DENG                                                                              泡腾片

等人,                                                                                        泡腾片坠入杯底,闭上了嘴巴,开始编织无尽的白花

感觉是泡在一锅九宫格的辣水                                   白花带出水汽,从圆满变为碎片,从碎片散为乌有,分裂

夜幕淡化了通讯                                                                       出整杯幸福




We, us, ourselves                                                                             两句

Hidden the enormous emptiness                                      碎落的长发,吟唱出逝去的萧索

The reason that caused the hole                                        褶皱的纸团,应合出迷失的羁绊

Is that

We had left our fragments in too many place

Lost to too many people

Who do not deserve our love


SPM Sides.jpg



Transfixed by Khushi Choudhary


Living in China has been quite the adventure. I am fascinated by every aspect of the culture, whether its taking part in the exuberant festivals or learning the complex language. Its four years now and going strong. I am able to make conversations with my friends in Mandarin, seen some amazing parts of the country. Here is an experience that has left an indelible impression on my mind.


Hope you enjoy it.


Day one; 8:52pm

surrounded by lush green trees that hide markets and eateries

The warm breath of the fire covers me like a blanket and I stand transfixed by the orange-red-yellow of the flames. As if standing in the midst of a watercolor painting, I see the contrast of small colorless droplets freckling the faces of the people preparing for the celebration.

A silvery soft-spoken voice breaks me out of my reverie, “The festival is the best part, no?”

I sink my trainers deep into the watery mud to turn to the elderly lady. I nod enthusiastically, after the intense journey, the serenity of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau is rewarding. The rhythmic bump bump of the copper drum and the pleasant whine of the Lusheng invites locals to come out  of their hillside dwellings and dance, sing and be happy. The dark blue of the night envelops us and we all forget where we were in the morning. I forget the luggage lugging and the squabbles with my best friends - travel buddies.  Instead, they invite me to join them on stage and dance a little, an indication that the rest of the trip is going to be just as intriguing (they usually do not invite anyone on stage).

And sure enough, it is.

We trek to a spot that is just below the ridge of the mountain, to find our very interestingly shaped house. The locals introduce it as the "tongue-mouth-shaped" single-story house and it’s charming. The house is surrounded by an abundance of bamboo and trees. Further over the horizon, there are several more houses organized in a horseshoe pattern. Surrounding the houses, is a small stream that meanders it’s way through the nearby forest. I rummage around in my pocket to find our keys and we spot a little figure trotting down the street. She waves, “Are you joining us for the celebration dinner tomorrow”? 

An audible squeak of excitement can be heard from my roommate Jen, “That’d be great!” The lady introduces herself as Mrs. Wen and we wave to her as she walks back down the street. Rushing into the bedrooms like little kids, we claim our respective beds and Jen starts off in a flurry, rambling on about the facts she’s learnt from the small travel book we picked up on the duty free shop at the airport…

“I was thinking we could grab one of the necklaces or bracelets or earrings that they make here”, she sucks in a quick breath to continue in an even faster rush of words, “we won’t be able to find them outside the community.

“That’d be wonderfu-“

“Oh, also, we have to take part in the tour around the village with a guide, I was thinking tomorrow morning?”. Before I can even begin to formulate a reply, she’s sitting at the mahogany work table scribbling furiously on a small notepad. 

“What about going to see the dragon boat regatta? It’s very popular at this time of year, definitely not a drag-on.”

She levels me with a mock glare of disappointment coupled with a smile at the bad joke and as there is no shortage of attractions to see, we finalize a schedule that could offer a cornucopia of joy.




Day two; 6:59pm

rush of water, bubbles and slashes at the sides of the canoe

The exquisitely carved dragon head is carried down to the river and it’s horns are painted with words of luck that wish prosperity to the people. The dragon’s piercing red eyes are a beacon of glory, they practically scream victory, staring determinedly ahead, chin held high, it says we’re unstoppable.

“There comes Zhen, he’s the one without the bamboo hat, in the centre” Ms.Wen comments animatedly.

“Who is he?”

“He’s the most esteemed member of our village, therefore, he leads the pomp and ceremony. He also carefully returns the head of the dragon with reverence as it is a sacred object.”

