A Walk in the Park

Rimi B. Chatterjee

Rimi B. Chatterjee is the author of three novels and many shorter works. She is currently working on the Antisense Universe, a storyworld focusing on climate action and civilisational redesign, in which this story is set. Since 2020 she has been working on a number of screenplays set in the Antisense Universe, including a screen adaptation of her 2005 novel Signal Red. She teaches English at Jadavpur University.

Yonanna Kim opened her lunchbox. Oh god, shrimp pancakes again. Why hadn’t she checked before grabbing the doshirak from the Korean deli on the corner of her apartment block? Why was it always shrimp pancakes? Oh well, nothing to be done now. She put the box down beside her on the park bench. Just my luck, she thought. Why am I so bloody careless?

All around her, in the little park next to Merdeka Close, kids were playing in the sun, while the smart set of KL City were jogging, lounging or walking their dogs. The stately, ancient trees spread their leaves over this tiny patch of greenery, doing their best to shut out the traffic noise from nearby South Seas Plaza.

This was the district where all the media production houses of KL City clustered. It was a Sunday, but Yonanna was working. She was a sound engineer, and this thirty-minute lunchbreak was her only time to spend outside the dark and cramped sound-booth where she worked all day, adding tracks to image-builds, ad-campaign spots and viral videos for her boss’s corporate clients. She sighed. She could have eaten her lunch in the employees’ canteen, but she liked being out in the fresh air where she didn’t have to make conversation. And because this neighbourhood was KL City’s very modest tinsel town, sometimes she got to see hot, well-dressed youngsters hurrying through the park on their way to auditions or shoots.

That reminded her: she unlocked her phone and turned on FriendRetriever. On her screen, a golden dog sat up and begged, then curled up with her nose on her paws. The dog would alert Yonanna if anyone she followed on social media should turn up in real life.

She frowned at her doshirak. She’d have to remember to dump the leftovers before she went back inside, or her boss would complain about the smell. As the only foreigner on the team, she had to be extra careful not to break any rules, spoken or unspoken. She took a bite and sighed, hoping he wouldn’t take it into his head to smell her breath and mutter about filthy foreign habits.

It was a lovely February afternoon, and she couldn’t stay mired in her annoyance for very long. The air was still fresh from the winter rains, but the sun was warm on her back. On days like this, she could afford to put aside the nagging voices in her head and tell herself her decision to come here, to the Southeast Asian country of Melayu, was a good one. Even though none of her friends and family approved.

Her phone pinged. Still eating her lunch, she glanced down at it. Friend approaching! The doggy wagged her tail and pointed with a paw. Yonanna squinted against the midday sun. No, it wasn’t an actor, it was that cute boy, Sid somebody, Sid Chakrapani, that’s the guy. He wasn’t anyone to do with the studios, just some student who’d liked her demo tapes on Sharebox and left a few nice comments. He had a sweet smile, and he always smiled whenever he passed. He never spoke, though. Possibly because she was always dressed in her work clothes: baggy slacks and a t-shirt with a peeling logo of a once-popular MMORPG. Or maybe he didn’t talk to sound engineers. Huh, well, there was always a first time. Might as well risk it.

‘Hi,’ she said, as he went past. ‘Hi, Sid.’

To her excited joy he stopped, turned, and tapped his finger on his earbud, no doubt muting whatever cool track he’d been listening to. ‘Hello, Yonanna.’

She gave a little cry. ‘Oh, you have FriendRetriever too! Why didn’t you ever say hi? I mean, it’s for finding your friends in real life, isn’t it? And I’ve seen you around so many times.’

He gave that shy smile again, and his eyes behind his tinted glasses slid away from her. ‘Yes, I… I did want to talk to you, Yonanna, but I’m not very good at reading facial expressions. I wasn’t sure whether you’d mind.’ He seemed to consider this. ‘Sorry, I should have asked.’

