Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The disappearing sidewalk

Past the crumbling road downstairs, behind the parked rickshaws and bicycles, is a sidewalk made entirely of gravel. It is a popular sidewalk when the road jams with cars, buses and taxis attempting ambitious maneuvers. As the option of walking along the road in the busy market becomes less risky during the day, the sidewalk is cast to one side. The gravel remains unstepped on; it feels unfit for its purpose. Under the sun it gathers dust that covers visiting shoes. The rain does it no favours either: it seeps between the gravel to provide a pleasing crunch, but also greases the grip between foot and stone. So we ignore it unconsciously, aware of a vague threat in its vicinity.

Stepping across to my favorite bookstore entails crossing this stretch of gravel. This place has the air of one where progress and construction are imminent. In truth, the gravel has been here for two years. The red bricks meant to cover it have appeared, disappeared, appeared, and recently disappeared once again. Some materials, to fill the gaps between the bricks, recently lay in white plastic sacks in a cluster outside one store. Those too are gone. Anything that is not nailed to the floor or high out of reach has been spirited away. But no one touches the gravel, though one day I believe they will discover its value for sound effects and will scoop it away. Then the road will be stolen, foot by foot, until there is no tar, and then the sand beneath will go too. Underground telecommunication pipes will be the new pavements, before they too are finally gone. Arms spread wide, we will balance precariously on them and dream of murder like Shalimar on a tightrope. Inch by inch, everything will disappear.

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