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  • Published: 2 July 2024
  • ISBN: 9781787335028
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $34.99

A Short Walk Through a Wide World

Extract

The paper is clean and white—she hasn’t drawn her first line—so when the drop of blood falls and makes its little red mark on the page, she freezes. Her pencil hovers in her hand. Her heart, like it always does, gives her chest an extra kick. She drops the pencil. Hand, like a reflex, goes to her nose. She feels the wetness creeping through her sinuses, tastes the brine in the back of her throat. It’s a trickle now, no more than a nosebleed, but in moments it will be much worse—and here, of all places, just as she’d sat down.

It’s too soon. It’s bad luck. She’d hoped to sleep in a real bed tonight, not hammocks or hard ground, and in the morning have a bath, a proper bath in warm water, with soap. She’d hoped to add more entries to her book, like tinder or flint or paper—but how to draw a piece of paper on a piece of paper so that others will look at it and say, “Oh, I see. A piece of paper.”

She’d hoped to try the food. Look at this market—taro preserves, steamed crab claws, curried prawns wrapped in sheets of bean curd. No, this will have to wait, too, for another time and another market. The list of things she won’t do is even longer than that—what list isn’t?—but there’s no time to dwell. The bath can wait. She’ll find a bed somewhere else. The list is gone. Now is the time to get the hell out.

But the marketplace is alive, the people friendly, and the river right there, a shiny tearstain through the green, clogged with colorful skiffs and fishing boats that can whisk her away, no effort at all. This is Siam, a watery part of the world, all jungle, seasons measured by rainfall. She knew as soon as she set foot here that rivers would be her mode of escape.

That old man, selling fish—such a kindly face, weather-beaten, but a glint in his eye still. He will help. Quickly, she slings her bag over her shoulder and cradles her book in the crook of her arm. She picks up her walking stick, as tall as she is, and moves through blue hairs of incense smoke and burning charcoal. She moves past fishmongers and cloth merchants and tables made of bamboo. The old man smokes a long, thin opium pipe, surrounded by racks of dried fish, dried squid, and dried octopus— anything that was once wet now hangs dry, the old man perched among the racks like a caged bird. She doesn’t know the local language, but the French have colonies to the north and the British have influence to the south.

“Please,” she asks in her accented English, “a boat? Do you know where I might find a boat? I need a boat.”


A Short Walk Through a Wide World Douglas Westerbeke

IF YOU COULD NEVER STAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO? The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue meets The Midnight Library in this life-affirming debut novel of adventure, wonder and self-discovery.

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