I already hate this. Of course, they’re out there – the rain is their optimal weather.
After sunset, the way back to my flat is lit in hiccups of spotlights; cars drive by and the pavement slithers up the hill and around the Grove – it looks like a black abyss from the station above ground. As I said, it rained, so the light breaks into smithereens onto the wet concrete; I nestle in the thought that it looks like I’m walking on a constellation and try to ignore the growing discomfort.Those phantom stars guide the way as I walk in the middle, as far from the ground as I can; the strands of grass bow at the edge of the concrete as the raindrops, still full and heavy from the early shower, cling on their tips forcing them down, defeated. The strands almost touch the concrete in an unnaturally perfect and reversed U, cutting out the light and concealing the nocturnal gastropods crawling out in the open.
There’s analley way behind my flat; it’s cemented, but the trees from the neighbouring gardens look over the street making it look immersed into the woods. The branches are invisible above the bright blue LED light, but the roots stubbornly push upwards beneath the soil, cracking the concrete. The trunks, engorged with water, bend the mouldy fences inwards, crushing the man-made. The ivy creeps between the wooden posts and lurks to the street, longing for the light beyond the fence; it reached the sign at the entrance of the street, climbing and choking its way to the arrow. I’m already gasping for air when Iget close enough to read it; ‘Footpath’, it says.
The lamppost hums a constant ‘zzz’ and spills light on the pavement, drenching my figure and morphing my shadow. An obscure shape stretches and narrows following my pace, tied to my soles; when it sinks into a black puddle, everything above the surface becomes an oblong and twisted reflection. I break it with my boot, hoping my sock won’t soak in the water. That is how I compromise with my phobia, because I know I wouldn’t find them in a puddle. Snails don’t dive in water, right?
I moved here because I liked the calm and living close to nature. I ‘just enjoy being able to breathe’ – that’s the standard half-joking statement of mine usually welcomed by the ‘alright’ and ‘fair-enough’ of whoever had asked me ‘how comes you live in Harrow?’.
‘Oh, Harrow?That’s where my family lives. Yeah, we have a lot of those over there, especially when it rains.’
That was what my first flatmate said to me when I told her that I studied near Harrow. We were living closer to Central London back then; we were still getting to know one another and, somehow, our conversation drifted from our Undergraduate studies to our fears and phobias. She said she understood why I didn’t like snails and added ‘slugs are even worse’ to which I nodded energetically as we interrogatively bonded on our dislike of slimy creatures. At the time, it felt reassuring knowing I wasn’t there, in the nature, in Harrow. Jokes on me, I moved there three years later. The day I moved into the flat, I saw the trees outnumbered the houses all the way up the hill. The sun cleared the moisture and the air was sharp, easy to breathe in for my dysfunctional lungs. I thought of my flatmate and remembered it was heaven in disguise; the image of snails pullulating the street at night broke my skin in shivers. I just wanted to be able to breathe less pollution and to ease into a calmer lifestyle for a year or so. It’s funny to think that, now, I use my inhaler more at home than anywhere else.
There’s a sn- no, that’s leaf – that’s also a leaf – a crack – another leaf – a rock – a root – a sna-
Such childish phobic behaviour.
I once saw one of them in daylight.
Their silver trails drew erratic patterns on the pavement, and I followed them with my eyes to make sure there were no snails in my way. One of them stopped abruptly: shrunken and dead, the charcoal cadaver of what was once a slug rested in sunlight.
At the end of the Footpath 64, a lamppost shines on a seemingly bare pavement and an empty road. In the distance, the lights in my flat are a warm sun. Ahead of me there is only a quick descent left – everyone prefers a descent to an ascent, and my descent leads me home, to a dry carpeted animal-free kingdom. The walls, outside, are witnesses of the weather; they suck the water and wear the humidity on their bricks, squeezing it inwards, dampening the air – still, it’s my home, my shelter. Walking down the road, past the other houses, is, usually, my favourite part.
Here’s another one.
Once I recognise their shape, their horns, and movement, I see them everywhere I look. I feel them on my head, down my neck. They crawl out of their submerged dens, shipwrecks of their favourite rainy weather, they breathe in (do snails breathe?) the moisture as they advance, stubborn, with their slower cadence, weighted by their shell-made home, unaware of the danger I can be to them as I am trying to get home as quick as I can. The pavement is already covered with their slimy footprints. Paranoia makes me twist my leg and check my soles every time I step on the gravelled area in front of my flat, expecting – and fearing – to see protruding eyes looking back at me. Every inch is analysed as I walk to the door (I check the handle in case one of them crawled around it, you just never know) and open it. The last look is for the upper right corner, where one of them was hibernating, alone, glued to the wood, upside-down for months. It disappeared from one day to the other. I’m not curious to know where it went, I just don’t want it to come back.