Mildew

Back in the town where I lived before I moved here, there used to be a field near my house, down the street. It was a tiny field, and although as a small child I carried the impression that someone farmed there (fields = crops, simple enough), I later found out that it was simply what it was – a field.

I grew a bit older – around nine – and a couple of friends and I began to sneak into the field to play and to sit around. The field was guarded by an old watchman and his wife, who lived in a shack made of metal sheets in one corner of the field. At times he would see us and call out to us. We’d run away.

Later, my father, who knew him, was chatting with him one day and introduced me to him. Since, after that point, he came preapproved and was therefore not a Stranger, we felt much less hesitation playing in the field, and so we lost interest in it.

Some months after that, the old man died. The shack was left up, boarded shut, but no one lived there anymore. I would pass by, learning to ride my bike on the dirt road near it, returning home with grimy clothes and an even grimier, bruised face, but I never really looked at it again. I knew it was there. It was part of my mental landscape of home.

In the meantime, someone – either my mother or my sister – mentioned that someone who lived in a building near us would take women to this field in the middle of the night and beat them up. I wondered why. It was explained to me that this man and his wife were largely known (by whom, I have no idea) to be pimps, and their sons married women from villages who were brought to the city and sold off. I had a nightmare vision of these men thrashing and raping young, sad-faced women into submission while their parents watched in approval. I never found out the truth of these rumours, and later, I would tell myself that the family didn’t look like bad people.

Nonetheless, I lost my affection for the field, and would walk by without looking, as if noticing the field would mean a mute acknowledgement of horror and my inefficacy in doing anything about it.

The field became overgrown, the ownership board in front of it changed, then got replaced by a hoarding, and then there were more metal sheets, this time put up as a fence to hide the construction going on there. I noticed but didn’t look. By then, the dirt track had already become tarmac, turning our little street into a major road. And one day, now grown and walking home from college, I actually looked up while passing by the field, and saw that there was a finished building there, already occupied.

I didn’t like the fact that it was there. It had been my field once, after all. I cursed modernity’s efforts to build up and polish every open, imperfect thing I’d loved. First my dirt track, now my field. I walked away shaking my head.