in the stomach. Sam picked up the billfold and the man in the yellow hat tapped around inside his coat, then with a black boot gave Mahinda a second to the stomach. Stepping over the curled, cursing boy, the man nodded at Sam. He handed over the money, already wondering if the other boys would catch him before he could jump the next ship out of Circular Quay. But the man in the yellow hat was still staring at him. He pointed at a windowed building beyond the warehouse and walked off. Sam followed.
A year later, he slipped climbing the staircase to his new room. His feet had been made modern: they were bound and fine-looking and useless, shod in black leather shoes that were unyielding hard. James Astrobe, the man in the yellow hat, was ahead of him, smoking, his hands free. Sam tried to brace himself against the wall but his nervous hands slid and smeared and he slipped again, pitching forward. Immediately he crouched to make it seem like he was looking between the steps. Astrobe took no notice. Meanwhile, balling his toes in vain, Sam stared down at a world of dark hard wood and yellow lamplight, a world of long windows that rippled their streetscape pictures and rattled in the wind, of muffled voices waiting behind heavy-looking doors that Astrobe hadnât opened and showed him as theyâd gone through the grand house of gleaming silver thingsâknobs and switches on walls, thin knives and little spoons and little mugs arranged on mirrored trays, bells, a clasped book cover, a heavy-looking brush: all of it looking as if washed in silver itself. His hands had touched nothing as he followed Astrobe, but the very idea of it had made them warm and wet like a clam cracked open by a gull and left on a shore rock. They were still damp when to stand up and keep climbing he pressed off the wall, which was itself firm and cold to touch, not home cold, not the earth-smelling soft dampness of the dung-walled house where once heâd been a boy, and not temple cold, not like the shaded stone floor of the audience hall where Sadhu liked to cool his parts, but a cold that was no respite from the world without: late June in Sydney, wintertime. It had already turned black night and hard air when it was time to shut the office for the day and, for the first time, walk home with Astrobe in winds spun up from the great curving bays that ringed the city.
The room at the top of the stairs was an octagon of shuddering windowpanes. It would be weeks before these became sleeping noises for him, by which point he wasnât sleeping anyway. This was to be his graduation from the pallet in Astrobeâs Circular Quay office, where heâd been sleeping since that afternoon, a year before, when heâd broken with Mahinda and the others. He may or may not have seen them since: there were always so many brown boys hanging around the harbour, huddled, bruised, staring. Too timid to try anything else. Astrobe motioned for him to come nearer the glass and then he showed Sam the nighttime city. Below them stretching in every direction was a great electrified blackness. Following Astrobeâs hand as it pointed past the fine houses of Potts Point, Sam saw broken successions of small blazing squares, where still some office men were working, and also bright clusters and isolated drops, the streetlamps and evening lamps that marked the walkways and warehouses and moored ships of Circular Quay. Sam tapped a finger against the glass. Astrobe tapped just above the faint smudge heâd made and Sam nodded. The office. The tour continued in a gesturing silence. Both of them generally preferred it that way. After a year of acting as James Astrobeâs valet shadow and protector against others like himself, Sam had gained a rudimentary sort of English that was daily improving from his errand- and message-running through the city he now knew better than Colombo, but they rarely used English between them. They had been, from the start, so