There is a path I can see from the balcony where I'm staying. It begins in a car park and leads to the beach, and the ocean beyond. The endless water looks like a navy blanket. Today it's calm, and it's surface is etched with silver ripples, glistening like scars. You can hear the waves rolling onto the sand. You can pretend it's peaceful.
The path is paved. It has a white line painted down the middle, dividing the flow of foot traffic.
It cuts between a practice pitch for the local rugby squad to the north, and a golf course to the south. Young men on one side, under flood lights, muscles bulging and voices roaring, throw themselves recklessly into tackles. They chant and laughing, the echoes float skyward, and they kick-up turf with their cleats. Retirees on the other side, under the midday sun, wear white caps and collared shirts tucked into khaki pants. They chip balls onto a designated practice green, where the grass is left to grow a touch longer than regulation. They stop, every so often, just to look around and smell the sea air. On weekends, couples get married in front of rows of white chairs, and get their photos taken barefoot, strolling along the beach.
The rugby field has a two-metre-tall metal fence lining the perimeter. Each vertical rod is spiked at the end. It looks like something better suited to protect a medieval castle than a patch of well-maintained grass. On the golf course side of the path, there's a thick forest of trees and shrubbery, a dark green buffer several metres high and wide. From the ground, you mightn't even know the golfers were there, if not for the occasional metallic ping of their clubs striking the dimpled ball, like a piece of cutlery dropped on a tile floor.
Great lengths have been taken to landscape a sense of privacy, to create a boundary.
Everyday, people walk, run and cycle along the path. In the early morning, teenagers with long hair and half-zipped-up wetsuits run with surfboards underarm. New mums push strollers in three-quarter-length spandex pants. And all throughout the day, people let their dogs shit on the sandy grass on the fringes of the path. A few even neglect to pick-up the mess.
Someone else uses the path, too. In the evening, when it's darker outside, a woman in a long winter jacket slowly pushes a shopping trolley up the path. She stops behind the tall goal posts, like white flagpoles, teetering in the wind. She begins a process of carrying her bags, one-by-one, into the bushes. Occasionally a jogger will run past, but mostly, she goes unnoticed, her footsteps drowned out by the sound of the ocean, her movements obscured by shadows and the momentum of nightfall. When each of the bags is hidden away, she pulls the trolley up an embankment and wrestles its metal frame into the foliage, disappearing behind a cloak of green leaves.
I can only assume she rests there through the night, her head on a plastic-bag-pillow, in a small clearing known only to her and the mice and rabbits and birds that sometimes venture into its thick enclosure. Her body becomes a jungle gym for crawling insects. She hides in the day, humming songs inside her head, mimicking the bird calls, spying on the golfers and the passersby, hissing at dogs that sniff at her invisible tracks, and remembering a different time in her life -- a time when her possessions outnumbered what could be transported in a cart, when a young child called her 'mum' and when there was someplace soft at night to lay, and tender words whispered by a friend. The memories come to her in jolts, like electric currents, and she only allows herself a few seconds to ponder them, before flushing them away. She creeps out from her place only when a long-suppressed hunger, like a handful of thumb tacks piercing the inner walls of her her stomach, drives her to search for food. And so she reverses the process, pulling her trolley out of the bushes, restoring her bags inside, and drawing bewildered stares from the steely-eyed rugby players on the other side of the grated fence. She takes no notice, and begins to push her life down the middle of the path.
At night I sleep on a memory foam pillow. I've grown so accustomed to it, that I sometimes complain to my wife, when we're staying elsewhere and the firmness isn't just right, that I get a sore neck. I like to have blisteringly hot showers. I keep them relatively short, but if the water isn't verging on scalding I feel like I haven't gotten myself totally clean. I cook salmon steaks at thirty-dollars a kilogram on the barbecue, and drink shiraz, which I've bought from a winery on the south coast. We sit on the balcony staring out at the ocean as the sun sets, watching the rugby players going through their practice drills, at the last golfers finishing up on the eighteenth hole, the dog walkers on the beach. I don't notice the rustle of leaves, or the human form disappearing into the darkness of the bushes. Or maybe I do and I choose not to care. My mind is elsewhere, tonight.
In the morning, I'll wake up and begin my ten-K along that path, listening to podcasts on my smartphone, smiling at the sun, and urging myself to move faster and faster.