(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
I sat at the table in the little cafe, watching the
rain dance on the pavement outside, beading the window and turning the tall
grey buildings misty and indefinite. The clouds were so low overhead and so
grey that the buildings vanished into them, and the effect was as though it was
raining inside an immense grey hall. It made me glad to be indoors. I do not
enjoy this weather.
I noticed the man at once, walking hunched over under an umbrella towards the
cafe. He was the only pedestrian Iíd seen yet after Iíd left my vehicle and
trotted to the cafe through the rain.
I watched him all the way, until he passed my window and went round towards the
door. I sipped my drink, taking a quick look at him as he entered. By the time
he had folded his umbrella and put it in the stand, Iíd turned back to the window,
and watching him in the reflection on the pane.
He was probably not past forty-five, but he looked much older. There was a
tired look about him which I sensed right across the cafe, and his shoulders
were stooping. I watched him in the window as he looked at me, glanced away,
and walked to the centre of the cafe, looking around. There were no other
customers, and in the end he finally turned back to me. I sipped my drink as I
watched him come up, in reflection, until he was standing on the other side of
my table. Then I put down the glass and looked up at him in polite enquiry.
He cleared his throat and started to back away. "Iím sorry," he said. "I must
have got the wrong person..."
"Probably not," I told him. "Youíre Mr..." I already knew his name, of course,
but he needed to say it.
"Kangas," he told me. "Henri Kangas."
"Yes." I indicated the chair opposite. "Why donít you sit down, Mr Kangas?"
"Youíre the one whoís supposed to meet me?" He sounded incredulous. His
deep-sunken eyes were scanning the cafe, as if hoping to see someone else who
might be more like his idea of a spacer. But there was only me.
"Yes," I repeated. "Iím Jamileh Rezazadeh." He blinked at the name. I tried to
see myself through his eyes: dark, square-jawed, with thick eyebrows and my big
Iranian nose, my hair covered by the headscarf I never normally wore. Some
perverted impulse had made me tie it over my hair today. "Iíve been expecting
you," I said.
"So," he said, and sat down. His hands were big and hairy, and he began
twisting them together on the table. "Iím not sure I want to do this."
"Nobody ever does, not completely," I said. "But itís your decision to make."
"Tell me again," he muttered, looking at me in flashes, glancing at my face and
away again, quickly. "First, tell me if youíre an agent for the ship people. I
thought I was to deal with them directly."
"No," I assured him, "Iím not an agent. In this business we donít use agents.
Iím a ship person, Mr Kangas; to be more precise, I am the ship person, a fully
"Then..." He didnít follow up on what he was about to say, but I knew what he
was thinking: that even though I looked about thirty, I was old, probably much
older than he was; and he was right. "Youíll be piloting the ship weíll be
leaving on? If," he added hastily, "we agree to leave on it, of course."
I didnít answer him directly. "Dawn," I said. "Thatís what we call it, Dawn,
though the official nameís something else. We call it Dawn because we think
itís a new dawn for the human race. Do you know what Dawn is like, Mr Kangas?
You probably have seen pictures and holograms, but you donít know what itís
like. Unless youíve been there, you canít."
I let the memories wash over me as I began to speak. "You should see the sun
come up on Dawn. Itís a red sun, huge and cooler than ours, but itís got
billions of years to go before it burns out. And on Dawn, when it rises, it
washes the sky with pinks and reds and oranges, like you canít imagine.
"I was once in a forest on Dawn at daybreak." I remembered the cool, drifting
mist, the thick rubbery vegetation, the bracing air. "I wasnít lost, but I was
pretending to be." It hadnít been hard, not then, because there was only the
one town on Dawn, right next to Port Cosmos, not counting the satellite
scientific stations. "I saw the sun come up from the top of a hill." I tried to
put in words what it had been like, the roseate glow that suffused the
atmosphere, and turned each drifting particle of mist into a tiny ruby. "And
thatís when I fell in love with the place.
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