As I made my way out of the forest, the undergrowth grew sparse. Without warning, I found myself on a rise looking over a village. Rows and rows of buildings were laid out in front of me. At first glance the village appeared to be deserted. Then I saw her. A woman walked into view from the right of the buildings. She was dressed in what I took to be traditional clothing. She was wearing a conical hat and a long, slit-sided oriental gown over loose trousers. The contrast of the bright red gown and golden trousers against the drab buildings was startling.
There was nobody else in sight. I stood, transfixed, as she wove her way amongst the buildings. It was as if I was watching a ritual; I felt as though I was intruding but couldn’t drag my eyes away from the spectacle. She entered the village from the right, turned right and walked the length of the path between the buildings before turning left at the end. Moments later she came back into sight walking towards me, parallel to the way she’d gone. She turned again and went back along the far side of the building she’d just passed before reappearing, coming back towards me. I realised she was walking a figure of eight pattern around the village. I was mesmerised.
She seemed to walk for hours, weaving back and forth between the buildings. Striding along the paths she moved with an effortless elegance that caught the eye. There was a rhythm to her movement as she endlessly appeared only to disappear moments later. Up one path, round the end of the building, back down another. Again and again, turn and turn about she measured out the paths with her endless pacing.
And then she stopped. She stopped dead and turned around so she was facing in the opposite direction. She stood, head bowed and unmoving for about five minutes before setting off again. Now she was walking the paths in reverse order. Weaving her course she made her way around the village. I continued to watch her endless pacing. She seemed so serene in her movements, from what I could see of her face she was expressionless. As the light waned, she formed a patch of bright colour standing out against the dull background. I wish I’d checked my watch earlier and timed her movements. I suspected she had dedicated the same period to walking her route in both directions.
Although I had been standing watching the woman’s perambulations for the best part of an afternoon, it came as a shock when she stopped. She stood facing me for a moment, the first time she’d acknowledged my presence, before walking off out of view to my right, back the way she had come. The spell broken, I walked down into the village. I wondered how often she performed her ritual and what it meant. Even though night was falling I decided to press on. I felt uneasy at the prospect of spending the night alone in the deserted village, especially after what I’d just witnessed.
Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink November 29th writing prompt competition.