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Chapter 7 t was a clear morning.

IThe streets around the parade ground were empty, apart from a single delivery man with hunched shoulders and bent legs pulling a trailer loaded with fish buckets.

The Rice Paper Diaries by Francesca Rhydderch The azalea bushes leading up to the entrance greeted us harshly, their petals closed one minute and open the next, like a beggar pushing out cupped hands and refusing to take no for an answer. The parade ground was covered with people from end to end. They looked as if they had been bleached of colour overnight. Everything about them seemed unfinished. There were women wearing coats without belts, and men in shirts that didn't do up. Hair that was normally oiled back sprung away from foreheads, and painted-on lips that usually pouted their way in and out of conversations had faded back into thin, pale lines on their owners' faces. Some people had bags, or blankets that were being used as bags, tied clumsily and held together anyhow. Some were empty-handed, and they were the ones I felt the most pity for. Their hands hung at their sides, making their shoulders stoop and pulling all their features to the ground too. Some of the men had bruises and cuts to the face. It was the women who were talking to each other, not the men. Hundreds of female voices rose up into the air with a shrill insistence, like caged canaries at the bird market. Mrs Vernon looked like a parrot chained to its perch, with grey feathers and red eyes. Next to her was Mrs Elsa. I don't know if she was still wearing her night gown, because she had got hold of a coat from somewhere. It was too big for her, even with the buttons done up and the sleeves rolled back. She turned around again and again, peering up at the Peak behind. I knew what she was doing.

She was thinking of Mari, unable to prevent herself from trying to catch a glimpse of our apartment windows, tiny as they were from here. Over the last few days this gesture must have become a nervous tic, because the captain, who was standing next to her, put his hand on her shoulder to stop her.

Then she looked up and saw me.

| The Rice Paper Diaries by Francesca Rhydderch is published by Seren at PS8.99 > CONTINUES MONDAY


The Rice Paper Diaries by Francesca Rhydderch
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 28, 2013
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