Night Walk

On 26th December, I tried walking into the forest alone. There was no need to overthink. The weather was cooling, the sky, cloudless, and the moon, candescent. Light would shiver across wet surfaces. Everything, bright, everything, beautiful.

Just walk, I thought, one step after another, foot by foot. Most mammals are capable of locomotion and I should be no exception. Yet, every step on the gravel pathway was resonant in the silent forest. The absence of noise was unnerving. I was so used to the incessant hymns of chatter and traffic, too desensitised in the sauna of unwanted sounds. 

My bones vibrated as the gravel crunched. My senses were afire, I was body electric. The absence of light created monsters. Was that outline an equatorial spitting cobra, a king cobra or a pit viper? There are snakes which leap from trees to land on succulent preys. Did my silhouette look delicious like a piece of fatty char shiew? Would an owl mistake my admittedly unkempt hair for a rat and tear off my scalp? 

Someone told me that there is always a silver lining. If I were to die from a venomous bite, I would at least live on in the news - 'Top School Teacher Dies From Snake Bite On Solitary Night Trek, First In Singapore In Fifty Years'.  

How reassuring.  

Every sound was louder, more surreal. An owl kept hooting. Was it a call of boredom or caution? Leaves were in cahoots with branches. Something would happen, something sinister. There was a sudden snap and a huge thing - Bat? Insect? Alien flying saucer? - flew towards my face. 

Enough, it was enough. I retreated in shame. Less than ten minutes, maybe even less than five, that was the extent of my courage. I made my way to Soi 19 and ordered dinner. The lady stared at me. I stared back. Drinks, she asked, and I replied, no. Didn't she already ask? She stared, paused, payment? Ah yes, I truly forgot I had to pay for a meal. Defeat is disorienting.  

I did not overthink before the attempt. I honestly thought I could do it, having had experience with solitary day walks and group night walks. Besides, I did a similar route a week ago with a friend. Army had not trained me well. Military night camps are festivals of light, with portable lamps ablaze in every corner and glowsticks lining every gravel pathway as if in preparation of a fashion show.    

Fear is disorienting and shame is a fat seed. Think about it long enough and it will sprout. Water it and watch it grow. There is a banyan tree of self-mortification about to burst through my skin. 

All these years have taught me to break monumental tasks into baby steps, to draw a menagerie bird by bird. I need something doable, something manageable. No defeat is lasting, I have to believe. 

A few days later, I decide to take precautions and try walking in absolute darkness again. I had trained myself by walking with my eyes closed (but only when no one was looking)(because I have no desire to come across as a nutcase)(does this mean I care about what strangers think?). I am prepared to be fearful. 

I start in the evening, knowing that I will be trapped in the middle - alone and afraid - when it's too dark and be left with no option but to move forward. If I have to, I will crawl out.

Mary Oliver once said, 'You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.' 

But I have to. My ego speaks and I am subservient.  

Along the boardwalk, I see someone. He seems old and healthy and most importantly, he is wearing a facemask. He is, to the best of my knowledge, a human and not a ghost or a crocodile demon. 

I must see something. I must, I keep thinking, there must be something for me to see. This mantra, this desperate desire to make this solitary trek worth something - worth anything - this repetition blunts the fear. 

Which is to say, this fear still nibbles, this fear still exists, this fear is instinctive. It is tough to be in the unknown, with limited vision and vulnerable to the whims of a thoughtless cosmos. People pass away from broken branches and barely noticed insect bites. A sudden snap, a careless step, and I will cease. This fear lurks in the background, like the irritating hum of an old computer. 

What am I living for? If not, what am I fearful about? 

A frayed strand from my shorts brushes against my thigh and I jump.

Leaves scrape against my umbrella and I jump.

There is something glowing off the boardwalk and I jump. Is this what I have been looking for? 

The leaves rustle with secrets.  Do they hide a colugo or the elusive pangolin? Good god, I do want to see the only mammal wholly covered with scales. Every member of this species looks lovably dumb and it is quite clear that not all dumb things are lovable.  

A wild boar - not quite a baby, not yet an adult, just as big as a Labrador - grunts. It sticks his head out of the foliage before backing into the forest. 'Hello,' it says, 'and goodbye.' 


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