Published: Aug 13, 2023 by C.S. Rhymes
He knew the way. He walked it every day, there and back, knowing the cracks in the pavement like the back of his hands, seeing the grooves in the pavement made by his own shoes walking back and forth time after time.
The path was next to a busy road, traffic always flowing slowly around rush hour, stuck waiting behind the double decker buses as their passengers alighted and mounted the bus merging into the crowd around the bus stop. The buses had standing room only as the lucky few passengers who managed to claim the seats did not want to surrender them to anyone if they could avoid it. Horns sounded loudly when the traffic lights changed to green and the car in front didn’t move as quickly as the cars behind wanted them to.
He preferred to walk where he could, come rain or shine, his backpack containing a waterproof coat and some waterproof trousers that were wrapped up tightly, stuffed into the bottom of the bag in case it got really wet. He knew where the puddles would be, always forming in the same place where the pavement wasn’t quite level after years of being dug up and relaid by more utility companies than he could remember, never leaving the finish quite as good as it was before. New ducting left large straight lines of fresh dark tarmac running into the distance like veins of the city, sometimes criss-crossing from one side of the road to the other.
Occasionally the straight, grid like structure of the roads and pathway was fragmented by bends, mother nature having the audacity to block the way of progress with a river or stream. Despite the best efforts to keep the path suitable for foot traffic, the grass verges imperceptibly slowly edging further and further over the hard tarmac surface year by year, attempting to reclaim what was once theirs. Roots from trees edging along the verge would attach the path from underneath, pushing up the compacted surface in random streaks, growing wherever they could, finding the smallest of weaknesses to exploit.
He thought back to the first time he walked down the path, looking all around him, making sure he was headed in the right direction, picking out waypoints that he could use to navigate his way back. There was a particular tree that stood out to him, taller than the rest, with ancient looking bark, gnarled knots and twisted branches. The tree must have stood there for over a hundred years before the path was even a thought in the town planners head, let alone a line on a blueprint.
He remembered the buildings that were being built on the other side of the road. Foundations being dug up to be filled with concrete, natural contours of the land being flattened and smoothed out by heavy machinery. New signs were being hammered into the ground advertising new warehouses and offices coming soon.
On his side of the road, he remembered seeing squirrels climbing trees to get away from him as he approached them. The animals were unsure of these new neighbours that were sharing their once remote location. Scurrying up the tree, using the bark for handholds, as easily as if they were running along the ground.
Now nothing seemed new to him. He seemed to know every aspect of the view.
The buildings in need of maintenance, paint peeling away and the signs being reused over the years with various layers of posters placed on top of each other, bubbling and sagging because of the effects of the weather, no glue strong enough to take the test of time. The trees still had their squirrels, but they no longer ran and escaped from him, they sat still in the grass verge, just watching the passers by go about their business.
He walked on a little further, noticing some leaves and small branches scattered along the edge of the path near the verge up ahead. He knew this was where a large hedge stood, often the branches would grow out into the path in the spring and early summer, reaching out for sunlight away from the bulk of the hedge. It seemed someone had decided to trim the hedge back this year. Normally he would take a few steps onto the road to avoid the hedge, and keep walking past.
This time however, he looked over his right shoulder at the hedge and noticed there was something different. Where there was once nothing but green leaves and branches, there was now a new clearing. A metre wide gap had been cut into the hedge, revealing an old fence with a stile.
The stile hadn’t seen the light of day for many years. He had never seen it before himself. It looked as if it had recently been repaired, the plank for the step a slightly different shade to the rest of the wood. The other repair that stood out was the addition of a shiny new sign that read ‘footpath’ with an arrow pointing into the distance.
He stopped walking and kept looking at the stile. He knew the way was straight ahead along the path, he had been that way more times than he could count. That was the way he always went. There and back again. That was his route.
But he didn’t take that route. He knew where that led. Instead, he turned right, climbed over the stile, took the new footpath and smiled as he started his new journey.