A Man

A strange man was staring intently at something on the pavement.

I stopped to see what he was looking at.

He glanced at me, and in his eyes, I saw something that I didn’t care to examine.

Then he lifted his hat, put it back on his head, and walked off, lighting a cigarette.

His footsteps sounded gravelly on the pavement, which was slick with the drizzle that had rained down for the past hour.

The heavens were grey.

The houses huddled together.

A faint haze clouded the world, just so you couldn’t make out what was in the distance, but you couldn’t be entirely sure it was a fog.

‘What were you looking at?.’

The man vanished into the not-fog.

And there was nothing on the pavement.

I hurried along, feeling self conscious, somehow. Why did I stop. I don’t know.

I was expecting to see a dead rabbit, it’s body ripped apart so the insides spilled out and plastered onto the elements.

I was expecting to see a hole leading right down to the other side of the world, assuming the world was round, that is.

I was expecting to see the secrets of life in an open book. Why else would a man be so fascinated?

I don’t know.

Why was the strange man staring at the pavement?

When I got home, my roommate told me that sometimes people have private thoughts which the world has no business trying to get a hold of.

‘You can’t just pick up the phone, Penny, and ask what’s up.’

But you can, that is what phones are for.

I really wanted to know.

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She

She was a jellyfish, floating under a wave. Bobbing gently with the ebbing current. Her translucent hair swaying silently around her still face, eyes tightly shut, sealed like death merged with life.

She was the calm in a strong wind. The centre of a storm. The silence as the raging destruction hurled life over a precipice and into the unknown. The deep breath, pregnant with dread.

She was the shadows when you slept, the coat behind the door, the woman silently watching as you tried to coax yourself to sleep. She was there, even though you convinced yourself she was just the dressing gown. Everything looks frightening in the dark.

She was surreal reality, dread behind a closed door. She was the exhibit they ignored, because it made them feel uncomfortable. She was the haunting in Connecticut, the dried eyelids in a box. She was the soft breeze that blew out the candles when the windows were closed. She was the buzzing sound of a wasp when there was none to be seen.

She held her breath for as long as she could, and when she surfaced, life flooded into her in the gasps she took of the air which hummed with oxygen. Her eyes flew open, and reflected the vivid blue stretched over her head. The waves crashed on the distant shore, and her muscles ached with the struggle for life. She kicked, hard, and glanced back. Silhouettes stood on the beach, children’s laughter carried off by the wind.

She was alive, not dead. Death hadn’t captured her yet. The current was far from her curled toes, and she pushed her chest forward with strong strokes of her slender, young arms. Back to the shore.

Back.

To life.

‘Darling, you were away for so long!’, Mam said, as she meandered with long, swaying strides towards the blanket which lay slightly rumpled in the hot sand. She bent over and towelled her hair dry.

‘I was drinking the sea,’ she murmured.

‘Do you want a sarnie? Before Chris eats them all. We’ve got egg mayo and tuna.’

‘I nearly died, mam.’

‘Don’t be silly, we were watching you the entire time.’ her mother said, cheerfully, handing her a sandwich out of a fat orange Sainsbury’s bag next to her foldable beach chair.

She took it, a fat rectangle stuffed with filling and molded like a pillow in saran wrap. She looked at the sea, crashing gently on the shore. Swimmers splashed as the sun beamed down beautifully.

I could have died, if I’d wanted to. 

Me and Machine

The train poured out of the tunnel, and endless stream of boxcars and flat empty carriage holders, on and on and on, the engines roaring in a crescendo of deafening sound, yet the pull of the train too slow to warrant such a noise so it made it seem like a weak, outdated machine.

Maybe the train was just too heavy, and so the engines had to work extra hard. I counted forty boxcars and then I lost count, as more kept spilling out of the gaping hole of the tunnel at the furthest end of the station; the mouth of this huge cavern of a station echoing with humanity drowned in the noise of the machine. Boxcars filled by robots, operated by robots, stacked by robots and sent off by robots to factories run by artificial intelligence.

So much power created, and the world carried on pretending to be the humdrum efficient system humans had created it to be.

And still it kept coming, more and more, vomiting out boxcars as they trundled along to the ends of the earth. I watched them glide past, too fast to jump on without serious injury or even fatality, and too slow to not contemplate doing the latter.

In the end, when the noise faded after the last boxcar holder, devoid of its box, melted into the wavy distance of burning horizon, the station sat in silence. Hunched over after the hefty belch it had just expelled from its gut.

I looked around me. Emptiness. Stillness. The laughter and chatter I imagined beneath the roaring noise of firing pistons had disappeared with the train, and I was left alone.

Was it my imagination, there there were people around me? The heat blazed outside the gaping lips of the station, where trains go after they have surfaced from its gut. The sky was brilliantly blue, deliciously deceiving, for I knew my skin would burn and curl up into brown flakiness the minute I stepped out of the shadow. I was alone. Sitting on a bench. Clutching my canvas bag close to me, feeling my sweaty thighs meld together under the soft cotton of my dress, which felt a little damp from the sweat I imagined pooled there.