She looked up into his face and made a snap decision. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I don’t have any pressing work to do right now. Have you had lunch?’

‘No, I was on my way to visit a friend.’ He hesitated, then went on, ‘I guess they won’t mind if I’m a little late. I’ll text them. What do you have in mind?’

She put the remains of the doshirak in the trash and said, ‘Great, let’s go to the Freedom Cafe in South Seas Plaza. They have a fab lunchtime buffet. My treat, okay?’

‘Only if you’re sure it’s no trouble.’

‘No trouble at all. I picked up the wrong lunchbox this morning and I was just sitting here cursing myself. You’re the perfect excuse for me to get a proper meal.’

They fell into step, strolling along the brick-lined path. ‘So you’re a sound engineer?’ he asked, as they sidestepped a baby in her carriage. The baby cooed, grabbing at the spots of light that filtered through the leaves.

‘Yeah. I do backing tracks at work, and sound effects for video games on my own time, just to make a little extra. But what I really want is to make my own music.’

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I have friends who play in a band. The Collapsineers. You’ve heard of them?’

‘Heard of them! They’re big stars!’ She looked at him. ‘You know people in Climate Town?’

He smiled. ‘I live there. I’m a huge fan of Bian Nguyen. The band is the voice of Climate Town. They’re our ambassadors.’

‘Oh, I love Bian! You know her? Is it true she’s from New Orleans?’

‘Yes, I’ve sat in on their rehearsals ever since I was a baby. It’s great fun. Bian once asked me what I thought she looked like and I said, “you’re a music volcano.” She laughed like a mountain shaking.’

Yonanna laughed too. Then she grew serious. ‘But if you live in Climate Town, that means you’re a… a…’

‘Climate refugee? Yeah, second generation, actually. My folks are from Bangladesh. They lost their homes when the Ramdhun Climate Defense Fund took over the Sunderbans in 2016. They got shunted from camp to camp, until Climate Town was set up in 2018 and they were selected to be part of it. I was born there in 2020, so I never saw our homeland.’

‘Oh. That sucks.’ She did the math. ‘So you’re eighteen years old? And still in school?’

‘Yes, I am,’ he smiled. ‘In Climate Town we can learn as long as we want. It’s not like regular school where everyone has to graduate at 15.’

‘That’s kind of old-fashioned, isn’t it? Nowadays everyone rushes through school so they can get a job and pay bills as soon as possible.’

He nodded seriously. ‘Yu Li Wei, she’s our principal, she says it’s because school was broken even in the old times, and no one fixed it. So we learn in a very different way in Climate Town. Most of our teachers are volunteers, and they have regular jobs. They teach us academic stuff, but also about how they work.’ He smiled at her. ‘You could take classes in sound engineering, if you wanted.’

‘Oooh, I couldn’t. I’m no good at talking to people.’ They paused to let a pair of dogs chase a frisbee across the path. The older dog caught the frisbee, then the puppy who was following grabbed it and there was a brief tug of war until the older dog indulgently let go and the puppy ran back with the frisbee, tail wagging furiously. Sid chuckled. Yonanna sighed. ‘My boss says we should learn on the job. That way we can be independent and productive members of society.’ She tapped her chest. ‘No student debt for moi. Under the old ways, I’d still be a prisoner in my father’s house. This is way better.’

‘There’s no student debt in Climate Town. Everyone teaches what they know to anyone who wants to learn.’

‘And you have some high-powered scientists living there, right?’

‘Yes. Cherie Lahiri Wilson, our coordinator, is a former professor from Singapore University. Bian used to be Cherie’s scholar, and she still does climate science when she’s not busy with the band. Bian designed all our foodgardens.’

‘What about you, Sid? What do you want to do when you’re done with learning?’

‘Oh, I’m already doing it. I work with the scientists to make new tech and test it out in the field.’ He pointed ahead. ‘Hey, is that a popup food fest? Does it look good?’

