Scraps of burnt paper rise around us into the darkness. The bright air whistles, shriller, then softer. I drag the case behind Mother, a silhouette carrying two bags. Our bare feet crackle on pebbles in the ground.
There is a low growl in the distance, between tall grey walls.
Mother stoops, withered dead leaves lift around her. She pulls the brown and grey curls away from her face, straightens the woolen shawl at her shoulders. She turns—I can see her bright eyes on me, whites gazing through the swirling dust.
The wind strengthens. She puts down one of the bags, it creases and collapses, bottles and battered cartons tumble out; the other bag is knotted and holds fast. She beckons me to come to where she has found a plastic crate. She sits on it.
The gale slows my progress, and I try to straighten my peaked cap.
Mother rummages in the open bag. I can see the track of her fingers, claw-like against the plastic as they feel for something, for anything. I reach her. It is icy cold, numbing my feet, my grey pinafore useless against the cold. She looks up at me as she searches—she says something, but the air takes her voice away. All I hear is the wind whistling. Her curls curtain either side of her face, then another gust tosses the strands around her ears. I am glad I cut my tresses to the butt before we left, even though my nape stings in the breeze.
Mother has pulled a short, fat candle out of the bag, along with a small metal stand. She attaches the candle onto the little spike in the center, her thin fingers spread out around the end, knuckles whitening as she pushes.
Leaves slap me on the face, more scraps of paper, big jagged triangles, lost news, half pictures and headlines, singed black and yellow, the flames halted mid-feed.
The growling gets louder behind the walls.
Mother has set the candle and stand on the sand at her feet. She takes a large box of matches from the open plastic bag. An image of a spectacled smiling man sitting at a glowing fire is printed on the yellow carton.
She takes out one of the narrow matchsticks and strikes it against the side of the box, but the spark that comes is deadened in the low draughts.
She looks around, then huddles herself close, like shutting an accordion, she pulls up her shawl around her shoulders, within the space she fiddles one-handed with match and box, trying to light another.
I shout at her, but I cannot even hear myself.
Flickers of flame within the knotted and holey wool are quickly followed by a blackened match falling below, not even reaching the ground, the wind sweeping it away. I shout louder as she continues to waste match after match, but she does not react to me. She reaches into the sand, takes up the candle, I watch her bent, dirt blackened fingernails cut into the wax as she grips it tightly.
Mother retreats deeper into the windless void of the canopied shawl, she strikes another match, the gusts blow, the spent match falls below, then is driven high into the mess around us.
I reach over to Mother, shake her by the shoulder, she peers out at me, her eyes wide and green. I nod at the next virgin match in her fingers, the dead dark candle clamped between her knees, the smiling man on the carton in her other hand. She shrugs, pulls the shawl close around her, nothing left before me but a dome of mismatched knitting.
I walk around the other side. Stepping over jagged glass, a piece of flying wood smacks against my lip. The howling beyond the tall walls has become constant now.
Through the slowly dropping curls around Mother’s head, in a lull in the wind, I see clearly into the space inside the shawl, the side of her face golden, lit up with a flickering flame.