Anticipation is thick in the air, inhaled by the onlookers who are itching to snap a picture with their cameras. The local team with golden bamboo hats, blue trousers and purple jackets are the center of the spectacle.

Zhen holds up a hand to demand attention and the neatly dressed men and women accompany him by clanging boldly on their large drums. The chatter stops immediately and all eyes swerve to the teams lined up at the shore. Tension is palpable as the most awaited race begins.

My heartbeat follows the rapid rhythm that the drums are playing and the rhythmic swish of each member propels the boats further into water. There’s crack after crack as the oars pierce the water in sync with the directions shouted by the team leaders.

It seems that the screams of the spectators encourage the dragon to become agile as a fish to swim even faster. The pounding of the drums sound like roaring thunder.  The boats are half way-

almost there-

in three-


one, and the crowd erupts in celebration; the carefree children gather at the edge of the lake to hop with joy and families hug in content. Even louder than the drums, are the spectacular explosion of colors that fan out over the night sky.




Day two; 10:03pm

arguably the best part, (according to us, foodies), the feast should not, ever, be missed

“I am never leaving this table.” Jen adores the delicacies prepared by the locals and I fully concur with staying put in the company of the sour and spicy dishes. They greet us with genuine smiles and insist on serving us rice wine before the commencement of the long table feast. There is at least forty seated at this grand wooden dining table, a pleasant chatter accompanies the clinking of the cutlery.

We engage in conversation with the chefs while they carry the steamy pots to our table. These beautiful young women dressed up in blue bandanas and long skirts titter feverishly at the prospect of sharing their culinary skills.

A lady with fine black hair introduces herself as Lim, “The whitest is snow, the sweetest is candy and the most delicious is Sour Fish Soup. You have got to try the highlight of the Miao cuisine.” The soup consists of fresh carps raised from nearby rice fields that are boiled in a spicy chilli sauce, the aroma is frankly intoxicating. “It’s generally served in a hotpot which means it’s accompanied by tofu, noodles and more.”

A slightly younger lady brings along a large vessel carrying fragrant and vibrantly colored rice, “My name is Huan, this dish is called Five-Color Glutinous Rice. It’s made from the colors of petals and fruits and dyed onto creamy white rice. It’s quite healthy and appealing to look at.”

Lim interjects politely to say, “We usually eat it at weddings or Valentine’s Day but it can be enjoyed at any time. Men and women work at the mountain slopes to grow the dry rice. We also grow maize for animal feed and fruits such as oranges and papayas. ”

The last serving is a tray not filled with food but with intricate silver jewelry. “Miao communities like ours specialize in craftsmanship of silver. We believe that the auspicious patterns can ward evil forces away.” The jewels twinkle and beckon us closer, laid out on a royal blue cloth, they resemble stars that gleam. Whether it’s to remember the affable natives or to uncover the secrets of the culture, I’d recommend getting one of these as they truly let you celebrate the memories.




Day three; 1:05pm

a most interesting conversation with our tour guide in the rice fields

The sun shines bright, though lying down on the cool grass provides solace. The loudspeaker that the tour guide carries is blaring out a command to come back to the bus. We don’t want to, the comfort of grass, after an eventful hike around the village, is heaven.

Rows of tall dank trees act as the protector of this little patch of grass which then, further stretch to glacial blue-white mountains. Little pieces of white fluff are drifted around with the breeze and the yellow-orange hue that the sun gives off makes the beauty unworldly. Little children frolic down the path, carrying crops to their families and helping out in the daily harvest.

“When preparing for the festivals and feasts, all ages in the family are requested to help out.”

Mr. Wang pauses to scan his calculating eyes over the audience. He scrutinizes to see if he has everyone’s attention (which he does), the Miao people’s tales of folklore that he retells captivates us all. 

“It is tradition. Much like the religion that is drilled into the mind of the people at a very young age. The Miao believe that a supernatural power in everything around them decides their fate.”

A little boy with raven curly hair pipes up from the back, “What does that entail? Does everything mean all living things?”

Mr. Wang answers, “They are animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers. They have a number of different customs and superstitions for everything. For example, they believe Miao spirits, known as tlan, are thought to live in high concentrations in places like sacred groves, caves, stones, wells and bridges. Another one would be that the Shaman in the village are generally called upon on to cure illnesses by bringing back lost souls.”