‘It sure does!’ They’d turned a corner and come out onto the side of the park that faced South Seas Plaza. In a small space marked ‘vendor parking’, a group of people had pulled up their vans and were selling various popular local items, cooked fresh on tiny braziers. ‘Oooh, I love street food,’ said Yonanna. ‘You game?’

‘Oh yeah. They have fried rice noodles and coconut curry, I can smell it,’ he said eagerly. ‘Shall we?’

Soon they each had a steaming plate of bihun, with a few sticks of lok-lok kababs on the side. ‘I want apom balik for afters,’ she said, pointing to the crispy white fritters filled with palm syrup and crushed nuts. ‘How about you?’

‘Sure, if I have room. What would you like to drink?’ He paused. ‘They have durian shakes.’

‘Mmm, too heavy. Just longan juice for me.’

She sat and watched over their food as he went to get the drinks. She noted how slow and gentle his gestures were. They spoke of a maturity beyond his years. She wondered what had taught him to take it slow like that. Trauma, no doubt. Climate refugees all lived hard lives, or at least, so she’d heard. She’d never really met one till now, and she had lots of questions. All she knew was that Climate Town had started as a UN-mandated township on the fringes of KL City, designed and run by the scientists who’d created a model of how to convert the world’s cities into sustainable green spaces, but no investors had bought into that vision. Since then, Climate Town had taken in climies from all the island nations of the South Pacific, Asia and the world. Their website had charming little drawings and stories of how their people had lost their homes to landslides and tsunamis and all the many climate fails that were simply routine these days. Charming, but childish.

Her boss often said Climate Town was just a hyped-up slum, a place where liberals spent their guilt-money to promote bullshit green solutions, but her flatmate thought that Climate Town was far too good for the climies and should be turned into a housing estate for middle class homeowners. Yonanna was less inclined to hate them, but she did feel a little jealous of how the climies were able to have cool stuff essentially for free. It made every kid in corporate employment, herself included, look a little foolish.

She was dying to ask Sid about his life in Climate Town, but she didn’t want to seem too pushy on a… first date? Was that what this was? She had to set her thoughts aside as he came back bearing two glasses. He placed them on the bench very carefully, as if they were precious jewels. Then he sat down beside her, she handed him his plate, and a happy silence ensued as they concentrated on putting away the food. Finally she sighed and sat back, replete.

‘What’s it like in Climate Town?’

‘It’s great. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.’

‘Really? Because the world’s supposed to feel sorry for you, which it does with a very bad grace.’

‘What’s to feel sorry for?’

‘You lost everything to climate fails, didn’t you? But people don’t like being reminded of how they’ve fucked up the planet.’ She sighed. ‘Every damn month, I have to do the sound for yet another campaign by Ramdhun Image Builds telling the world that Climate Town sucks. It’s like they’re obsessed.’

‘Oh, that’s because of Rik Nehra, the guy in charge of Ramdhun’s image management. His wife Lila Bintam left him in 2019 and came to Climate Town. She teaches in the school, and her daughter Bilqis is a trauma counsellor to the kids. He didn’t take it well.’

‘Really? I didn’t know that.’

‘Ancient history,’ he smiled. ‘Bilqis was six when she left Singapore, and now she’s twenty-five. Everyone’s forgotten the story.’

‘Tell me something, Sid. When Singapore was destroyed by the Wave of 2023, it was big news, but when Mumbai sank in August 2032, the story was dead by September. Now it’s 2038, and pretty much every week a suburb or two falls into the hungry sea in every coastal city of the world. It barely even makes it to social media feeds.’ She spread her hands to the sunlight. ‘Why don’t people care more?’

‘I care.’

‘You’re a climie, Sid. I meant ordinary people.’

‘Everyone’s a climie, Yonanna. Everyone’s suffering. It’s just that you’re not allowed to grieve or complain unless you lose everything. Sometimes, not even then.’

