This was the part of the court buildings I loved most. I would often come here to sit, to think through the legal problems of a judgment I was writing. Few of the judges ever came here and I usually had the place all to myself. Sometimes, if Karim, the gardener, happened to be working, I would speak with him for a short while, giving him advice on what to plant and what ought to be taken out. This evening I was alone.
The sprinklers came on, releasing the smell of the sun-roasted grass into the air. The leaves discarded by the guava tree in the center of the garden had been raked into a pile. Behind the courts, the Gombak and Klang rivers plaited together, silting the air with the smell of earth scoured from the mountains in the Titiwangsa range up north. Most people in Kuala Lumpur couldn't bear the stench, especially when the river was running low between the monsoon seasons, but I had never minded that, in the heart of the city, I could smell the mountains over a hundred miles away.
I sat down on my usual bench and opened my senses to the stillness settling over the building, becoming a part of it.
After a while I stood up. There was something missing from the garden. Walking over to the mound of leaves, I grabbed a few handfuls and scattered them randomly over the lawn. Brushing off the bits of leaves sticking to my hands, I stepped away from the grass. Yes, it looked better now. Much better.
Swallows swooped from their nests in the eaves, the tips of their wings brushing past my head. I thought of a limestone cave I had once been to, high in the mountains. Carrying my briefcase and the watercolor, I walked out of the courtyard. In the sky above me, the last line of prayer from the mosque drifted away, leaving only silence where its echo had been.
Yugiri lay seven miles west of Tanah Rata, the second of the three main villages on the road going up to Cameron Highlands. I arrived there after a four-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. I was in no hurry, stopping at various places along the way. Every few miles I would pass a roadside stall selling cloudy bottles of wild honey and blowpipes and bunches of foul-smelling petai beans. The road had been widened considerably since I last used it, the sharper turns smoothed out, but there were too many cars and tour buses, too many incontinent lorries leaking gravel and cement as they made their way to another construction site in the highlands.
It was the last week of September, the rainy season hovering around the mountains. Entering Tanah Rata, the sight of the former Royal Army Hospital standing on a steep rise filled me with a sense of familiar disquiet; Frederik had told me some time ago that it was now a school. A new hotel, with the inevitable mock-Tudor facade, towered behind it. Tanah Rata was no longer a village but a little town, its main street taken over by steamboat restaurants and tour agencies and souvenir shops. I was glad to leave them all behind me.
The guard was closing the wrought iron gates of Majuba Tea Estate when I drove past. I kept to the main road for half a mile before realizing that I had missed the turn-off to Yugiri. Annoyed with myself, I swung the car around, driving more slowly until I found the turning, hidden by advertisement boards. The laterite road ended a few minutes later at Yugiri's entrance. A Land Rover was parked by the roadside. I stopped my car next to it and got out, kicking the stiffness from my legs.
The high wall protecting the garden was patched in moss and old water stains. Ferns grew from the cracks. Set into the wall was a door. Nailed by the doorpost was a wooden plaque, a pair of Japanese ideograms burned into it. Below these words was the garden's name in English: EVENING MISTS. I felt I was about to enter a place that existed only in the overlapping of air and water, light and time. Looking above the top of the wall, my eyes followed the uneven tree line of the ridge rising behind the garden. I found the wooden viewing tower half-hidden in the trees, like the crow's nest of a galleon that had foundered among the branches, trapped by a tide of leaves. A path threaded up into the mountains and for a few moments I stared at it, as if I might glimpse Aritomo walking home. Shaking my head, I pushed the door open, entered the garden and closed it behind me.
Excerpted from The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Copyright © 2012 by Tan Twan Eng. Excerpted by permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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