“Several rituals are carried out at festivals where they don special clothes to recite rites and employ chants, prayers and songs that they have memorized. In these festivals, the people usually sacrifice animals to help sick relatives and assure that good tlan (spirits) watch over their children.”

Mr.Wang gathers us all to say our goodbyes as the tour has come to a close. People disperse and climb back into the bus but I look back forlornly.




These moments spent with the Miao people makes the trip worth it. They are simple people who take pride in their culture. They can only bring smiles to your face and make you forget your troubles in the busy lifestyle of the metropolis.


I am Amina Beg, recently turned 16, studying at Dulwich College Beijing. I love theatre and fiction-writing. I strongly believe that with drama, this imagination that you live in becomes a platform for your voice and ideas. This world that is created for you, is a place for you to choose who you would want to be, if you really dare to.




1st July 2011

Dear Isis,

You were named after the Egyptian Goddess whose duty was to look after the sky. You were supposed to be the Goddess of Health. Yet you had the duty to look after us. The duty to be the Goddess of Marriage. You had the duty to keep the peace.

But now…Isis, that peace is gone, because Ama and Aba keep on fighting. Before they acted as if they were strangers, but now they are always at each other’s throats. Complaining about whose fault it was. Picking rows about their family in-laws. But things have died down now; they’ve become more dry.

I wish you were still here, Isis.

I’m writing to you because… I want to apologise for hurting you, without noticing. I’m sorry for calling you a hassle to deal with. But the problem was me, Isis. I was the one losing my patience. I was the one cursing you for the slightest mistakes that I created.

I’m so sorry…and I want you to know that. I know it will be a long time till I’ll receive your letter.


Salma Bakir




1st July 2011

“How is she doing?” I heard Ama ask on the phone. We were visiting my paternal grandparents, Dada and Dadi plus Aba’s side of the family for the summer. But at that moment we were staying in an Airbnb, since Ama didn’t feel very welcome in Aba’s parents’ house, “Yes, yes, okay, okay that’s good,” Ama replied hurriedly, focusing onto something else, playing with a loose thread on her baggy shirt. “Thanks again for looking after her, Samara, bye!” Her forced smile instantly dropped. The conversation was very brief. Ama put down the phone and returned to her work.

Samara, our housekeeper, would message Ama like this every morning to inform her how Isis was doing. A week before we left for our summer holiday, her ear had started bleeding uncontrollably. We took her to the doctors for a check-up, and it was pronounced to be an ear infection. We didn’t want it to get worse while travelling, so we kept her at home with Samara.

The doctor prescribed her medicine to clear up the infection. The nurse had swabbed around the outside and a little into the inside. I was there as her ear was smothered by the disinfectant. Her shoulders looked as if they were pulled backwards abruptly. It was burning her, the medicine. I remembered her hiss of pain as the medicine was cleaning up the infection. Her shoulders had then hunched over as if they were trying to fold in onto herself. Her eyes shot up with anxiety shown through her dilated pupils. They gave her the injection later, it was written four weeks’ worth of steroids placed into this tube, since Ama, Aba and I wouldn’t be there, because Salma wouldn’t be able to give Isis the medicine because Isis would want to run away from her. She only trusted certain people.

I could see the agony written over her face. Her eyes were screwed shut, every muscle tensed and poised to flee. As the nurse started to move the thin, barely visible needle, near Isis’s shoulder for the injection, she fell silent.

She seemed to be getting better in the days that followed, but was still too weak to come with us. She was quiet, and slept fitfully. I boarded my flight with a promise of coming back for her. She watched us go with a strange look in her eye.

Samara dutifully called us every morning, telling us that she was eating alright, but sleeping more than usual. Ama and Aba had simply waved it off as side effects, and we gave it no more thought. Even though Samara said she was fine, it didn’t feel right to leave Isis alone like that. She was hurting, but had no way of telling us, not when we were half a world away, and when Samara would only be there for a few hours each day.

But they kept on continuing. Shouting at each other, yelling furiously. The phone kept vibrating more frequently with Samara’s texts as their argument had escalated. It was as if this had grown as part of their background, words, just thrown away. Samara was probably just writing how Isis was sleeping too much, but this could have just been caused by the steroids. I tried breaking up Ama and Aba’s argument, telling them that they were acting like children. That they should just grow up and cut it out. But they ignored me. They were better off with a divorce.

