The road out of town narrows as it goes up hill, and bushes advance on it like an army re-claiming territory. Evidence of victory: the occasional house that appears, overgrown by vines and inhabited by trees. The higher you go, the sounds of town, the babble of conversations, of music and shouting, of dogs barking, doors banging, have no influence here. Here, only the whistles, cries and howls of the wild beasts matter.
The sun sets behind the hill as a man moves through the bushes. His steps disturb no sounds, his passage barely shakes a leaf. He has a long staff in one hand and a sack under his arm. He makes his way down hill, shadow amongst shadows.
‘No rain to save you tonight,’ he mutters.
He reaches the road, and steps out of the soft bush onto the hard road. He pauses, only for a breath, before he begins to pour rice across the road. He pours until the sack is half empty and when he’s done, he stands back to look at his handiwork.
‘I going and get you skin,’ he mutters. ‘Bitch.’
On a ridge, above the road, an old silk cotton tree stands guard. Its high branches stretch up to embrace the sky and its long roots sprawl out like sleeping giants across the forest floor. A man stands among the giants, hidden in the shadows of the roots. He has a staff in one hand and a sack at his feet. The sun has set, and the night is young. He listens to the distant clatter of the town on the breeze.
‘If I have to put rice on the road every night for a month, I go do it,’ he says. Then he snatches up the sack, and heads down the grassy ridge.
When he gets to the road, the man stops. He waits a few moments, listening. But the evening is quiet. Only the frogs and crickets talk, only the wind whispers, only an owl laughs. He steps from the shelter of the trees onto the open road and looks up. Stars prick the dark sky, and thick grey clouds drift a relief across the expanse. The man sets down his staff and opens the sack. He walks backwards, spilling rice as he goes.
‘One night you go come out,’ he mutters. ‘You go come out.’
Back and forth, back and forth, the man moves, leaving a thick line of rice across the road. When the sack is almost empty, he stops and gazes up at the sky. A white sheet of lightening blinks on, and then the darkness returns.
On the hill the night is black as charcoal. Darkness is the ruler over the dark shadows of dark trees and dark bushes. No light from town reaches this high up the road, but a shadow moves.
A man, hunched and awkward,shuffles back and forth across the road, ambling steadily from one side to the next. He pauses abruptly, and glances around. Under one arm is a sack of rice, and grains drip from its mouth as he surveys the night.
‘Flock of ibis this morning,’ he mutters. ‘Red. Good sign.’
He goes back to his task; diligently pouring rice from left to right across the road. Back and forth, trailing a steady pittering stream of rice as he goes.