By Bryan Russell
The village often seemed lost in the jungle: no one could find it who didn’t live there. And no one who left ever remembered the way back, except for R.
The jungle seemed a little closer, a little darker, each year. The young people slipped away in the night. Out to the road. And then down the road to The City, though that was far away. The people heard The City on the magic of the radio, but in the real world it was just a rumor, though always a convincing one.
A few of the young people didn’t sneak off, back in the beginning. They said they were leaving. Off to The City. There was a celebration with dancing and music to send them on their way. So beautiful! the people said. We cried so much! And they will come back with great stories! With learning and money and machines!
But the people who left for The City never came back, except for R. They left. They called, sometimes, on the telephone. For awhile. But even then their voices were like rumors, less real than the radio. And, soon and always, the calls stopped.
The people in the village, mostly the old, cried less and held more grimly to the young. They grabbed the children and held them, squeezing tight so the children would not grow, would not leave. The older children started sneaking off in the night.
The younger children waited.
The old villagers could not squeeze hard enough, and the children grew, and in the night they left, never to return, all but R.
R. was different. He came back, and the people were happy to see him, but, really, it was not a happy story. It was hard to recognize him. He talked different, looked different. And he came back only to flaunt what he had become, all that he had gained in The City. It was a pilgrimage of vanity. He brought his car, drove it along the rough road and into the village where it could be admired. People came and looked at it. The car was old, though, and the engine died and R. kicked it many times, yelling and cursing. His grand return seemed less grand.
R. did not stay. He left in the night, walking out on foot, leaving his car behind.
The car stayed. It was very heavy, and hard to move, and the old villagers were wary of it. Keeping a distance seemed wise.
The car sat, rusting in the moist jungle air. Grass grew up around it as it lay sleeping. A vine curled through the windows. A tree grew up through the trunk. It waited, gaunted and grim and silent, its eyes shuttered.
And yet sometimes, at night, when the villagers were asleep, the engine rolled over and a hum, as of some vast insect, filled the air. The engine whirred, exhaust leaking from the crumbling tailpipe as the car dreamed of The City so far away, and a world it had once known. Lights and cars and factories, shining so brightly, but always the dream faded and the jungle returned, the thick and heavy air settling on the car.
Memories rusted quickly, and it was easier to forget.