Yonanna watched him out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t good-looking in a filmstar kind of way, but he had a softness and charm that were very natural. Painfully shy, too, judging by the tinted glasses. He had barely looked at her the whole time. Once again she wished she hadn’t just grabbed the first clothes that had jumped out of her closet that morning, and that she had anything that wasn’t bleached to an indeterminate grey. Oh well, too late to worry about that now.

Sid finished eating. ‘Give me your plate, I’ll throw it in the trash,’ he said, and winced. She looked at him with concern. ‘You okay?’

‘Yeah, sorry, we don’t trash our disposables in Climate Town. They’re all made of rice paper, and we feed them to the dogs. Throwing stuff away feels kind of wrong to a climie.’

‘Whaaat! You have dogs roaming around where you eat? Ugh, that’s so unsanitary.’

‘Is it?’ He smiled, stacked her empty plate on his and chucked them both solemnly into a trash can. She gave him a thumb’s up, and he did it back to her. As she watched him walk to the apom balik stand and get two servings for them, she realised what it was about him that didn’t add up.

‘Sid,’ she said as he came and sat back down, ‘You were looking at that kid with the balloons as you were walking to the stall. I was scared you’d bump into something. Why don’t you look where you’re going?’

‘Oh,’ he said, taken aback. ‘I can’t see.’

She stared at him. ‘What do you mean, you can’t see? I saw you step round that baby on the path, and then you stopped for those dogs.’

He smiled. ‘That’s the research project I’m working on. There’s a doctor in Climate Town, Dr Harry Alaka’i, and he’s making a system to help me get around and live normally. I test it every day when I come to Merdeka Close. I was born blind.’

‘What? You’re blind? No way!’ She goggled at him. ‘I had absolutely no idea!’

‘That’s the point,’ he said with a beautiful smile.

‘But… why aren’t you working with Ramtech? A product like that would be worth millions.’

‘That’s not the climie way. Dr Harry is going to give the system to people for free when we’ve perfected it. It’s called Nai’a, which means “dolphin”, because it uses sonar to detect how far and what size objects are around me. There’s also a pair of cameras in the arms of my glasses, and an onboard AI that speaks into my earbuds in Dr Harry’s voice. It tells me what’s in front of me, wall or door or gate or person. Nai’a can also access my social media feed and tell me which of my friends is close by. That’s how I recognised you.’

‘Wow, Sid, that’s amazing.’

He nodded. ‘Let me show you. Do you mind if I give you this earbud?’ He took it out and wiped it on his shirt. ‘Sorry, it’s kind of… warm.’

‘That’s okay.’ She put it in her ear. Sid pushed his glasses up his nose and said, ‘Now I’m going to look at my plate of apom balik.’ A kindly male voice said in her ear, ‘Fritter dead centre, crushed peanuts on top, sugar syrup from nine to twelve.’ He turned and looked at her, and the voice in her ear said, ‘Yonanna Kim, forty centimetres to the right. Mouth open.’

She shut it. ‘So that’s what you meant when you said you weren’t good at reading faces!’

‘Sorry, um, the on-the-go word-portraits aren’t very flattering, but they do their job,’ he said a little diffidently. ‘Like when you spoke to me, I turned and looked at you, and it said, ‘Yonanna Kim, dyed hair, glasses, baggy clothes, eating Korean shrimp pancakes,’ and then I turned it off because you were talking.’ He bit his lip. ‘I’m really, really sorry.’

‘For what? The fashion comments? I’m used to it, my boss rags me all the time, but… this is so cool!’

‘You don’t mind?’

‘Why would I mind? I’m not some shrinking schoolgirl, and I really should have put more thought into what to wear today.’

‘I think…’ He actually blushed. ‘I was going to say I think you’re beautiful, but that would be… presumptuous.’

