Unnatural Recollections #6
Part 1: Strange Places
The stretch of road from home to the train station, although just an ordinary road with nothing scenic to speak of, passes by a park that has quite a few trees planted. Even though these trees are just ordinary ones, such as camphor, kapok, Taiwan acacia, banyan, and Bauhinia, they attract many birds. And even though these birds are just ordinary species, like sparrows, bulbuls, magpies and magpie-robins, they create quite an impressive ecological scene.
Although this unremarkable road holds such a rich variety of species, nine out of ten passersby overlook them. I've asked every friend who lives nearby, and not one of them finds anything of note along the way, let alone knows what trees and birds inhabit it. Among the hurried passersby, someone like me, who often stops and looks up in wonder, is not even considered odd, because people are just not interested in such actions.
Back when I too was one of those who always kept their heads down, thinking nothing in the world was more important than their own affairs, I had no knowledge of the bulbul bird. One day, I happened to look up and saw a bird with a black crest on its head, red cheeks, and brown wings, pecking at the fruits of a camphor tree. I was mesmerized. I thought I had encountered a rare species, only to find out later that bulbuls are quite common here. Apart from the red-whiskered bulbul, there's also the red-vented bulbul commonly called the "red buttocks" and the green-winged white-headed bulbul. Perhaps it was this bird that called out to me!
To this day, I've yet to meet a true kindred spirit. Recently, in a light winter drizzle, I saw a girl standing under a tree, looking up at a red-whiskered bulbul that was shaking off its feathers on a branch. She wasn't holding an umbrella, her face wet from the rain. I stood still, watching the bird, then the girl. After a moment, she turned and walked away. I looked back at the red cheeks of the bulbul, and it too flew away with a flap of its wings.
There is a rather secluded valley near the university. If you enter from a trail next to the road and follow a small stream, you will soon find yourself completely removed from human habitation, unable to hear the slightest trace of the cacophony from the outside. The only sounds are those of unidentified birds, the wind sweeping through the trees, and the crunch of fallen leaves beneath the hiker's feet. That was simply not of this world!
It was Ear who took me to that place. One day after the afternoon classes, Ear asked if I wanted to take a stroll. I didn't ask where to, I just followed Ear. It was getting late. After entering the valley, the sun had already set behind the trees, and the surroundings gradually darkened. I was a little scared, but following Ear, I thought it should be fine. We didn't meet a single person along the way, and when we arrived at a hidden grove, Ear and I embraced, and then we undressed each other.
That was simply not of this world. I felt as if I had just woken up from a dream, and there was Ear, hunched over a large rock, deeply engrossed in studying something. There was a big piece of greyish object stuck on the rock, which had some indents and protrusions on it that looked like the letters I and Y. Ear told me it was a lichen genus called Graphis scripta, or “script lichen.” Suddenly, all the hair on my body stood on end, and I quickly put my clothes back on. But Ear noticed nothing, he just continued, “Every time I come here, I will spend some time reading this script. I feel there must be some secret written within.”
After that, Ear and I visited that place a few more times, then suddenly stopped. I don't know if Ear went by himself, or if he went with others. All I know is, from that moment onwards, I found it hard to concentrate on reading. Whenever I saw the words on the pages, the nauseating image of the script lichen appeared in my mind. Then I would think of Ear, intently reading the secret behind the script, and his futile life.
For introductory remarks about the work, see “Coming soon! Strange tales from V City”