Empty Land

Sorting through old photographs I came across this, of the land across the street from us, before it was stripped, leveled and surrounded by a cinder-block wall.

Wasteland is often like that here: sandy soil and thorn bushes. Patchy ground cover. At the edge of the road there was a cluster of datura. When it rained the low-lying part flooded, becoming a shallow and transitory lake.

The soft, feathery greenness against sand was beautiful, in a making-do-with-little kind of way. There were mongoose, snakes and bandicoots (large rats). When the land was cleared all three moved across the street and tried to find a place in the houses and gardens there. Only the bandicoots seem to have succeeded. We had a mongoose family of three for a year or so, but I haven’t seen them for a long time. (Whenever it rained there was a frog chorus from that land. What’s happened to the frogs? Small frogs would hop across the badminton court, waiting for insects to gather around the lights; but they’re gone now.)

We used to own a piece of land on the East Coast Road, near the Crocodile Bank. There was nothing on it but a little scrub, some casuarinas along the fence near the beach, and one big cashew tree. Cashews grow low to the ground and are umbrella-shaped, so that you can walk inside them and feel that you are in a hidden room. When we sold the land I wrote this:

Empty Land

We went to say good-bye to our land.

We stood for a while in the cashew’s shade
before flinching back into glare.
We walked the road we had built
past casuarinas, beachgrass, to the sea's edge.
Shells like bleached fingernails.
Holes in the sand where small crabs hide.

On the way to the car, bones:
a long curling horn,
its surface papery as a wasp's nest.
White shards half-buried. Old news,

not enough to make a whole of anything.
I picked up a vertebra's eroded torus.

That was all. It was empty land.

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