The party was something else. Room after room of jugglers, musicians, lights and scents, gardens lit with garlands of coloured bulbs, stalls of fresh hot food, drinks to lift your spirits, statues, displays, people everywhere. None of us had seen anything like it before. Excess was the order of the day and we were all there to witness it.
On silver trays, teams of footmen dressed in red suits brought indulgent fancies to the crowd: roasted chicken, crispy bacon, succulent pastries, fragrant cheeses, exotic fruits, smooth chocolates. Every bite screamed calories. Every outfit – tailored to perfection, adorned and detailed with expensive decoration – whispered lies; designed surely to hide the consequences of excess. Every face masked, too. Different masks around every room: smiles to cover fears, make-up shallow on faces deep with pain. The lies of conversation and etiquette matching the lies of the food, the dresses, the promises of happily-ever-after.
I did not enjoy it, of course. These things drain me of myself; the loud music irritates me and the movement of the people in so many directions confuses my mind. I crave truth. Simplicity. Air.
Having no real excuse to leave, I left. Nobody stopped me and few saw me go, I’m sure. I took myself through the gardens, past a string quartet, around the orangery and over a small, elegant wooden bridge. The noise lingered in the air but the smell was sweeter, clearer and the night darker. I wandered through trees until I found one I could climb into. Perched up between the larger branches I could take my time and observe the slow dance of the stars, the scuttle of little insects on the bark and the gentle movement of the leaves around me. On the wind church bells rang midnight.
Although the party was by now some distance behind me, I could still hear the occasional shout or horn, and even now the fireworks began. I could see them lighting the sky in blazes of green, red and white and imagined the crowds collecting at the lakeside to watch, fire scattering across the sky, smashing the darkness.
Someone was running in my direction, urgently, through the trees. I looked, expecting to see a well-dressed party-goer, but couldn’t see a thing. Perhaps I’d been heard. Perhaps they had slowed down, looking for an exit. I descended to find out what was happening, and when I was down, I noticed a gate in the high garden wall, open and swinging. I went through cautiously to the road, but saw no sign of the runner. I was very puzzled.
It was shortly after this that I stepped on something lying in the grass, which cracked and broke under my foot. In the dim light the pieces felt sharp and hard. One piece was shaped like the heel of a shoe. I picked it up to look more closely, suspecting it had been dropped by mistake by the mysterious runner. But then someone else arrived.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.