Of which direction the voices originated I could not say for sure but I thought it wise to keep my head down as I lay prone alongside a bank of earth. Face down and cheek pressed against sprouting moss and wild mushrooms. In a localised dialect they spoke low and urgent and I could not piece together their concerns. When the voices had passed I continued in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back over my shoulder while wading through the leaf-covered ground, stepping across fallen branches and in between stumps. There was no sound here but the crunching of my footsteps and the singing of distant birds. After some time I found myself walking on broken and cracked concrete, roots bulging beneath, an absurd feeling under my feet when all around me such an edenic environment – vines and ivy and dead or dying trees crawling over all – and yet here, something created by man. It became apparent I stood on what once had been a road, as when I glanced left to right I began to notice the faint outlines of doors and windows through the walls of green. I picked at random a door ajar and stepped through a curtain of matted vines into a hallway that was bare but for the staircase at the end. Musty scents overbearing in the confined darkness. Climbing carefully but the silence continued.
At the top of the stairs windows without glass were covered from the outside by vines and ivy and bathed what seemed to be an apartment in a sleepy green glow. If it was an apartment it was modest, with a few tables and several chairs scattered and abandoned. Dusty plates and empty brown bottles and on the cold concrete floor a large wall sign with peeling paint that spelt ‘RESTAURANT’. When I turned a tall thin man stood in the empty frame of a doorway. His hair was grey and his skin covered with dirt and dust. His shirt ripped and his trousers rags. But his eyes were bright and blue and looked alien on his weathered face; they made him look incredibly sad. As if his eyes took no willing part of this. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Excuse me please. I’m just passing through.”
“Through my home?”
“It doesn’t look much like a home.”
“It was a restaurant. We are closed for renovation. Sorry, you need to leave.”
I looked around. I doubted this man was the owner of the building, and much less once the proprietor of a small business. More likely he found shelter here, hidden in the forest and squatted in his filth and solitude. As I regarded this place and the man’s place within it he spoke again.
“I know what you are thinking. You do not believe that this place was once something else entirely, much like I was once someone different entirely. I understand why you would think that but that is the very nature of time. The beautiful thing about time is that it will continue to pass. But for now, it remains my enemy. For now I must remain closed. I cannot reopen. Who would use this restaurant? Nobody visits this part of the world anymore. The streets are covered by forests and cobwebs, long grass and dead leaves hide the concrete surface and the only clue that this was once a street are the stained and weathered signs, pointing to other, living, streets. This street is dead. They need something to come for. Would they come all the way into the forest for a restaurant? No. They might come if there were people here, living people, enjoying a fountain and rows of classical houses decorated with hanging baskets of floral beauty and elegant street lamps, and there were vendors and stalls selling fresh meats and ripe fruits and handmade trinkets, that can not be understood by foreign tourists but are revered all the same. If this street had all of that, something worth visiting, then I would open my restaurant. Then I would get customers and they would be in awe of the food and the drink and they would ask, how can you prepare such cuisine in this unforgiving climate?”
I wished the man all the best for the future and I left. Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays falling through the canopy of trees I stepped out into the street. I heard more voices, once again in a manner I could not understand. A couple were emerging from the forest and before they could see me I leapt into the long grass and continued in the opposite direction.