Then I stopped and realised, Samara’s texts.

They were too into their own minds, complaining about how mistreated each one of feels in their in-laws’ homes. They were too wrapped into their own argument, it was as if they didn’t have time or space for her. I quickly scrolled up, reading the messages that were sent forty minutes ago: “Isis not touching food/water.”

It was probably the medicine overpowering her. I immediatley replied to Samara, panic rising in both of us. Our messages were short. Rushed. Quick. I sent her the address to the hospital because we forgot to give it to her. Ama and Aba were oblivious to it all. They were constantly murdering each other. It wasn’t fair though, because Aba didn’t really have a choice. It was his family manipulating Ama, controlling her. Just because she’s a woman, Dadi thinks it’s alright to play with her.

Samara had told me she had clenched onto Isis, wrapping her up with her favourite rose-pink towel that Ama gave her to her when she was little. Ama and Aba’s bickering had started to blur out.

Finding a taxi to get to the hospital was difficult, Samara said, because they were mostly occupied. The clock was ticking. Samara was sprinting for her life, rushing out with her ragged breaths, broken up, it was as if her own life was on the line. Every breath was counting.

Finally, Samara got into the cab carrying Isis’s limp body with her. As soon as they reached the clinic, Samara’s feet were pounding against the ground so hard, it was as if Samara’s feet were digging into the concrete, her arms were shaking in fear. Then she had reached the doctors.

Samara told us, that Isis had curled up in her lap. When they had seen the doctor, he checked her heart rate. Samara paused. The doctor paused. Time froze for a few moments and the entire world waited. The doctor made eye contact with Samara. She breathed heavily. She didn’t want to show her eyes that were filled with panic. The doctor looked up at her strangely.

“I’m afraid Isis passed away not too long ago… in her sleep,” he stated.

Samara didn’t speak. She looked at her and stared.

The doctor didn’t want to show it. It was his job to reassure Samara. His eyes told a different story though. It all seemed too overwhelming to understand. He looked at her, blaming Samara for not bringing her sooner. Then I thought, it looked as if we neglected her.

Then I paused. If only I didn’t ignore the phone… would she have had ended up this way?

But he… he prescribed those meds. He told us to that those steroids would look after her. He lied to us, he said they would save her. But they didn’t. They didn’t help her. They made her feel worse. They murdered her…. and so did I … I shouldn’t have interfered with Ama and Aba. I should have just left them, it’s not as if they were going to heal overnight. When I told Ama and Aba, tears were dripping, sliding down our cheeks. I tried fighting them. But fighting just seemed too hard. I hated it when people would cry, it’s a place for people who are weak and can’t bottle up their emotions. I looked up.

I looked up at the mirror and took a good look at myself. Who was I to question? I could see blood-shot eyes, a throbbing throat becoming so sore, so rigid, where I couldn’t feel my nerves anymore. Then I figured it all out, she had died alone. At home.

But I guess he was right at the same time, that inexperienced doctor, because we weren’t there. We just left her on her own. For the first time, only Samara checking up on her, once a day. How careless were we. Maybe she was just lonely. Or maybe it was just the scorching heat of July. The flat’s insulation had just tested her survival.

I wish I had paid more attention. It was Samara’s fault as well, she would come in for an hour in the day and leave, she could have seen that something was up. She wasn’t clear. Then it hit me… those drugs that they prescribed. She had had a reaction; they were burning her, those steroids. The anger damaged our souls so hard, curses were thrown around with our wasteful voices, because they, we…had murdered her.



3rd of July 2011

They wrapped you up in linens and I marvelled at the irony of the situation.  I guess you seemed like a mummy. The funny thing here is, you’re here with me—I’m holding you in my arms, even though you’re at home, in the sky. 

You went back to heaven, where you belonged. I drove you up to the woods, to get away from everything, and get away from how superficial our societyis, and how unfairly things work out, or how we blindly assume that everything will be alright, when in actual fact, reality turns against us.

I wanted to move away from the roars of Ama and Aba. They’ve gotten worse with their fights now, because now you’re gone. We’ve lost you, Isis. They keep on blaming each other for whose fault it was, for not picking up the phone earlier. We lost the one that tied us all together, the one that kept us as a family. We’ve lost the peace at home.  

