Brown Waters 11

And he walks.

The bridge shines under the warmth of the afternoon sunlight. The drops of water, the after taste of the rain that stopped a while ago, have turned into a display of diamonds and crystal gems, glisten on the surface of its silvery skin.

New paint job, old dirt. There’s no part set aside for the walkway, just a road, about two meters wide, filled with gravels and residues of broken asphalt. Occasionally some scooters would pass, utterly convinced of its worthiness. Cars that come from the direction of the marketplace would take the slight left turn, yonder through the bigger bridge, as do the majority of the motorbikes. The metal bones, plates, and cables look sturdy. The river with its brown water is 100 meters below. It’s where Kapuas embraces Landak.

There’s a sweet scent in the air, he can only guess its source. Perhaps it’s the leafs on the trees, can be seen in abundance around the bridge, sheltering the banks of the river. Perhaps it’s the logs of woods on the barge being pulled by a bandung, perhaps it’s the wet dirt by the side of road, perhaps there’s a young woman somewhere behind the window of the houses on the lush part of land at the other end of the bridge, prepping herself for an intimate evening ride with a lively man from the office. Perhaps all of those scents intertwined together carried by the wind, swirling around and engulfs him, to remind him of unfulfilled promises and of melancholy.

It’s the scent of a girl from a distant past, straight black reddish hair to her shoulder, fair yet burned by the young sun, the bandana on her hair with the color of the rainbow, and floral dress that swept through the tall grasses, as she walked before him towards the river. Her hand beckoned him as she pressed through. The excitement, the energy, the heat of the afternoon sun, the scent of her body filled his senses. But the awkward jeans, the old slippers, and the mushy peat soil conspired to betray him.

He fell.

And she disappeared behind the thick vegetation, never to be seen again. Her scent however, forever lingers, vanished from his memory, only to suddenly come again to seize his mind at curious times, and haunt him with unreasonable, almost painful longing. Almost an explanation to his constant and restless search. With the scent as the only clue that will bring him back to her, back to that path when he followed her.

It’s the scent of the river, the scent of unfulfilled promises and lost dreams

He remembers this area. This is the old road. Up and further through this road there will be an elevation and an even smaller road that they took when they went to the attorney’s house. Just before the elevation, there’s an intersection, with the tennis and volley ball fields pitting the road. The fields where everyone who is anyone plays with their group, consists of police officers, judges, and functionaries of government offices.

He wants to see that intersection again, the road that he went through when he wanted to play with his friends. Walking wasn’t a big deal back then, the gang would scourge the area kilometers after kilometers, just stopping to scare any random man or woman who worked at the plantation by placing a rubber snake in the middle of the road. They had some good laughs; some people didn’t seem to have the basic ability to differentiate real snakes from fake ones.

At the end of the climbing road, there was a big tree with its branches reaching wide providing blissful shelter for them while they were busy with their ice tea and sarsaparillas. They would sit on the spot overlooking the new establishment below, while sharing stories of ghosts, of a madman that went around town with a sickle (or a machete, versions varied) and a goni sack, hunting kids who walk alone to cut their heads off, and of Flash Gordon.

He wants to see that road.

The phone in his pocket rings. He picks it up and listens. He puts it back.

He accelerates. At the end of the bridge he turns left. Gets himself into one of the alleys, through the shadows among the houses, quiet houses. If not for occasional sounds of TVs, he would have thought that the houses are empty. Concrete and soil cover the floor of the alley, the sun is blocked, the air cools down. Fungus covers some parts of the walls along the way. Unreasonable fear creeps through his spine and on his skin. Down and down he goes, surely and convincingly towards the river bank. There, the ray of the sun slaps the left side of his face, like an old friend clenching his throat digging for any trace of his sanity. He tightens the straps of his bag as he bolts towards Landak Bridge.

 

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