The plates were all painted in astonishing detail, which you might call photographic but for a certain lightness of line that gave them an air of the cartoon, or at least the graphic novels that I discovered Chan liked to read. The hairs on my human neck, back and arms prickled in a way I had not previously experienced when I first saw them. One showed a black shape striking the surface of water from above, so that the splash radiated out in blues, whites and greys from the centre of the plate to its circumference. It was difficult to make out what had caused the splash – the shape was perhaps a man, or a torpedo. Another depicted planets of jade and lilac hues in a system which was not Sol’s but that of some more distant sun seemingly of her own imagining. The star itself was not shown in the scene but cast its light from beyond the western compass point of the plate, whiting out the left-hand side of each of the planets arrayed across the glazed black ceramic. A further quartet of plates brought to life four different species of alien ranging from a corporeal caricature to a barely embodied figure, whose transparency suggested an evolutionary end-point, a wisdom as far-reaching as time.
I felt as I looked at these plates that it was not by chance that Chan was the one who found me. I am not suggesting that it was our destiny to meet, because destiny has about it something eternally mysterious and coldly resistant to decryption, but I do believe it was to some greater or lesser extent planned.
Later that second day, another day of rest for a body which was bruised with the shock of the new, I tried at least to secure my immediate future in the face of so many unknowns.
‘Would you let me stay for a while? Until more of my memory returns?’ I asked Chan, knowing that the peculiarity of my situation – the absence of a story which explained me – gave me some allowance to say what should not be said, to request what should not be requested. She nodded, okayed it. She did not have to. She could have asked me to go as soon as it was clear I was rested and out of danger, at which point she might also have elected to turn me over to the authorities whether judicial, political, medical or social. But I knew she knew that I was telling the truth even as she protested otherwise, laughing at her own ability to be taken for a ride.
I tried to make myself useful, studying what Chan did around the house. Then when she went out, I attempted to do it myself, for myself, for the two of us. The washing up I could do. Peeling potatoes I could not. My new hands weren’t yet dextrous enough. The blood that dripped from the slice in my finger was beautiful, pooling on the kitchen worktop like no liquid I had seen on this planet or any other.
One morning at breakfast Chan intimated that the plates from which we ate our toast, and those on the wall, were her own work. She had noticed me noticing them and gave me the chance to ask her about them. I didn’t take it. I was too busy trying to rationalise what this meant.
It meant that she had painted my arrival on this planet – in its seawater – on a plate mounted on the wall of her kitchen. Not only that but she had painted the view a traveller might have the fortune to experience while waiting for touchdown, orbiting the planet on which I was raised. And finally she had painted the inhabitants of the system in which l lived and the one neighbouring it; the four warring parties around an intergalactic political board game of almost infinite long-standing.
It was weeks before I knew it all for certain but I had sensed it on my first clear sight of the plates, that morning after my arrival, after the recreation in my dreams of falling from the sky into the sea. It was months before I asked her about them, and the answer was perfunctory, disappointing, deflating.
‘I painted them ages ago, when I was reading a lot of sci-fi. They’re scenes suggested by books, I forget which exactly. I read so many. Comfort reading, really. The alien portraits are nothing more than crass human guesses about what aliens look like. When I met one for real, I never expected him to look like a golden-maned surfer.’
Her human tongue in her human cheek, as was always the case when we touched on my origins. It would be years before I could combat Chan’s sarcasm, and by then she herself would tell you that she believed me. The child, when it came, was no great surprise, though of course we were both, alien and human alike, extremely curious to see exactly what form it would take.