I headed towards the pond. It was the place where I would go when I couldn’t deal with it all. School. Stress. Our sick world. The pond was refracting light from the sun. I could see my reflection in it. I looked at it, it was as if I was the dead one walking. Beside it, I bent down, looking at you. Your fragile face filled with sorrow. Rich emerald leaves laid beneath you, surrounding your body. I looked at your body. It was still. Senseless. I placed you gently onto the ground. Then I placed an envelope with a letter inside it. Marked on the back, Here lies Isis Bakir, born in 2000 – 2011, One Who Kept The Peace. I covered you up with layers of leaves and twigs. The sun was moving ahead of us. Sunset was coming. I looked at you for the last time. The tree’s shadow had covered your body. Light was gone. Then I knew you had already escaped this world.

As I got home, Samara was waiting for me outside the flat. Before I unlocked the door, she placed the house keys into my palm, without even saying a word. I opened the door, and the flat felt so empty, despite the clutter. It was as if everything was gone. Then I looked towards the chair that you would sit on, Isis, while you would wait for us to come home. I looked at it, the chair, and I studied it. You had a good heart Isis, and that’s what hurts us the most. Now I’m waiting.

With all my love,

Salma Bakir




I am a Year 10 student currently studying in Harrow International School Beijing. I am very passionate about films, music and literature. I enjoy creative writing because I believe it allows me to explore new worlds, which always extend indefinitely. To me, a good story remains forever intriguing.





他很难辨别说话人的声音。“没错,这是。我可否问问您是?”没有回答。他在座椅上倾身向前,把电话放得更近些。为了确认电话是否断了线,他以一种尊重的试探性语气重复了几遍 “喂”。












































































He did not intend to stay in Preston for any longer after Christmas. It was indeed the notable dampness in the air that was bothering him all along a lingering source of annoyance which he never seemed to get accustomed to. The plan of leaving was elaborately arranged and therefore was by no means a decision made on a sudden impulse, for he had organised all the matters in a rather artfully way for the past two weeks. However, just as he spent the very last morning at the station in a sense of pure relief, an incoming call disturbed the tranquility.

Hello? Is this Mr. Rowsell?

He could scarcely recognised that voice. Yes, this is. May I ask whos talking? There was no response. He leaned forward in the seat, trying to place the phone closer. To confirm whether the connection had just broken, he repeated the word Hello a few times in a respectfully tentative manner.

Excuse me for saying this, but could you put Mr. Rowsell himself on the phone, please? Or is he not there?

This is him talking to you, said he in a slightly jesting tone. Whats the matter?

Well, listen Im not expecting any joke on this, so whoever you are

The dialogue terminated as he hung up almost without hesitation. He wasnt in the mood of participating in an absurd debate, which would undoubtedly ruin this graceful beginning of the day and possibly all the rest.

My lack of concern towards the likelihood of the person being someone so significant that could change my status in the blink of an eye had deprived me of all the sensible insights and awarenesses – in other words, losing the perspectives that could as well have developed a means to achieve what was once beyond my reach was a dear price to pay. I sure was in sheer ignorance about the repercussions of an error in judgment.


The light was blinding. Till that moment, there wasn’t a sign of me waking from the peculiar state that was only adopted to distinguish the lines, the words, from the blankness of the surroundings. And as I slowly looked up, she was standing there with a mild smile and a gleam of geniality in her eyes. Yes, Camus, she had got it right. I nodded without saying a word.

She deftly sat down on the seat opposite me, near the aisle. “You’re studying philosophy?”

Apparently I wasn’t. I shook my head, attempting to bring myself back to the reading.

“It’s odd – I see you more clearly than I have ever seen anyone. But I can’t hear you, and it’s hard for me to believe that you really exist.”

I lifted my gaze from the book.

“So you’re the one who’s actually studying it.”

“That depends...”

“…On how you define ‘study’?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“To me, that means nothing but a vapid and insincere modesty.”

A brief pause.

“You’ve said you don’t study philosophy. And that’s why – instead of emphasizing how well I know about L'Étranger, I put the existing set of theories aside and try to talk about it with you as a common reader.”

