You came with me last time – we walked down to the Post Office and we wandered past the Crinkle Crankle wall and down the hill, into the main hub of the village, looking in shop windows, saying hello to passers by. So tonight, walk back with me. We've been for a curry in the restaurant a bit further along; our bellies are full of Rogan Josh and Dansak, sweetness and sourness and lemon rice. Our voices are hoarse from having to raise them in competition with the birthday party next to us (that loud, high pitched laughter of women of a certain age and demographic; an Estuary English cackle) but soothed and refreshed by two pints of Kingfisher.
We step out of the restaurant into the damp night air and head
back home, along the main street. Past the Working Men's Club where
two rotund couples are smoking outside, and a lanky dog the colour of
a fox wanders over from them to sniff our legs, we stop to stroke him
and notice the way his whole body seems to bend like rubber as he
weaves around us. I'm reeled in by expressive eyes and the long,
straight line of his nose. A noble looking dog.
We can hear a rhythmic thud thud thud from the large timber framed
hotel across the road, gradually it forms itself into a distant song,
a song as if heard underwater. Beyoncé. I think. Coloured bulbs
mimic the beat and illuminate the dancing shapes behind the leaded
light windows, exaggerating this contrast between ancient and modern.
Built in the 1400s, this is the pub where a local man was murdered
in 1648, apparently over a heated argument about politics, I wonder what party he supported? His ghost
is said to haunt the corridors... but I expect he stays away on
nights like this.
As Beyoncé's voice fades behind us, a group of young women
emerges from the shadowy distance ahead. Is the collective noun 'gaggle'? A gaggle of young women sounds right anyway. I notice the legs first.
Legs of various thicknesses, disembodied legs in pale tights that pick them out against the darkness of black skirts and grey pavement. Legs that seem to tiptoe
awkwardly in tall fragile heels. Deep in our own conversation we
don't say hello as we pass but our eyes flit across briefly, taking
in shiny doll hair and Rimmel tans.
We walk over the bridge, next to the open field, but the mud from the
tractor tracks makes our soles stick and slip and slide, so we step
into the road and walk by the kerb. There's no traffic. I love this
stretch of road at night, so quiet and dark. And then it's back up
the hill past the grander houses, a chance to steal glimpses into
bedroom windows and see their oak beamed ceilings and shelves full
of books and wonder what it's like to be inside looking out.
Up ahead an older woman in a Russian hat walks slowly along the
wide path, her little dog on an elastic lead running on blurred legs
to catch up, stopping to look back at us, running to catch up,
stopping to look back, running to catch up... Suddenly another
animal shoots past my ankles and seems to disappear. Another dog, I
think. She must have another dog that's not on a lead. But then
another one does the same, so fast it nips past me before I can make
out anything more than a tail and then it's ducked under a car parked
at the side of the path. As we catch up with the tiny beige elastic dog, one
of the mystery creatures joins us: it's a brown and white cat.
“They're mine!” says the lady at the other end of the lead,
smiling warmly. “They come out for a walk too?” we enquire,
laughing. “Yes, they always come with me at night” she informs
us, “but only at night – in the daytime they've got more sense
and stay at home because of the cars”. Cat number two appears and
I feel sure I can detect that typical feline expression of: so
what's the big deal? “That's just so sweet!” we say as the
cats decide that there are more interesting things going on behind
the hedge and their owner stops to wait. “I know! Goodnight
then!” she says as we overtake. “Goodnight!” we call back and
walk on to the top of the hill - nearly home, “goodnight!”