WALKING across the campus after lunch, I looked down and saw a man breaking rocks beside a pool of water. The pool was shaped like a pointing finger that extended from where the sidewalk dropped off to bare slope and ended somewhere among the liana-covered trees and undergrowth.
I was warm from the walk and my heavy backpack. The sight of the gurgling water bade me to stop. I wondered how far the water had journeyed. I thought the man’s task of breaking pieces of rock to fit like a puzzle into the nearly finished dike was more useful than reading books and writing a paper.
I watched the water try to break out of its containment and fail. I walked on to class.
When the professor dismissed us, it was early evening. In the gloaming, the towering trees fanned a lacy silhouette against the sky. Who has time to gaze and wonder?
Couples and joggers passed me. No one tilted a head. Only if a billboard or a road threatens the trees do we appreciate what we have, what has been there ever since.
In this world, loss seduces more than beauty.
The path took me again past the unfinished pool of water. Lit by a sliver of moonlight, water wasn’t water anymore but a mirror, still, cold, and charmless. I stopped again, gravitated by a desire to peer into the mirror of water and smile at the other person reflected on the other side.
Then the street lights came on, a sequence of jaundiced orbs strung on the path I suddenly remembered as taking. Why had I stopped? When I looked back at the pool of water, the mirror had dimmed as if displeased. Whatever pulled me to its darkness withdrew its interest.
Walking in the near dark, at my age, is like discovering my feet. I take small, almost tentative steps. It is not the surety of an accident but the uncertainty of what’s in front that steers me.
A friend champions mindful walking. At our age, she said, we must focus. Younger people make way for me. They see someone slower, less agile, more brittle.
I put one foot before the other and move the other one like so. I slow down because I am thinking of the problem the professor gave our class: how do you make the inanimate speak?
The puzzle is not as hard as the first assignment: step inside the minds of mating horses. Since the first and last horse I rode tried to throw me off, I have not sat astride a horse again, let alone join in its coupling.
I walk slowly in the dark, smelling the sweaty horses, while the young people make way for an old person, slower, blind, more brittle.