She grinned, and the voice in her ear said, ‘Yonanna Kim, smiling…’

‘Sorry,’ he said, and pressed the other earbud with a finger. ‘Now I’ve left just the sonar on. Move your hand towards me and listen to the beeps.’

She did. The soft clicks got closer together as her hand approached his head, then receded as she moved it away. ‘I can hear where you are,’ he said softly, ‘but I don’t know that it’s your hand. For that I need Dr Harry’s AI to tell me.’

‘Wow. I legit had no clue. I would never in a million years have guessed that you were… impaired, no… special, I mean…’ She stopped in confusion. ‘Well, whatever the climie word is.’

‘You can say “blind”,’ he said kindly. ‘That’s just a word that means my visual handicap is total. Unlike yours. You’re disabled too, it’s just that you don’t think you are because your prosthesis works so well.’

‘My… what?’

‘Your glasses. Dr Harry says all disability is relative. In a good world, it wouldn’t exist, because creative people would automatically get rewarded for making life better for everyone, so disability would be seen as an opportunity, not a problem. His goal is to make a prosthesis for me that works as well as glasses do for people with refraction errors.’

‘I’m… speechless.’ She took a sip of her drink. ‘But now I have a better idea of why Ramdhun hates you.’

‘You do?’

‘Well, your Dr Harry is making something awesomely marketable, but he’s not contributing to any corp’s stock or turnover. Ramdhun HR thinks the Indosphere is bleeding talent out of the money economy and into Climie World, if there is such a thing.’

‘There is,’ said Sid. ‘Putul Ganguly, she’s one of the scientists, she says money and law are what’s wrong with everywhere that isn’t Climie World.’

‘Really? I would have said money and law are the only things keeping us from descending into global madness. Your Dr Harry could be a millionaire by now if he wanted. Why doesn’t he want it?’

‘He’s a millionaire to us. I’d do anything for him. His system has saved my life so many times I’ve lost count.’

They were silent for a bit as Yonanna thought about this. She took the earbud out and handed it back to him.  They finished their dessert, and this time she chucked the plates. ‘I had no clue that Climie World was so different to mine,’ Yonanna said softly. ‘ I just thought you guys were a bunch of losers living the way you do because you can’t afford proper homes and stuff. I mean, Ramdhun talks about you as if you exist to make the rest of us thank our stars we still have jobs.’

‘We have jobs. We work for each other. And we have fun too,’ Sid said mildly. ‘There’s a concert every month. You should come.’

‘It’s invitation only.’

‘That’s right, so I’m inviting you. We’d let everyone come if they’d behave themselves, but we’ve had Ramdhunites turn up and throw water bombs at the stage and stuff, back in theTwenties, so Cherie forbade it.’

‘I’d like that. To go to a Collapsineers concert with you, I mean. And maybe you could come to one of my gigs too, on the rare occasions I get to DJ.’

‘I would, but a concert is still a little too much for the Nai’a system. Fast-moving crowds can be confusing.’

‘Huh, no risk of a crowd at my gigs,’ she muttered. ‘So you never go to big events?’

‘Only if they’re happening in Climate Town.’ He smiled sweetly. ‘There, everybody I bump into just hugs me.’

They started walking again, drinks in hand. Now she could see the little telltale signs, the tiny frown of concentration Sid acquired every time an obstacle loomed on the horizon. She felt herself falling into the rhythm, giving a little pause for him to hear Dr Harry telling him what to do. It was surprisingly calming.

‘How do you travel to the centre of KL City by yourself, Sid? Climate Town is out in the suburbs.’

‘Yeah, but we have a bus terminus right by the gates, so I get on the bus and tell the driver where I want to go. They all know me, and even if they didn’t, Nai’a maps my location and tells me if I take a wrong turn. The drivers always announce my stop, and then it’s just a walk in the park to get to Liv and Jose’s studio.’

‘Liv and Jose? The Jesumanis?’ Her eyes widened. ‘That’s who you were visiting? You know them?’

