The shortcut starts behind a dog meat restaurant. They kill the dogs in the lower level, and, sometimes, coasting by, I see the cook chopping the pieces into bite-size chunks, skewering them on a metal rod and placing them on the hot charcoal fire. On one day, as I was riding home, I looked over and there were two men and a dog. They held the animal over a bowl, collecting the blood that dripped from its neck. The golden brown fur was spotless; they carefully held his body up in the air, even as the animal struggled and whipped its backbone trying to get free. Of course, even if it had run away it would die; they had cut its throat so it would bleed slowly, so all the blood would drain.
Directly behind the restaurant is a large hole full of water. Styrofoam packing, plastic bags, dead rats, tiny green plants the size of rice kernels float on the water, and, all along one side, banana trees. The path runs between this pool and the wall of the Russian compound. The water serves as a fish nursery for one man who lives beside it and a sewage dump for many others. In the early evening, the bats swoop around your ears between the banana leaves as you attract the insects and the insects attract the bats.
The cement part of the shortcut trails off into muddy lumps that become the edge of a graveyard. The graves are reused and reused. One day, I saw a man urinating beside one. Of course, it’s not strange to see men urinating everywhere, but he was pissing right on the mound of dirt, his motorbike standing behind him. I think there were some people, at the same time, on the far side of the field, offering incense sticks to someone recently died.
The detritus from plastic flowers, red coffin boxes, paper money, ashes, and the smoke from the incense creates a sweet ash in the air. All the refuse from the graves and the passersby coats the road with plastic bits, wood, and paper.
Here the shortcut ends; it connects to a gravel road. A carpenter lives on the south side of the street with his wife and son in a cobbled together house. There is another, filthier pond beyond their small plot of land. On some days, the mother takes the boy outside and plays with him beside the mud path. The boy stares at everything. His face is pale. He has a high forehead, large eyes, and no shoes. His mother is also always barefoot. He stares at me as I pass, riding my bicycle; mud splashing on my tan pants. He turns his head to follow me. His fingers go to his mouth. He twists his body around until he is finally forced to move his bare feet, watching me turn the corner to join the traffic.
Ivan Faute has stories in various journals and anthologies and dramatic work produced in New York, London, Chicago and elsewhere. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and named a finalist for the Calvino Prize and the ATHE Excellence in Playwriting Award. He teaches creative writing at Christopher Newport University in Virginia.