My first sight every morning as I swing open the shutters is the timbers of the unfinished community centre. Its new occupant is a dog who thinks he’s a wolf. Every time the oxyacetylene cylinder that thinks it’s a church bell rings, he raises his snout and howls long and mournful. His pitch is high and not at all tuneful, but he definitely has illusions. Florence Foster-Jenkins in dog’s clothing.
Rainy season is entering the protein-breathing stage. Every inhalation is populated by tiny flies, especially in the kitchen. They gleam like dust motes in the sunshine, but dustmotes don’t itch when they land. Cooking is an increasing challenge as they multiply exponentially around fresh food. What with holding my breath for the flies, blocking my nose for the rubbish bag (which festers roisterously in rainy season) and closing my eyes for the onions, I’m heading for sensory blackout in there.
The okra are thriving in the sporadic rain. Sliced and sautéed as low as they will go with mountains of garlic, they are a good consolation prize for the scarcity of meat and fish. Unfortunately garlic has recently sold out in all the shops. How will I cope?
Most of the ground in central Aishalton is now spongy and porous, like walking in fresh tofu. Footwear is a difficult choice. Flipflops are the most practical but maximise the bites, and the claggiest slimiest mud between the toes is only pleasurable to the under tens, especially those who don’t do laundry. ‘Waterproof’ boots aren’t, except that when the water comes in over the top it can’t make its escape.
Every track is pooling in the ruts, so the grass on either side is getting steadily more and more worn. The frogs have endless evocative twilight moments to burp out their love songs. The cattle egrets are flocking here now that we are officially one big marsh. Watch their complex arabesques and you will be forgiven for believing the dance is for beauty, or for you. But look closer, shorten your focus a foot in front, and you will see that the dragonfly is leading the chase, and the egret is dancing for his dinner.
A storm in the west times itself at sundown. Sheet lightning as usual. Its heavy cumulonimbii crowd in to quench the sunset, which in defiance dyes the lightning instead. I watch and marvel at ten minutes of perfect pink sheet lightning, whilst in the foreground the fireflies shimmy and wink in the papaya tree.
My last sound at night is the cow trying to break in. She bashes on the door rhythmically with her horns, increasing in speed and anthropomorphic regularity as the lightning gets closer. It is almost impossible to believe that it isn’t a person knocking. Yesterday she made it in, through the three bolts. B staggered into the hall at 2:30am to find a massive brindled rump extending from dining table to front doorstep. It’s not restful, sleeping in a house so attractive to bovine keraunophobes. When I’m sleeping alone in the house, listening to the horses scream, and half the fauna of Aishalton trying to creep, bash, slide, fly, hammer or crawl their way into my home, I hardly sleep at all. In the morning I will go out to find horse hoofprints deeply embedded in the mat an inch from the door, cowpats under every window shutter, and the last of the lilies cropped short by the sheep.
The one thing I can never, ever hope to convey to you is this. The powerful, often unseductive ordinariness of all of these things. It isn’t romantic. It isn’t exotic. It’s as real and as boring and exactly as rich in potential as your morning commute to work. Which of course has all the possibilities of an Awfully Big Adventure, especially for the philosopher and the Pollyanna!