When I lived in Miami and my dog was just a puppy, I would take walks in the middle of the night. It’s something I’ve continued to do on occasion here in Minnesota, though, unlike in Miami, here most of the year I can’t just throw on a t-shirt and shorts and head out the door. Still, even in the winter my infant son finds it soothing, and it has served as a last-ditch effort to get him to fall back asleep. As his sleep cycles change, I’ve found myself up and walking at night again recently.
There’s something particularly calming about walking in the dark. Things change at night. I’ve come to feel that you don’t truly know a place until you’ve haunted it in the wee hours. More than that, walking at night helps you know yourself. The division between dream and reality becomes more fluid at night. The darkness blurs our perceptions, and our brains fill in the gaps. Our cognitive biases become stronger, more evident, and less accurate. At night, our thoughts take shape around us.
I first experienced this as a child, startled awake to find a strange man lurking in the corner of my room, only to later realize that it was the dirty laundry thrown atop my chair. Call them optical illusions, but the outward projections of our inner selves are more perceptible at night. Being in the dark amidst our own thoughts can be strong medicine for introspection. The deepest hues are seen at midnight.
In Miami, there was a grove of trees in rows near my house that Mona and I would walk through. A perk of night walking was that we didn’t need a leash, and Mona became a faithful if not over-protective companion. Mona is a nightshade herself, jet black except for one white paw. She is almost invisible in the dark. Often all you can see of her is a small white circle bouncing near the ground.
To reach the grove, we had to pass an empty lot with a dense mass of tropical overgrowth in its center. The vegetation was so thick it seemed a solid structure, especially at night, with no conceivable entrance or exit. However, peering through the vines and branches various sets of eyes could be seen glimmering in the dull, reflected glow of the distant street light. Passing one day, I saw an old woman wearing what looked to be a shawl and a large, round straw hat feeding something to the cats who inhabit this lot. She seemed to stare at me as I passed, but we exchanged no words. I heard a scream in the distance, not panicked, but resonant and full, almost animal.
Coming upon the grove, Mona ran into the dark and I lost her between the trees. I walked down the row calling her name when I heard a crunching sound. There she was wiggling with her head inside of a paper bag at the base of a tree. I called her off with an abrupt “chhhit” and examined the bag. Inside was a red, draw-string, canvas sack. It felt heavy and solid, but with some give to it, like a ripe fruit. Opening the sack, I was startled to find a dead chicken. I imagined the clandestine sacrament that must have been recently performed here by the babalawo. I wonder what Orisha he sacrificed in the name of, and what gain he sought.
Leaving the offering where we found it, we continued through the grove. Soon after, we heard a loud rustle in the leaves and the thrush of motion ahead of us to the left, maybe twenty yards. We stopped and stood frozen in the silent dark. The scream repeated, three times in punctuated succession. It came from the same spot. The sound was clearer this time “Haaaw… Haaaw… Haaaw.”
I turned back and looked behind me. We hadn’t come far, but I could no longer see the red canvas sack we had left by the tree. Mona stared up at me. I took a light step forward, hoping not to make much noise. Visible down the row was the silhouette of a giant bird. “Haaaw… Haaaw… Haaaw…,” it called and walked out of sight.
Mona and I were far enough into the grove now that the shortest way out was not to backtrack. We turned right and walked slowly toward the road. Several minutes passed as we crunched through the woods. Suddenly, I realized Mona was no longer by my side. I stopped and turned.
There was her white paw, poised a few feet behind me. She stared silently ahead to my right. I looked down the row between the trees and there was a huge peacock maybe 15 feet away, its head toward the ground and its back to us. I leaned toward Mona to get a better vantage and the bird lifted his head up and craned around towards me. I saw his eyes. He turned and unfanned his tail wide open. His feathers caught the faint light and shimmered turquoise and the darkest, almost-black, royal purple I have ever seen.
An eternity passed in a moment before he closed his tail and jumped, disappearing into the nearby branches. As he leapt, he tore something out of me and took it with him. I felt a great opening in my chest. I stood there with Mona another long moment before continuing home.
For #MayBookPrompts – “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”