But as she waited for a bus that would probably never come, staring at a cloudless blue sky and rocking back and forth on her feet, she was taken by a random impulse to go to the river. She found herself longing for the sight of green water, the raging torrent that suddenly calmed and became almost motionless.
She could not look at the river without imagining the thousands of bodies that had plunged into it over the centuries. The water had always had a curious, deadly stillness in certain parts. There were no boats and the branches of the trees were filled with rags and tattered plastic, the remnants of winter floods. The river was so far below, so quiet, that at times it hardly seemed part of the city at all. It was merely a ghostly, pale green stream drifting towards the sea.
Concrete paths ran alongside the water’s edge, but they were mostly deserted, apart from the occasional cyclist and the homeless. The river was not a place to linger. Grace gazed at the water, tranquil and shipless as always, and then looked along the length of the riverbank. There were no pedestrians, only a solitary sleeper basking in the softening rays of the late afternoon. Shielding her eyes from the sun, Grace stared at the man and tried to decide if the resemblance was just wishful thinking.
Against her better judgement, she descended the stone steps and left the shade of the trees and the noise of the traffic behind her. She kept her eyes fixed on the figure below, afraid that if she blinked, he would vanish. Of course she would not talk to him; she only wanted to see.
He was dressed in a loose white shirt and trousers, face tilted up towards the sun. As she crept towards him she became convinced that it was the same man, and she felt a shiver of fear despite the heat. Thank God he was asleep, and she could walk past without ever seeing –
He hadn’t even opened his eyes. She stood beside him, mute with shock.
“It was just a matter of time before we found each other. I know you’re afraid, but…”
There was no end to the sentence. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
They were utterly alone. Grace looked helplessly at the trees belonging to the world above, and then lowered her gaze. These were the eyes she had tried so hard to forget, and now they were inviting her, drawing her towards him as if they were the only living souls in the entire city. She sat beside him.
“What’s your name?”
“Tell me, Grace. Do you believe in gods?”
“Well, if you can believe in one, surely you have sufficient imagination for belief in another.”
“I don’t know what I believe,” said Grace, trying to avoid his gaze. “I’m only fifteen. I think it’s too young to know what you believe.”
“Belief has nothing to do with knowledge. You know a man cannot draw honey from a stone, yet I gave you no choice but to believe it.”
“Seeing is believing, I guess.” Grace turned towards him, expecting a mocking smile. But his face was utterly expressionless. There was not even the slightest glint of humanity in his eyes. Grace willed herself not to be afraid.
“I read The Bacchae,” she said.
“The Lydian is Dionysus. God as man.”
“We’re made in each other’s images. For thousands of years…hundreds of thousands. I lose count.”
“You’re a god.”
Grace took a deep breath and forced herself to stare at the water. A piece of driftwood was being slowly carried downriver, and it calmed her to look at something so small, so ordinary.
“Have I frightened you?”
“I was already frightened.”
“I’m not going to hurt you, Grace. I have neither the desire nor the power.”
“What do you mean?”
“No one in this city has believed in me for two thousand years. I’m unknown and unloved. And I’m very, very ill.” He sighed, and the sound chilled her blood. “Give me your hand.”
No one had ever held her hand before, and the touch of those fingers, cold like marble, gave her a queer sensation, as if she had been violated in some way. When he let go, she noticed that his palms were smooth and unlined.
“Well,” said Grace, repressing a shiver. “I don’t think I can help you.”
“Oh, but you can. I’ve always been loved by women, so to have one in this city who knows my name…”
“I’m not a woman, I’m fifteen.”
“Close enough. Anyway, I won’t keep you. Run along.”
Grace stood up, scarcely able to believe her good luck at being released unscathed, and only briefly touched.
To read the synopsis and first two chapters, and to pledge to buy the book, check out the page on Unbound