D | E  

Beijing, Temple of Confucius

Scene 14

At the end of the complex stood a massive hall with rows of sculpted stone pillars, on which were etched close together various Confucian observations and teachings. The pillars had clearly served to highlight and multiply the texts, with hidings for the students of the temple. Maille wandered around, winding his way in and out of the pillars. The light was golden and dusty, the air damp and filled with diffused ideas – just the atmosphere that belongs to such a place.

The mood reminded him of a depot in the Museum for East Asian Art in Port-Louis where he had worked as a student – especially of the nape of the neck of Marlotte, the director of the institution, a lady just a few years older than him, who had regularly frequented the depot to search for suitable pieces for her exhibition on ceramics from the Song era. Ah, how often had he almost kissed that neck, how often had his lips almost skimmed that sunbrowned skin of hers, how often had he almost breathed in her fine blond hair – deep, deeper, so deep that he could quite feel the tips of her strands in his bronchial tubes. He knew that she could sense his arousal while she caressed vase after vase with her soft fingers, allowing him time, much time. But when, after weeks of telepathic preparation, he finally invited her to a glass of white wine, she declined. As punishment, he had masturbated on his last working day in a seladon-green cup of the 10th century. About a year later he had seen that cup in an exhibition at the museum, only it had dated to the 13th century now. It still gave him a big kick to remember that his ejaculation had caused the post-ponement of centuries.

There was nothing in the hall that could help him further, no clue and no trace. But then, at the exit, a female guard with the friendliest smile ever handed him a picture postcard with a never-ending series of curtsies. Maille wished to know from whom she had received the card, but naturally the girl spoke only Chinese. On the postcard was a picture of bronze dragons, between whose claws was balanced a globe, a minute model of the universe with diverse planet pathways. Maille recognised this plastic globe – he had circled such a model at least 20 times on his arrival in the departure lounge in Beijing airport, while waiting at the Air France counter to book his return flight via Paris.