; two oval eyes reflecting the moon, stars; and a soft glow of street lighting.
I often enjoyed this time of night, the comfort of being alone; unnoticed by the neighbours. It had become my street; my world: quiet enough to detect the trickling of water from the stream; I could see bats swooping overhead; insects were crackling, buzzing and tap-tapping away in their nocturnal chorus.
I got down onto the floor and began meowing at the cat, trying to get it to come out; then giving up, let out a sharp hissing sound and watched, satisfied, as it scampered away, fast as a lighting bolt.
In the distance a dog was barking; then further still the noise of a car engine; ever so faint; but audible all the same.
I made my way to the end of the lane, walking freely and zigzagging around, picked up a stick, and then was searching absent-mindedly for snakes; maybe a rat: something interesting amongst the tall grass separating the road from the stream. The moon was clouding over but it was easy to see nevertheless: Despite there being no lights coming from any of the houses around, the line of lamp posts stood tall and proud. Like a troop of night-watchmen protecting the sleeping residents of our neighbourhood; guiding my path to the more inhabited, more civilized part of town. They nodded down to me with a wise understanding, an appreciation of my need to be on a mission for some thirst quenching rations.
In spite of myself and this thirst I lit another cigarette, the smoke hitting the dryness of the back of my throat with a bitter, though not altogether unpleasant sensation. I added a deep breath of humid air, opening my mouth wide, savouring the taste of microscopic water droplets on the back of my dry tongue. I allowed my mind to carry me briefly to the fresh air-conditioned oasis of Seven-Eleven, where along the wall fridges held all assortments of beers, juice, flavoured milk, a range of cool teas and iced coffees.
My thoughts concentrated towards the familiar ding-dong sound on entering, the trendy late night radio that would be playing. Not long now, I told myself. Gonna get myself a beer I reckon. Some fruit juice for after. A couple of bottles of water for the fridge and maybe a treat for the girlfriend: one of those chocolate bars with a soft pink strawberry centre. As for me I had a strange craving for some dried mango; something to suck on and chew whilst sipping the cool beer.
Imagining the condensation from the can (drips of water forming on the surface as soon as it was in my warm, sweaty palm) I hit at the grass once more, lost in deliberation, not noticing the man until I was almost upon him; almost tripping over his crumpled, awkward figure.
There was a pool of dark black liquid beside him which I immediately took to be blood. Allowing my eyes to further scan the scene I saw redder colours on the tips of the grass surrounding his body. His head was twisted sideways in an unnatural position and his left arm had been half severed from the torso; a wound I guessed to be the source of all the blood.
Somehow knowing that he was almost certainly dead I lightly kicked at his legs nonetheless: and then unashamedly was poking his face with the stick; just to be sure.
All this didn’t make me feel as disturbed as you might think. Most likely the reason for this is because he was old. Sixty or seventy at a guess. Also he was wearing a dark suit like bodies are often dressed in when you go to an open casket funeral and I was bizarrely drawing similarities to a great uncle who I’d only ever seen in such a state of death.
But unsurprisingly, after a few seconds had passed the reality of the scene finally hit me. In sudden shock I stepped back and dropped my half finished cigarette in the grass. Then swing around, searching for a sign of anyone nearby; curiously hearing a sudden splash of water from the other side of the river; and the noise of running footsteps which I couldn’t be sure was my imagination or not…
There was no one in sight though. Only the sounds of the insects, distant vehicles, dogs barking, my own breathing and the scratching of flint from my lighter as I sparked up a fresh cigarette, wondering what to do.