Their heads ablaze and petals aglow under the glare of a sickly sun, the flowers of a wild daisy line a path that leads to the old railway line, now shorn of its tracks and all but smothered by a frenzy of tall herbs and grasshoppers, and into the mangroves of Mandai, where a short river feeds a swamp of rare trees and wintering birds. Though a transplant from a newer world, Bidens alba has found ample fans among native bees and butterflies that see no grounds for shunning a source of life and willingly sustain a trade of mutual gain.
Left to their own devices, the wildflowers and reeds would soon form a low wall of green, easily permeable by naked limbs were it not for a barrage of prickly stems, stubborn tendrils and stinging ants, between the road and the forest. One old man, however, wages a war of attention against this botanical horde, clearing its frontlines to create a generous buffer around a grassless square, barely visible to passing drivers, on which stands a shrine to one who preserves the world, the supreme master of time and space and omnipresent lord of ten avatars. Along with a tribute to an acolyte of latter days, the altar to Vishnu rests against a hut of three yellow walls, capped by roof of red and sheltered by the boughs of an old fig tree. Three fresh limes on the tips of a trident guard the abode, which displays all the signs and plastic tools of regular care and devoted maintenance. Near-toothless and in his late 70s, the man declared that he had little else to live for but to tend to this patch of holy ground that came into being some three decades ago. His wife, a lady from Dalian, had left him to run a lucrative business that oversees the lives of mainland migrants to Australia. Labouring alone and learning little of profit from the few who trespass this domain, he stuffed the cuttings into cardboard boxes, unwilling, as it were, to let the forces of nature, even when shorn and scattered, impinge on the land he mans and the life he has chosen for himself in a time when such gestures of faith earn neither invisible honour nor earthy reward.