‘Sure I do. Liv Jesumani does all the Climate Town sponsorship videos, and she teaches video production at the school. She gave me these earbuds. They’re professional quality; journalists and hopper jockeys use them. But I was actually going to meet her cousin Jose. He’s a game developer. We play against each other.’

‘Oh.’ she thought about this. ‘How do you game if you can’t see the screen?’

‘I don’t need to. Two months ago. Jose started getting splitting headaches. He never leaves his flat, and he’s always staring at some screen or other. Dr Harry told him it was eyestrain and he had to shut his screens down for a few hours every day, to get better. But sitting around without gaming drives Jose nuts, so I visit him to play maze games in the dark. You have to hold the controller and figure out how to navigate a maze by how it vibrates in your hand.’ He grinned. ‘Jose hasn’t beaten me yet, but then I’ve had waaay more practice.’

She was silent. Then she stopped, and turned to him. He stopped too, without her having to touch his arm. ‘I legit had no clue you couldn’t see until you told me,’ she said sincerely. ‘If you hadn’t said anything, maybe I wouldn’t have worked it out at all.’

He beamed. ‘When I tell Dr Harry that, he’s going to be so happy.’

‘He should be. This is a fabulous thing he’s invented. Tell me more about it,’ she said inviting him to sit by her on a park bench. ‘What improvements are you working on?’

‘Well, one of the things we want to do is make the AI more sensitive to context, and also make different settings for how much detail to put in the narration. If we can get it to calculate my walking speed and reaction times, it’ll know just how much time it has to warn me before an action item reaches me. Right now sometimes I have to stop and stare into space while the AI tells me how to open a door or get a ticket out of a machine. Or what items are on a menu. People curse at me if I take too long.’

‘People are cruel.’

‘Not their fault. I mean, the whole point of Nai’a is to make it seem like I can see. The cursing is proof that it works.’

‘Or it’s proof that they’re assholes.’

He shook his head. ‘Ableism is an illusion, because if we live long enough, we’ll all have disabilities. A world that’s nice to people with problems is a nicer world for everyone.’

‘That’s true. I once broke my wrist when a stack of speakers fell on me. Getting dressed or bathing was an absolute nightmare, but I didn’t take a single day off work.’

‘Why not?’

‘Hah! And give my boss a chance to fire me? No way. I know I live like a slob on my tiny salary, but it’s by choice, not necessity. I turned my back on my rich family and said I’d make my own way, so there’s no going back for me.’

‘Why did you make that choice, Yonanna?’

She shrugged. ‘I wanted to make my kind of music. I didn’t want to spend my life looking after Daddy’s chain of convenience stores in Seoul. He wanted a son, anyway. He took Pradip Shankar’s Humane Choice vaccine to tip the odds in favour of a boy, but nope, he got me. And I’m not even a real girl.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’m a Broken Pot,’ she said. ‘I have male genes, but I look and talk and feel and think like a woman.’

He took a breath, as if he’d suffered a blow. ‘I’ve never understood why people call you that name. It makes no sense.’

‘It’s because we don’t have wombs. We’re “women” who can’t have children, and so the mainstream thinks we’re useless.’ Her face contorted into a shape of hate. ‘Pradip Shankar coined that term. Which was large-hearted of him, considering it was probably his vaccine that broke us in the first place, as well as caused the Ladbubble, the jump in male births in the Twenties. He’s never admitted to any of the crimes I’m certain he’s guilty of. He’s Ramdhun’s pet and he can do no wrong. I thought he’d get lynched back in 2030 when all the newborn boy babies started dying, but he just promised to find a cure and wham! he became a hero.’

‘I know,’ said Sid. ‘Bilal Bintam’s a friend of mine. Out of the one-thousand boys saved by the Shankar Cure in 2030, he’s the only one who’s not a billionaire’s son. And some of the things he’s told me about the Cure… well, it makes you wonder whether dying of the disease would have been a bigger mercy.’

