One of my favourite sights from an airplane window is at night while flying low in preparation for touchdown. I see streetscapes with miniature houses, empty of any traffic or maybe with a solitary pair of headlamps driving slowly along, and tiny street lamps surrounded by faint golden orange pools of light quickly fading into the shadows. It looks so peaceful.
My recent doctor’s orders to take frequent walks around my neighbourhood were therefore the perfect excuse to immerse myself in this world.
I really should have done this before already.
The same street looks completely different at night. No traffic, no people pottering about the front garden or in the garage, hardly any sound except for the faint hiss of the motorway or the distant bark of a dog. Me, my footsteps, the streetlamps, the houses and the shadows.
The houses are fascinating. Their features are so much more evident when highlighted. Some are dark and brooding. Others have a faint light coming out the windows or outlining the curtains. You see flickering light from a TV screen. Some Belgians don’t bother with privacy at all and live out their evenings in full view of the street. Occasionally, I just have to look away, although thankfully it’s always perfectly harmless family fare that’s on show: having supper, playing Wii and so on. Ever so peaceful and quiet.
Never have I yet met a like-minded soul wandering the streets at night. The other day someone was walking his dog – a necessity, so it doesn’t really count. If it does happen one day that I encounter a fellow night street wanderer we’ll surely acknowledge each other’s like-mindedness with a “Bonsoir !” or “Goeden avonds!” I’ll let the other party choose the language first.
I hope to keep up these walks even after my rehabilitation is over. Soon enough the nights will be crisp and cold, I’ll be breathing out steam and maybe the pavement will be covered in snow. It will be even more silent. I’m certainly looking forward to that.
Later still, a few decades hence, every night between 9 and 10, a bearded ghost will be walking at a brisk pace through Tarwelaan, Haagwindelaan, Landbouwlaan, Weidelaan and Nieuwland in Overijse, Belgium. As ever, no one will notice it go by.