Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Many years on, Jarvis Henry will meet the love of his life in an identity parade. The walls will be painted white, fresh paint over old, so little dark shadows run behind each other like brush-stroked layers of cloud. The police officer waiting in the room with them will step hesitantly on the balls of her feet, so that when she walks it is always as if she is about to fall over. They will all watch her, everyone in the parade, as she topples past them to turn on the lights. Many hands will begin to reach out instinctively to catch her as she teeters on tiny feet.

When the lights flicker on, everyone is truthfully revealed in the raw bite of fluorescence. They all wear the same clothes, of course. They stand together in dark blue tracksuits and black jeans—the clothes that were handed out to them on arrival. Every person, however, seems to Jarvis to be dressed slightly differently, each with a defining detail. Jarvis’s tracksuit top has a white line running down each arm, and his jeans pants taper down to the ankles: strutting rock star jeans. To Jarvis’s right, a man wears his long black hair swept back, strands of it caught in the hood of his tracksuit top, coiling up like a pile of snakes. No one is told who the real suspect is. Jarvis tries to read the eyes of the policewoman: he hopes to catch a meaningful or worried glance. She is impassive.

Jarvis Henry is five feet and eleven inches tall. He has a clean-shaven face, no sideburns, straight black hair touching the tips of his shoulders. His skin is faded brown, almost orange at the elbows and knees. The three people to his left and four to his right look almost exactly the same. Variations on a theme. Jarvis imagines paper dolls, cut out of paper and strung out. The eight figures in the parade are reflections in the two-way mirror on the opposite wall. He sees her then.

She is just another reflection at first: a mirror-him: then he notices a birthmark or a mole at the base of her neck the exact size and shape of a coffee bean, complete with the long indentation separating its two sides. It is a detail suddenly crystalline to him, even seen reflected in the inexpressive glass. It is as if Jarvis’s senses have not properly functioned until this moment. He sees her at his left shoulder now. He smells gardenias on his hair. He hears her fingers—nails painted British racing green—scratching the wall behind her back. He turns his head and watches the tiny movements of her eyes as she stares straight ahead; eyes like air. She smiles, and Jarvis realises she can see him watching her in the mirror. He stares immediately at his feet. He realises no one thinks she is a woman. Thick glasses break the lines of her face and the baggy clothes hide her figure, but still, to Jarvis at least, her sexuality is obvious. His heart beats with trainee jitters.

Gentlemen, says a boxy voice from a hidden speaker, please stand up straight and put your backs against the wall.

The policewoman steps forward unsteadily, as if the spoken instruction is one that needs enforcing, but everyone in the line has already dutifully obeyed the hidden speaker voice, and she steps back, a fissure of disappointment just visible in her face. The coffee-bean girl picks pieces of plaster from underneath her nails.

Everyone will be made to turn left, to turn right, to hold their head just so. After an age, the hidden speaker voice will return: Number 6, would you please step forward. Jarvis will watch as the coffee-bean girl pushes herself off the wall with her green-tipped fingers. The overhead lights will switch off. The policewoman will grab the girl by the elbow, her fingers pinching the soft skin white and then red. The coffee-bean girl will be led forcibly from the room. She looks over shoulder as she goes. She will catch Jarvis with her eyes, and will smile.

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