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I miss being on a lookout, watching a plane from taking off until disappearing into the sky. I miss having every right to be shabby at the airport. I miss looking at a spot from a lookout and knowing you are there. I miss the smell and sizzling sound of burning woods from a fireplace. I miss rolling on the grass and not stopping myself despite my dizzy head. I miss everyone raising Roman candles at 12 midnight. I miss waking up at 7 to start a day with modern dance. I miss every morning having to think where I am.





  “Niko, how long have you been on the computer?”

  “Ah… just after this, ten more minutes.” Keeps crashing planes on the screen.

  “You said that an hour ago.”

  “Oh…no… yea… one more round.”

 “You have been here for two hours! Go outside, walk the dogs, play football, go swimming,” says Marc as he comes over and turns off the screen.


  Niko roars and stomps off. He goes to the laundry room, grabs the leash and unlocks the storeroom door. Batman tries to squeeze through the door but Niko blocks him and buckles his collar with the leash.


  “Be back by 7:00.” Shouts Marc from the house.


  Niko has lost sight of Batman once they has started climbing up the hill. He pats the scratches on his forearms. Still, a better idea than staying home with him. He keeps kicking a rotten orange up the hill. Never like that stupid dog, I don’t know why mom likes her. She likes every dog anyway. 


  Some people collect shells, some collect stones, come collects fireflies, Niko's mom, Sophie, collects strays. Batman was a stray brought by Sophie couple weeks ago. 


  A stupid dog with a stupid name. Her eyes, so white that makes her black pupils stand out and that scares me. And it’s stupid to give her a male name only because her ears stick up with two big black speckles around her eyes on her white face making it look like a bat. Besides, I never like black dogs…. Well, I do but not with white feet and black spots on them. Just ugly. And she is crazy! She hops and nibbles and barks and bumps into people. Mom says she’s young, but Mariette wasn’t like that when she was little.


  Niko turns to a lane with pastel houses and porches with pot plants. There is a green door on a yellow wall with vine leaves hanging over, a painting of dolphins bathing in a tub on the pink wall behind a blue gate, a wall painting of a wooden chair with a black and white cat on it. The colors of the doors and the walls never match and yet they look harmonious. But not this one.


  I don’t remember seeing this red tile domed chapel. This chapel looks much more antique than those pastel houses. There is no paint on it but rough naked beige bricks. It feels like it was not built but grown here long long time ago.


  There are some small holes on the opposite slightly-pinkish stonewall of the wooden door of this chapel, which look like two eyes on top and a mouth underneath. There is a frame above the holes that was once a portrait or a sculpture. Looking up, there are lines of ancient language that Niko does not understand at all. Although the whole set is shielded under an arch of stone bricks, the basin at the bottom is crashed into debris. With the faded colors, this wall fountain is now a staring speechless face, a dead thing to Niko.


  Beige walls echo the pale wall fountain.


  He puts his ears on each wooden door, expecting people walking, talking or whispering on the other side, but nothing comes through. He pushes open one door by leaning his entire body on it just to move a tiny bit. Niko sneaks through the gap into a square patio covered with vines on a wooden frame in front of another red tile dome. There are arches surrounding this garden patio. It should be a sunny day but the trees around the patio block it, leaving speckled shadows on the ground. A strong scent of lemongrass conquers the air. There are ceramics pots scatterred on the ground, some empty, some with plants. Random flowers, herbs with white spiky crab shells. Maybe they sneaked in as well.


  Some scarfs hanging on the wall on the right come into sight, long and blue scarfs with yellow symbols on them. The symbols are the same as those on the cracked potteries, geometric lines forming different kinds of creatures: fish, birds, trees, goats. Niko wraps one of the blue scarfs around him not even knowing why, feeling as a part of a ritual.


  There is music, faintly. He walks along the arches looking through the square frames of the rooms surrounding the patio, trying to figure out where the music is from. An organ with the bass washed away so it no longer has the power to freeze people as Niko usually feels when listening to organ music.


  None of the rooms seem to be the source of the sound; in fact, he is trapped in the melody, trapped in paradise.


  Niko notices a tiny snail on the ground reminding him of a story his mom used to tell. There are other two snails together not further away, a big one and a small one. Niko puts the baby snail together with the two, so they can take care of it.


  A tiny snail, a tiny snail without shell, a snail that was born with shell, a shell left behind its shell became a faster snail, a free snail. Day by day, the snail lived on others’ shells to survive stronger storms and thicker snow. It started to miss its very own shell, the warmest shell.





















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