Search and You Shall Find in My World

22 August 2011

We cast no shadow

It isn't quite true. Places all have their own characters, and returning to a city where you have lived before is like coming home to an old friend. But the people begin to look the same; the same faces recurring in cities a thousand miles apart, the same expressions. The flat, hostile stare of the official. The curious look of the peasant. The dull unsurprised faces of the tourists. The same lovers, mothers, beggars, cripples, vendors,joggers, children, policemen, taxi drivers, pimps. After a while one begins to feel slightly paranoid, as if these people were secretly following from one town to another, changing clothes and faces but remaining essentially unchanged, going about their dull business with half eye slyly cocked at us, the intruders. At first one feels a kind of superiority. We are a race apart, we the travelers. We have seen, experienced, so much more than they-content to run out their sad lives in an endless round of sleep-work-sleep, to tend their neat gardens, their identical suburban houses, their small dreams. We hold them a little in contempt. Then, after a while, comes envy. The first time it is almost funny: a sudden sharp sting that subsides nearly right away. A woman in a park, bending over a child in a pushchair, both faces lit by something that is not the sun. Then comes the second time, the third; two young people on the seafront, arms intertwined; a group of office girls on their lunch break, giggling over coffee and croissants... before long it is an almost constant ache. No, places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode after a time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many such casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.

Joanne Harris, Chocolat

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