• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01


The shadow of myself, falling away behind me as I squint at the sun. Imaginary friend, larger than real life, or smaller, depending on the time of day, the season. Distorting reality and soothing me into monochrome, a grounded silhouette; all is well with the world, it seems, when we are but diffused shapes, indistinct, dimensional and doing just fine.

I remember my daughter, a toddler, studying fluttering grey triangles on the concrete – shadows of bunting strung on a canal boat – as she tried to stamp on the flapping isosceles patches on the towpath, and I tried to explain by pointing at the low-lying sun, at our own shadows, the collaboration. How a shadow moves, ahead or following, always at your feet, constant at a time when little is, in a way.

From the windows of aeroplanes, shadows of clouds mottle the sunlit land, offering texture to the flatness below. I see the shadow of the jet I am in, passing across fields, crossing hedgerows, steady like the gnomon of a sundial casting time. Yet the scene also seems stilled from here, perhaps because everything is moving: me, the plane, the clouds, the shadows, the earth, the sun.

I’ve seen shadow cast by a full moon, too, even by the rich seam of the Milky Way one incandescent night. Yet while I look for shadow at times, the sliver of protection it can afford on one side of a burning street in, say, Xi’an or Khartoum, mostly I cross the road for the light, its heat, its glare, wanting to turn away and to leave the darkness behind.