Washington

The foal is feeding from its mother on the grassy strip between the two lanes of coast road. In the strange wash of the high arc lights their white coats are glowing in the gloom. Washington and I emerge from the darkness of the chewed-up beach path to find them there, framed by overhanging branches. The other horses are scattered up and down the road, along the verges, muzzles buried in the foliage. Earlier we’d seen them passing down the shore, in an ambling disagreement with a pack of local dogs, until they passed from view around the turn.

The suckling sounds the foal makes come clearly through the late-night quiet. It twists its head beneath the mother’s belly, dark stripes of mane shading the serpentine column of its neck. The mare stands easy and crops the grass between her feet, her teeth clip-clopping like hooves. Nothing else moves, this hour of the night left to strays of every species. Down the road another horse lies down, folding itself up like a highway map.

Eventually the mare pulls free and wanders off, the foal in the other direction. Washington approaches it gingerly, splaying his feet flat on the blacktop in a bid for silence. When he steps onto the grass the two are in the same arena. The foal watches, unsure. Washington stays slow on the approach, bridging the distance with one hand held out ahead.

As the gap closes the foal pulls back, then forward as Washington stays still. It leans its long neck out, nostrils quivering over his hand, then up his arm to the elbow, then back down. It pulls back for a moment to consider, then reaches out again and slowly, deliberately, takes hold of one of his fingers, rolling it gently back and forth between its big square teeth, before holding it still.

They stand like this for a good long moment, suspended in the half light, solemnly regarding one another, until finally a passing motorbike blats the moment from existence. The horse lets go and turns away; Washington stands like a lovestruck boy whose one dance has finished. As our road disappears into plantation darkness on the highway’s far side, the horses’ pale gleams are still visible ghosting between trees. “I should have tried to ride one,” he says wistfully.

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