One summer, a summer which now seems to have passed by long ago, I slept and dreamt for the first time on the mainland. My brother and I were on a whistle-stop tour of all the major cities. On our last stop of several weeks, in a large and bustling city on the coast of the bluest sea I have ever seen, my brother and I decided to stay a while longer. We decided to stay for no particular reason. It was only that neither of us could bring ourselves to leave just yet. While there, we quickly fell into the routine of almost always eating at this same café: Café Gula–. I know there’s a letter missing at the end but it’s cut off in all the photographs I have from that time. We ate there so often because the food was always so good.
I remember the first time we stumbled across the place. It was late at night. The trees along the small, dimly lit residential side-streets were shaded indigo. We were in one or other of the city’s districts—I cannot remember which—looking for dinner somewhere. I’m sure we must have passed several perfectly good places along the way, but for some reason we kept searching. My brother was on his penny board, which changed colour from muddy grey to bright green and back again as he pedalled into and out of the sour casts of streetlamps. In actual fact, in daylight, the board was white. He was younger than I was.
After about an hour of wandering, my brother spotted a narrow alley that he said would be perfect for slaloming. On a slight downward slope, the alley was squeezed between two blocks of terraced houses. Short metal bollards were dotted in a line down the path’s centre. As he slalomed between them, shooting down the alley in a monochrome blur, his legs bent and arced rhythmically, almost violently, like I would imagine slender birches or flimsy, plastic coffee stirrers blown in a gale. I must have been running alongside him at the time, half hunched over to be level with his legs, because, as I see it now, the black metal bollards, which I know had only been waist-height, seem to fly above my head at lightning speed like dark motorway overpasses. Maybe I had been holding a camera and was bending down for the ultimate wide-angle action shot. Maybe not.
It was when we finally reached the bottom, my brother’s skateboard flicked into the air and swiftly caught in the sweaty pit beneath his arm, that we saw the gold illuminated letters: G U L A –.
The food hit the spot so we came back the next day, this time for lunch. With my brother’s board left back in the apartment where we were lodging, we barely noticed the alley as we sauntered through it in the midday heat. It was no longer a place; it was merely the way to Café Gula–. We were able to see in the daylight that the café sat opposite a beautiful, small square. Surrounded by red-brick houses and paved in red-brick tiles, the square seemed to radiate a welcoming fireside warmth. I was about to head down the steps, which led from the enclosing side-streets down into the square’s centre, to have a look around but my brother was already ordering inside the café.
I only got to explore the square shortly before the end of our trip. We had, by then, been visiting Café Gula– very regularly, almost daily. The staff knew us, if not by our names, then by our still pasty white skin. My brother had brought his board with him once more on that last visit and, after we had eaten, spent some time ollying down the steps into the square or grinding down their metal handrails. I think there were handrails. He had a way of digesting his food quickly.
The square was surprisingly empty given that it was a perfectly sunny afternoon. I noticed for the first time that in the middle of this vacant square stood a small white statue, alone. As I approached it, I vaguely remember, I recognised its white marble face. I touched it. But now, what was likely just an ordinary historical bust has become, in my failed efforts to sharpen and restore my recollection of it, a sort of muddled-up Moore. Its forms have been contorted, its precisely carved features blurred as if I were squinting at them through tears.
I can’t remember what prompted me but I was made to turn around suddenly. Perhaps it had been the clatter of my brother’s skateboard falling out from beneath his feet onto the hard red brick. Regardless, I saw that there behind me, in the opposite corner of the square, stood three fluffy white dogs. They were one of those small yappy breeds, but on this occasion all three identical dogs were perfectly silent, obediently standing at the ends of their three pink leads. From where I was standing, they looked like cotton-wool balls. Their owner was standing just out of sight, just behind one of the walls that lined the many narrow alleys leading out and away from the square. For all I knew, the three pink leads stretched infinitely beyond that wall before they converged into someone’s hand.
Their owner was presumably in a hurry; his or her efforts to haul the dogs away rippled down the pink leads, but to no avail. It was as if the leads were mere ribbons and the tiny white dogs were no longer light like cotton wool, but weighted like lumps of limestone, anchoring each of the leads to ancient earth. They stood completely still. Even from afar, I could see the three pairs of black, beady eyes staring right through me.
I assume they must have been dragged off eventually. I don’t remember much after that. Like those dogs, I suppose, a few days later, I was also made to leave that place behind. My brother and I had been brought to that square by chance, by an opportune slalom, by the relentless hunger of young men. I never owned that square. I never had any right to remain there. I owe that square to that sweltering, red-bricked city. I thank it for the countless hours that it allowed me to spend within its walls.
But unlike those three dogs, I know I can return whenever I wish. I can be anywhere, in any season, in any mind. All I have to do is shut my eyes, feel my way back along my own taut, narrow pink lead and abseil down into time’s black.