“Well. Have I? All of that is built on the assumption that you and I are defining a word exactly the same way. How’s that even possible?”

“Alright, very unlikely indeed,” she shrugged. “How do you think of solipsism?”

“It’s merely an escape from reality.”

“Is reading not, then?”

I frowned: “You’re taking it out of context. I read to know things, and that’s all. I suppose there are quite a few differences between us on this.” There, I had drawn the lines, as it came to me that every remark she’s made lay subtly between amicability and manipulation. Something was gripping me by the throat – an obscure tension that I had unintentionally picked up throughout the conversation, perhaps.

Awaiting the arrival of a dining car had made me become restless. But I wasn’t hungry; I wanted a cup of coffee only because it would distract me from boredom. The old lady sitting next to me was flicking idly through a newspaper with rhetoric headlines, a tiny pair of reading glasses on the end of her nose – I wondered what was keeping her from falling asleep. A low humming sound was firmly embedded in my head, and I realised that my palms had never stopped sweating for the past two and a half hours in the boiling carriage.

I hadn’t talk to the woman for a while, but she showed no sign of moving away from the seat. I was unsure whether she had come to me just to share a few words about the content of L'Étranger, which, as I recalled, wasn’t in fact particularly meaningful. Too many discomforting asking-in-replies. Unlike the usual chat featuring burdensome family affairs, exaggerated personal experiences and other trivial matters between people who met only briefly on the road, she and I had barely understood each other. Her destination remained a mystery to me, and vice versa. I figured that she wasn’t quite fond of either telling or listening to stories.

As soon as I came out of the service carriage, it became dark all around. I made my way back cautiously with the filled paper cup in one hand. The woman was gone, so were most of the rest. The change had made the place so much quieter that the ticking of every watch clinging to every wrist were clear and distinguishable. And the very few people, including myself, were sitting very far apart from one another. The silence chilled me. The image that popped up in my mind were faces with looks of despair, or, more likely, with no expressions at all, for they had realised that their sorrows were beyond expressions or words, and were therefore lapsing into deeper depression. No one feigning a muffled cough, no one stamping feet lightly, no one willing to tidy up or shift any odds and ends that had been left casually on the table. The scene was in fact the total contrary of that of the service carriage, where everyone was so busy weaving in and out of the crowd and had hardly any time to talk. How unbelievable! Leaving the astonishments aside, I felt as though the oppressiveness, like raindrops falling to the ground during a heavy rainstorm, was suppressing me with an irresistible force. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I slapped the cup on the table and opened L'Étranger, but what came into view weren’t the words, instead, it was something else – lying between the pages calmly and neatly, as if it had never belonged here, was a brownish-green Gingko leaf.

It was in the split second when I dropped the telephone, that it dawned to me that I had known so little about everything, that they wouldn’t even grant me the rights of looking back into a past of my own. I must admit that they had done it almost flawlessly with misleading lies and despicable tricks, and so far, had got away with all the responsibilities. The distinction between ignorance and disguise was always clear; and it wasn’t merely by instinct, that I knew they were holding it back from me.

As I held L'Étranger open in my hands, the pages began flipping back and forth wildly – I must have had unwittingly left the windows open, which then let the cold breezes and scattered noises of traffic slip in. The leaf now was resting soundlessly on a piece of paper in front of me, for I did not dare to lose it from my sight, and that I was reluctant to divert myself from everything I believed it would lead me to – who the woman was, how I came to know her, and how I came to forget her. The branches and tendrils of time had entangled me. All I did have was nothing else but this tiny, decaying leaf; I had no other choices but to assume its existence allusive, and therefore to start from it, but it was for sure that only after a few days it would fall into insignificant fragments – yet there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Then, how might I start? Night-time was almost upon me – I saw it – that the lights were no brighter but rather grew dimmer and dimmer, as if they were counting down for the absolute darkness that followed. I felt the walls shrinking that I could scarcely breathe! How might I start – in this black and cold void, in the propagating perplexities, in the deformed soul of mine – how might I start!

Awakened by a heavy thud that seemed to come from above, I found myself filled with an unprovoked fervour for a comprehensive retrieval. I yanked open the drawer, and there they were, the photo albums in scarlet coloured leather jackets, stacked neatly in a pile of four. I placed them close to each other in front of me with extreme care as though they were fine porcelain – I couldn’t find the heart to treat them roughly.