‘Really? Tell me!’

He shook his head. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. Bilal and his family had to sign a non-disclosure agreement when he was discharged last year. They’re not supposed to reveal anything about the Cure. Ramdhun could have them arrested if I tell you.’

‘Okay,’ she bit her lip. ‘Forget I asked. It’s just that any dirt about Pradip Shankar makes me happy. I just know in my bones that he’s the reason I’m broken.’

‘You’re no more broken than I am,’ said Sid, ‘and I’m not.’

‘You don’t understand. I was supposed to be a boy, but by some fluke I turned out like this. I’m a living disappointment to my parents. I’m a girl but I’ve never had a period, I can’t have children, and I have to be screened for testicular cancer every year. I’m a freak.’

‘You’re a person.’ He reached out and gently wrapped a hand around her clenched fist. ‘When you come to Climate Town, would you like to speak to Amiru? She’s our gender counsellor. She’s from Japan, she’s gorgeous, and she’s a male-bodied person with a feminine persona. She really helped me with my anger issues.’

‘Oh,’ she said, then frowned. ‘How do you know she’s gorgeous? Does your AI tell you?’

‘No. The same way that I know you’re beautiful.’ His hand was warm against hers. ‘I feel it.’

‘How?’ she asked helplessly. ‘I have no idea how beauty feels.’

‘Of course you do. Just go into the presence of a beautiful person, and shut your eyes. If they still feel beautiful, they are. Simple.’

She was silent. Then she said, ‘You’re right. And I’m a fool.’

‘No, you’re just angry,’ he smiled into the air. ‘I was, too, because I couldn’t see my beautiful friends. I felt cheated, and then Amiru told me not to be an idiot, because beauty has nothing to do with a person’s looks. It’s their vibe. So I can’t take full credit for that insight.’

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I guess… that makes sense.’ She wrapped her own hand around his, as his in turn wrapped hers. ‘What’s my vibe, Sid? Tell me honestly.’

‘You want to prove to the world that you’re a person. And you’re succeeding.’

‘I am?’

‘We’re talking, aren’t we? Even though we come from different worlds. That tells me you have the patience to be empathetic.’

‘Or I might just be creepily curious about a blind man who can fool people into thinking he sees.’

‘No, you’ve spent your life having your nose rubbed in the worst interpretation of yourself by people who don’t love you.’

She tried to speak, to come back with some witty repartee, but she couldn’t. ‘Oh god,’ she said. ‘You can’t see me, but I’m crying.’

‘I can feel your hands shaking.’ He stroked her knuckles. ‘Let’s not talk about the sad things for now, Yonanna. The sun feels nice. What should we do next? How much time have you got before you have to go back to work?’

‘It’s already too late for that.’ She grinned ruefully. ‘In any case, I just came in today because my Sundays are boring.’

‘Want to come and check out Climate Town? I can introduce you to all my friends.’

She gasped in delight. ‘Really?’ Then her smile vanished. ‘What about Jose?’

‘Oh, he texted me an hour ago to say he was gonna take a nap. He’ll be fine.’

She took his hand and moved it to her elbow, curling his fingers carefully round her arm, then with her other hand she picked up her bag and jacket. She got to her feet and he followed. They smiled at each other. ‘You just keep a hold of me,’ she said. ‘That way you won’t need Dr Harry talking at you.’

‘Great idea. Hey, that means we can do this.’ And he put one of his earbuds in her ear and tapped his own.

A familiar voice said, ‘Aloha, climies! This is Bian Nguyen and the Collapsineers, and we’re gonna sing “Walking in the Park”! Ah one two three four!’

You’ll never walk alone,
When your hearts are hand in glove.
Come on, come on, come on!
Touch the love to the fuse of love.

You’ll never fear the dark,
Because you carry that spark.
You’ll be walking in the park,
You’ll be walking in the park.