“Do not worry if for the moment you cannot tell me. There is plenty of time. Now, come to the bar with me.”
A hand touched his arm and he let himself be guided towards the bar. He looked straight ahead without looking at his companion. The sound, the inflexion of the stranger’s voice was similar to that of the woman; but darker, richer than hers had ever been. He wondered at the similarity and its significance and was frightened by it. Then he was handed a drink. He raised the glass to his lips and with the cold rush of the liquid remembered the dying panic of the burning street and his nearness to what he had believed to be his death.
“Do I smell?” he asked suddenly. Since he had come into the bar he was conscious that the heavy odour of his own sweat had left him.
“Should you?” the voice replied.
“I was hot out there. So hot. And the streets were empty. I had never seen my street before like that or known its emptiness. I cannot explain exactly what I felt. Words seem to be tricking me into saying the opposite of what I mean.”
“There is plenty of time. You can tell me everything eventually.” The voice paused. “Now we will find a table where we can sit down.”
The hand was pulling at him once more, but he did not want to go. He wanted sudden reassurance that the bar and the people around him were not an illusion. He reached out and touched the zinc counter, drawing away from the hand that was pulling him in the opposite direction.
“Let me stay here a little longer,” he said.
“As long as you like,” the voice replied.
“Just so that I can know where I am.”
He stared at the faces around him, but avoided that of his companion. He wanted to keep the visual knowledge of him in reserve, to keep the revelation of his strangeness intact. He stared at the faces closest to him and they were good enough as a preparation, as a beginning to the eventual sight of his unknown friend. He looked for a woman in the group, but there was not one and this eased him at once into a bright relaxation of the spirit. Now he could breathe.