I began looking through it at a reasonable speed. There was myself, of course, standing beside a tremendous statue with a look of bewilderment passing over my face, or sitting cross-legged in a tent that seemed to have been set up wrongly. And there were the others, father, Edmund, Clara, friends from the college and the strangers who showed up at the parade of Manchester in impressive ways.

As I turned the page faster and faster without even knowing it, a tide of dizziness overpowered me. I halted. I could see nothing but darkness. I took a deep breath and held it for long, believing that the act would drive away the vertigo that eroded my sight. As ever, it worked. And, just when I started on the last album, an unusual photo caught my eye – half-length, the figure of a woman dressed in black stood out well from the plain background. However, curiously, the upper half of the photo was stained by a piece of blue paint, and it just happened to be big enough to cover her whole face like an opaque veil.

I must had been too naïve to expect any clue from this, from the things that were left behind. This was their way of winning – erase, erase, and erase again. It was not until I came up to the old tree that I found it mutilated by a fire, with the incendiaries turning into the innocents, and the only witness of the truth was now getting hopelessly lost in time. Of course, the little evidence remained wouldn’t allow my further investigation – no one would trust an outsider who was profoundly convinced that he had known a woman who was now a stranger to him, and it was his distant relatives who were also the only ones left in the family, that were attempting to remove her existence from his memory. The paint could never be cleaned and the truth would never be told; the path that lay in front of me was blocked, as it always would be. I had to leave before it burnt me from the inside out.

I put on a long coat and headed towards the station. It wouldn’t take me long to walk, but with all the luggage, taking a taxi seemed a wiser choice. It had been a while since the last time the picture of the town unfolded before my eyes – the compact, bright-coloured buildings on the sides of the street, the silhouette of the cross on top of the church, people jogging along the roads with their long-haired terriers. It would always be in a harmony no matter with or without my presence.

When I reached the platform, the crowd was rolling in all directions. ‘A reckless rush’, the phrase emerged out of nowhere in my mind with an extraordinary clarity. Of course, not all of them were necessarily in such a state, some of them were acting this way solely because something about them needed to be concealed – solitude, weariness, or possibly a regretful past. It seemed that everyone had things worth concealing. Why was I there? Why was I struggling amongst those who suffered from solitude, weariness, or a past they didn’t wish to bring up? Had I been suffering with them and everyone else, I might as well forget a little less.

I saw her at the moment when I thought seeing her again would be the most unlikely thing that ever happened.

And when I did, the voice inside my head grew louder and louder that was almost deafening. I knew her. I knew her. I knew her. That was all I knew – I must had been so foolish to let go of this, to make up my mind running away from everything. I saw it – an oasis on this boundless desert, in the bustling mess, awaiting to be revealed and therefore bring it all back at once. I dared not blink; my heart fluttered violently as I grasped my coat and fought my way through droves of people wandering around pointlessly. Mirages. With a great rumble the tree had been torn into half, and it stung me so vigorously that it then went into my ears and kept vibrating like mad, or it might be earth itself trembling. The waves that stood between us glittered and shuffled, and for an instant it seemed that she and I and everyone else had all been devoured and then thrown into a sea of nothingness. Mirages. I had lost her, or maybe I hadn’t – for she might never have been there at all. Mirages. Mere mirages!

Moonlight poured in through the window when I sat down and opened L'Étranger once again. I couldn’t step aboard, after all – too many things had been pulling me back. But nothing had changed, I was still here, alone and stranded, with a yearn to unravel an obscurity even if I felt it collapsing through time. Was there still a branch of the tree left to be discovered? Was there even a hope of it sprouting into a brand new life?

I went down and it soon became a dull stroll along the lake gravel. Most of the very few walkers I came across were submerged in heavy coats, trotting in smooth and steady paces.

“Do I know you?”

Something flashed across the wrinkled face. Silence only lasted for a second.

“Well,” he smiled, “I don’t think so.”

He was right, and I had always been wrong. Now I had finally understood where it all started, and where it should end.

I opened the book, and there it lay, the ruthless golden creature – surprisingly still intact. This was the end, I thought, if there was no turning back from where I stood, then I must find the way ahead.

Water riffled gently. Not a trace.