I like to make short notes whenever I see, hear or think of something even remotely interesting. I use them to draw from when I need something to write about – most of it isn’t useful, but sometimes one of them becomes a story or something else. A few of them I like but can’t find a use for: I’m sharing three of those here, all written last month while travelling and at home 🙂
I’d always imagined the forest to be silent, but it’s noisy in the jungle. The insects in the trees keep up a constant buzzing, screeching, calling and whirring- sounding sometimes like a bird, sometimes like the hum of a machine in a factory. Deep within the jungle, rocks of limestone suddenly appear, remnants of the ocean that filled the forest once. There is a wooden sign pointing the way to the caves down below. It’s name is gua Harimau.“It mean cave of tiger,” our guide informs us. It is hard to see the opening, hidden between the white rocks. But there is no need to duck your head as you enter for the ceiling is a high way up. Bats hang resting there while the sun is out, their wings folded across themselves like blankets. There might be hundreds of them, and the air is full of the high-pitched screeching that make them see. When you shine a light on them, they make a face like that of a disturbed pig. There is a soft layer of soil beneath our feet, in which the hard shells of insects glimmer gold and green in the light of our torch. There are traces of bigger animals too- rodent bones in the corner, the half-chewed remains of plants and large, solid droppings on the floor. The smell is heady and airless. I can imagine a dark shape from the jungle sliding over the rocks on silent feet.
Why the name, I ask the guide. He looks confused, and says he doesn’t know.
“There is no tiger here,” he says, frowning. “No tiger for long time.”
The best time for walks to the city is in the summer time, when the people are outside on the river side and alcoholic beverages flow freely. I spot a house boat on the canal, moored outside the dairy factory. A washing line is tied across its length. From the line hang five or six white knickers the size of sails, flapping about happily in the breeze. They look like they could carry the boat all the way out to sea, should the owner ever be lost for means of transportation.
On the third evening I come across an old hotel in the hills, a white British building overlooking the field a used-up golf course, the grass turned brown in the heat. The restaurant inside is called the Smoke House, and seemed like a good place to have dinner that evening with its idyllic, ex-colonial atmosphere. The room inside was decorated like you would expect of any colonial location in a film, with hunting scenes, painted plates and musical instruments, and a sabre over the brick fire place. The waiter is too thin for his worn-out suit. He is a tall Indian man, bald, with silver-framed glasses and several missing teeth in his mouth. He grins the gaps bare and shows us to a seat near the bar, which is unstaffed. The bottles behind it look sadly empty.
The bar room smells of leather and smoke and ancient furniture, being eaten away by moths and age. An indefinable stink comes in from the open window; there is no way of telling whether it’s some monstrous tropical plant or the hotel’s garbage pile. A middle-aged couple is sitting just in front of the bar, sinking into a heavy leather couch. The man has an arm around the woman, who is nursing a glass of wine in her hands, and he gestures for the waiter to come over with an air of utter confidence in this date.
“One scotch and soda, please,” he tells him.
The waiter rolls his tongue into the toothless gaps in his jaw and appears to be chewing it between his gums as he thinks, making a slight sucking noise. “It’ll only be a moment.” We see him making for the white telephone on the wall. His long fingers dial a number, but he changes his mind half-way and puts the horn down. “Plees,” he mutters. He fixes the couple a blank stare and disappears in the back room. The two in the corner have lowered their voices to a whispering volume, but we are listening to the sound of the clock ticking. The smell of decay, for that’s what it is, floats in gently from the garden.
(the photographs were taken at the places that inspired the notes- but I may or may not have imagined most of what I wrote.)