Nights

Madras

We are standing on the seashore, watching the moonlight bounce off the waves, turning them cellophane-y. The moon consorts with a bright object in a straight line from it – with my limited knowledge, I would have called it Venus, as I do any object in the sky that doesn’t twinkle (apart from the moon, naturally). But this is Jupiter, not Venus, says my friend, and we look it up on Sky Maps on his phone. Will I be able to see Jupiter’s moons? Only with a very strong telescope, he says, and so I add that to my list behind Saturn’s rings.

We make a tour of the ice cream carts, looking for one that will sell us something beyond drab vanilla, which is no good without a sprinkle of nuts and a dribble of chocolate sauce. One of the ice-cream vendors produces a magnificent cup of chocolate-chip lusciousness, and I’m sold. Another friend chooses an ice lolly in cola; I taste it, it brims over with the blissful ignorance of summer evenings from childhood, when cold things were particularly appetising after long hours of play at the park.

Singapore

I can’t sleep now, not when the fierce rainstorm lures me to the French windows. I have to watch the thick sheets of rain ripple and run down the glass, blurring the streetlight which blinks in vain, for nobody is out on this unforgiving night. My book has temporarily lost its charm and I meditate on the rain. Nothing in the world comes close to rain in the tropics, to a Southeast Asian storm (if you don’t believe me, ask Somerset Maugham). The words “South China Sea” give me visions of sailors out to explore distant continents, carrying rich cargoes of silk and spices, explorers scripting their tales in exquisite letters, and exchanging treasures with Mesopotamia or Egypt. We will be ancient history some centuries later, so why is the present not as captivating as the past? Why should there be so much mystique attached to the old, when it was probably just as commonplace then as our doings are to us now?

I listen to Sarah McLachlan singing Ordinary Miracle. Is that where I should find my answer?

Falmer

I would sleep, but for fast Internet and the novelty of cold winters – also, the snow has just begun to fall and I cannot bring myself to snuggle into my duvet and lose forever what I might never see again. This is no blizzard, no raging whirl of snowflakes, but a soft, gentle descent to earth. It is just enough to let us fashion a tiny snowman out of half a fistful of white, powdery snow; all that we can manage to gather out of the thin layer that carpets the roads, the grass and the slatted benches by the barbecue pit. We throw miniature snowballs at a friend’s window, and she laughs at us from the glowing warmth of her room.

However, perhaps the happiest of all is the solitary tree outside my window – its leaves have fallen away, leaving only the birds and the squirrels for company. Much as it enjoys their play, wouldn’t it much rather be cloaked in a majestic, glittering cloak of pristine white?

(This is the kind of nonsense I have been filling my head with since I was sixteen, and I am glad to realise that I haven’t outgrown it yet. I don’t want to.)

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