Frozen in Time

The father and the son stroll through the dawn and the dust and the peaceful silence of the village—passive spectators. Behind them the sun peaks tentatively over the horizon, piercing the acrid smoke of the coal fires with sharp beams of gold that cast their long meticulous shadows across a waking world. The very earth seems to stir as the sound of their footsteps and the crowing of the roosters mingles with the clang of pots and the mellifluous giggling of children, cutting momentarily through the velvety dawn before fading again into nothingness.

A dog passes anxiously before them, the harshness of its life obvious in the jagged grooves of its ribs and the patchwork of fur and skin on its back. Whether because of their unfamiliar stride or the conspicuousness of their scent or the way the pale light reflects off their skin, even the dog is aware that these travelers do not belong and quickly scampers away. Like affecting statues, the trees weave a dark pattern of palm leaves and thick branches that obscure the sky, trapping the heavy smoke of cooking fires and the dust of a land still patiently waiting for the rain. The son’s cough seems so alien that he suppresses it immediately and looks around disconcertingly as if to confirm that the silence still remains.

Homes on each side line the dirt path. Structures of woven bamboo and thatched roofs and stacked firewood and such extreme decrepitude that they could be a band of desperate survivors, huddled together against wind and rain and time. A mother and a daughter crouch next to a black iron cooking pot and tend to their fire and boil their family’s breakfast as they have for a thousand years, long before cars and and tourists and photographs and the games of politicians and the greed of powerful generals. The travelers’ only wish is to passively observe the untouched tapestry stretched in front of them before they themselves become the spectacle. The girl abruptly turns towards the pair and for a brief moment the harmonic equilibrium teeters upon some invisible wire before she returns her gaze to her life.

Above them, like great celestial monuments paying homage to a supreme and divine deity are the pagodas of old, relics of a past civilization rising up amongst the trees and the farms and the villages. A collision of time between the old and the new and the dead and the living. This is a land where yesterday and tomorrow and today cease to exist and years wither and millennium trickle by as present and past become one. Evident in the mother and the daughter and the ramshackle houses and the cruelness of life that isn’t cruel but is cold and impartial and merciless and abides without hesitation by the laws of nature.   

These temples ripple in the diaphanous light like sheets of silk set against the deep green of the rolling hills as they crumble slowly in somber silence as generation after generation takes comfort in their immutability. Even nature refuses to reclaim them as they stand doomed to witness the fallacies and suffering of man for eternity and watch and sigh and one day outlive even their makers. A life sentence that they themselves must bare alone and not even adornment with the golden idols of the farmers can alleviate this tremendous weight. They appear impartial to the presence of these travelers and merely continue their torpid watch, consigned to their fate.

To both the son and the father, the meditative silence is their world. They focus on nothing and contemplate everything as a thousand thoughts burn and disappear like some cosmic fire casting its mighty glow into the cavernous night. They walk in a languorous peacefulness alongside their distorted shadows, content to behold without disturbing, to think without saying, to wander without direction.

The father’s camera shutter snaps repeatedly as he works to capture what he is experiencing. Ultimately impossible, like the futility of black and white photos trying to preserve a world of brilliant color. They progress along the path past the glow of the cooking fires and the dilapidated houses and a great beast of burden that shifts his muscled neck and polished horns and stares at them with deep black pools of tranquility. He guards the ascent up the hill but his interest is elsewhere as he labors in his endless cycle of food and work, grass and plow, neither consenting to nor resisting his purpose but existing purely in apathetic placidity. They climb methodically.

At the top of the hill they look out, the landscape laid before them like the profound answer to a question both of them have already asked. They stand shoulder to shoulder as the golds and blues and purples of the light wash over them. The sun sits motionless in the sky, content in its contradictions, transfixed yet in motion, timeless yet impermanent. They dare not speak for no words can capture this moment, no human construct can fully appreciate the experience. After a brief moment they resolutely turn, take a step, and with one final glance outwards, begin once more the long journey.

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