DubrovnikA boat was rented for an afternoon to show us the surrounding isles, cutting through glassy Adriatic blue, inviting us to villages of white stone houses shuttered blind in hibernation. At one shore the air hung pungent with oranges in stages of decay – bright baubles on every tree and fallen in abundant waste to alleyways and gardens. Neglected fruits seemed the only life, but for feral cats and fishermen absorbed in old habits of stillness, so all was quiet as a postcard photograph.

Till children ran out from a shadow, hair wind-ragged and sun-golden from a summer long past, dark brown eyes measuring us like the curious eyes of wild things. One laid out a faded towel to make a shop of treasures, turning each to show its better side – seashells in careful rows, classified by species. His sister bent to test the wares, lifting to an ear one by one their empty mouths, listening for oceans before bargaining a price. Her nod confirmed no private sea had drained or dried away, or in storage lost its moon to pull a tide and make the roar and rush echo secretly inside.

Unless preserved in hearts or words and put away for future seasons, days may fall like oranges, yielding their goodness, squandering their magic on adulthood. But in that place long forgotten in winter, eternities were up for sale – oceans of believing and remembering caught in the nets of greater commerce, surplus and discarded. Time capsules of other shores in other winters, chapters from the life of any listener – my grey English waves and clumsy pebbles, my new beginnings on clean Asiatic sands.

I came with empty pockets so returned with pockets empty too, though what could I have traded for the unhorizoned riches offered by those little hands.

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