The tiny beam of light from my phone bounces and skitters across the pavement as I walk. There’s been no internet or phone signal for 2 days now, some clumsy engineer has cut the cables that connect this West Auckland beach hamlet to the outside world. It’s something you get used to in Muriwai Beach, apparently, according to the locals. “Welcome to the West Coast” is a refrain delivered along with a wry smile . So here I am, making the hike up the hill to the road junction where I can pick up enough 3G to check e-mails.
Only the occasional rustic street lamp hums amongst the heavy canopy of palm branches above my head; the spaces in between their murky orange circles of light are inky black, too dark to see your hand in front of your face. When I step into these in-between shadows I feel as though I am invisible, as though I could be the only person in the world. It makes me think of the time there was a snow storm, and I walked alone the half a mile to the next village to my best friend’s house. The snow was everywhere, obscuring the fields and sky around me, obliterating the road beneath my feet. I walked suspended in white noise, the only sound my breath catching in the cold.
This feels like that, except that here, in the damp darkness of Muriwai, the white noise is black and there are lots of sounds in the blackness. The wind, rushing through the palm fronds. The clicking and rustling of small nocturnal things in the undergrowth. And to my right, through the forest, the booming muffled crash of the ocean.
I reach the road junction, and my phone springs to life as notifications flood the backlit screen, hollaring for attention into the night. I shoot off a couple of e-mails and make a quick call, overwhelmed by the sudden influx of voices into my silent day and shivering in the late autumn air. I wonder how it is that Autumn nights always carry the smell of bonfire, wherever I am in the world.
As soon as I take ten steps back down the road, the connection drops and my phone subsides again into silence. I am left with the darkness, the wavering torch light, the distant rumble of the ocean. I look up, and my step falters. I stop and stare with my head thrown right back, my eyes tracing the star trails of the galaxy above me. The nebula clouds of the Milky Way are clearly visible, studded with an impossibility of stars above the swaying shadows of the treeline. For a moment I hover there, suspended in the darkness, the only person in the world. And then I drop my head and walk on, home to a warm light in a window frame, and I silently thank that clumsy engineer for the reminder. It’s easy to forget to look up sometimes, when we spend all our time looking down at a screen.