I woke suddenly, started out of bed, and bumped my head against the angled ceiling. Listening intently to the sound which had woken me, I ignored the pain. A noise at a lower frequency than a human aircraft, but louder by far, and bigger. I scrambled out of the sleeping bag, and made for the door, dimly aware that my activity was likely to disturb Chan.
‘What’s wrong?’ I registered that anxious look on her face, as if I was about to disappear as suddenly as I had arrived, but I did not stop to allay her fears. Downstairs I tripped on the step up into the kitchen, recovered, and raced for the side door. I was still fiddling with the lock and key when Chan reached round me for the handle and pushed the door ajar for me to exit. I vaulted the low wall which divides the back yard from the front of the house and staggered onto the decking, scanning the sky and bumping into a chair. There was cloud cover and above it and through the whistling melody of the wind and the rhythm of the waves, the last of the noise was fading away. Of light or shadow there was no hint. I dropped to my knees and contorted my neck – my unusually long neck, Chan had pointed out – to press the bump on my head against the damp wood.
I felt Chan’s arm around my back and shrugged it off, irritated not for the first time that she had turned into my shadow. She pushed me over and hurried back into the house. I lay on my back looking up at the night, watching for breaks in the cloud, not seeing what I wanted to see but instead only the glinting of far-off stars. Alien galaxies both to human and Badezon.
She was waiting at the kitchen table when I came back in.
‘Did you hear it?’
‘The plane? Yes.’
‘That wasn’t a plane. No plane of yours that I’ve heard makes a sound like that.’
‘It was a big plane – a jumbo, I guess, or a large military job. We don’t get a lot of them down here, you know. I admit it sounded a lot lower than they usually fly, but…’
I sat down at the table and took her hand in mine.
‘You don’t believe me.’
Chan sighed. I took from it that she had not yet made up her mind one way or the other.
‘When I was a kid I used to live near an army town. During the day you’d hear the soldiers practising on their rifle range three or four miles away with what sounded like a variety of weaponry, and I’d wonder if the constant gentle popping of the guns was so very different from hearing the same sounds at the same distance in a real war zone, a real war-torn city. But there is no comparison; we’ve never lived with the sense that our lives might be torn apart at any moment, and I’m glad now that my teenage self didn’t overly romanticise those guns – guns we never saw and took for granted – and find myself wishing for the adventure of war, civil or otherwise. To exist with that raw and constant psychological edge in one’s life, and then for the edge to reach out and cut you with one or more of a million possible indignities, that is a nightmare we have thankfully been spared.’ She stopped and laughed. ‘I don’t know why I’m telling you this.’
I didn’t know why she was telling me it either. My logic was faultless, for all that I was nominally the mad one. Logic was not Chan’s strong suit. I knew what I had heard. It connected with me in some primal way, at the same intense pitch as when scenes from my Badezon past flashed before my eyes. I had come to realise that often Chan spoke to establish for herself what she thought about a subject. Otherwise her mental processes were too butterfly-complex and ambivalent to land on the resting place of a leaf. She kept on fluttering, making patterns in the minds of those who watched her until she was out of sight. And who knew then where or what she was. I had seen the men in Sandy’s bar watching her, even Sandy himself. Their eyes paid tribute to her. But – and it had nothing to do with me being with her – they were also frightened of Chan. Her piercing artist’s eye, her living alone. They believed that even if she didn’t see through them right away, she would soon find them out. So they did what Sandy did, and declared her off-limits. All this I had learnt in the space of an evening, watching her like all the other men from the bar while I talked to Sandy. Except I was not like other men. I was not a man. And Chan could no longer be said to live alone.
She rose from the table keeping a hold of my hand. So I rose too, and together – slowly, not letting go of each other – we climbed the stairs.
The newness of this new experience was like no other before or since. In the dark of her bedroom she led me, and I followed, awkwardly at first, then with some degree of intuition, half-Badezon, half-human. But when it came the moment was unexpected, as though I had without warning been shot through a wormhole of light all the way home.