My throat was dry, but the shops were closed. I sat and waited for the next train, the next glimpse of humanity to cure my aching loneliness. I would imagine human chatter under the noise of mechanical efficiency. After all, machines were created by humans.

I can’t be the only one left in the aftershock of viral destruction. It can’t be just me and the machines. Me and the remnants of man.

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The Girl in the Mirror

‘My mother was a witch.’

He laughed loudly. Throwing his head back to let his mirth spill into the night air. She looked piqued at his reaction to her confession.

‘I mean it. She really was!’

‘Okay, sure. What, she was so mean to you?’

‘God, no. Never mean to us at all. She was an enchantress.’ 

She watched his eyes search her face for the lie. There was no lie, however. She bit her lip.

‘Go on,’ he prodded, finally.

She had the night sky in her eyes.’

He rolled his.

When she spoke, her voice was like the angels. So gentle, so quiet. A calming effect in the stormiest of seas. When my little sister bawled my mother sang to her. She swayed about the room, swishing her skirts and singing until my sister, sprawled on the floor, stopped her fit and stared in wonder.’

He shrugged, ‘She loved her mother.’

It was more than that.’

The silence hung between them like a heavy drape. The air was still, the stars above twinkling brightly. The city spread beneath them, their feet resting solidly on the edges of the plateau. He was staring out at the lights, she couldn’t read the expression on his face.

‘Well?’

Well?’

‘More than what?’

Oh. She was ethereal. Every mundane experience we had was something magical when she became involved. The table was a plateau. The fox was a wolf. The bread was cake dripping with honey. The blossoms were homes for the fairies and the daises were their purple tinged dresses.’

He turned to look at her then. His blue eyes looked black in the darkness. His face was thrown into shadow. She saw his outline against the backdrop of lights, which spilled into the inky blackness of the sky above, so that the stars over the city vanished, even though the ones above them were so brilliant.

‘You really loved your mother.’

His voice was soft. Sad.

I loved her, yes. But even if I hadn’t, even if I hadn’t’

‘How did she die?’

She looked down at the city again. She could hear it, all the way from here. The sound of  a rising highway. The sound of hundreds of machines. A loud, yet soft humming. A thrumming in the earth. The roots of concrete and people. She knew this was not the natural noise the earth made, and it made her feel part of something greater, somehow. As though she wasn’t entirely alone.

She didn’t.’

‘What?’

She didn’t die. She just tripped back through the mirror from where she came’

‘Emily, come on..’

‘My father always said that she stepped out of the mirror one day. He called her the Girl in the Mirror, when we were children, and we would laugh at him, calling him silly. He would tug at her long black tresses sometimes, and his eyes would look at her sadly. Once, when I was ten years old, he held her in his arms and whispered, ‘thank you for giving me your four little gifts’ – he meant us, of course. When she went back in, he told us it was her time to go back, and that she had left us four for him to always remember her by.’

‘Emily..’

She did not look at him. Her large violet eyes reflecting the thousands of lights spread before her.

There’s a girl in my mirror. I know she is not me. Sometimes when I blink, she doesn’t. Her smile is a little more sly than mine.’

‘I think this is all your imagination.’

And once I caught her making faces at my little sister.’

‘A coping mechanism, to cope with the pain of losing your mother..’

We are enemies now.’

‘Emily..’

I’ve always wondered who my mother’s Other Woman was. And if she looks like her at all. And if she knows her Mirror Woman came out and lived with us for a while.’

He didn’t say anything. Her face had a faraway quality to it. He realised that she wasn’t even there, with him, at that moment. He didn’t know if she’d heard anything he had said. He began to wish he hadn’t said it at all.

A low breeze wafted suddenly through the trees behind them, tugging gently at her long, ethereal black tresses, that cascaded all the way down her back. He heard it, swishing in the leaves and rumbling in the sky, he saw her dress move with it, but he didn’t feel it.

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Love Letters #36

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill

  

Endings

Every happy ending is just a new beginning.

Things don’t just end. Even with death, things don’t end. The world started a horrendously long time ago, and its heart does not stop beating for anybody. People have come and gone, and a small percentage of those people have made their global marks. The rest have sparked tremors in their localities, small throbbing circles of red encompassing the hearts and homes they have touched, not quite big enough or important enough or broadcast enough to spread any further.

People get married – the sweet ending to a romantic, if somewhat tumultuous in some cases, courtship. People graduate; an exhilarating ending to what appeared at the time to be years of tedious struggle. People buy houses, the satisfying ending to years of scrimping and hours of anxious waiting and searching and tapping uncomfortable heels on the stained carpets of pristine banks.

These endings are just beginnings, though. The beginning of a marriage; what happens next? Does the husband turn into a dragon? Does the wife file for divorce? How many kids do they have? What do these kids end up doing?

The beginning of true adulthood after graduation; do they get a job? Do they travel anywhere? What exactly did this pathway lead them to? Do they regret not studying harder?

The beginning of a new house. Is it haunted? Is the boiler broken? Do they renovate? What if they don’t end up together, do they cut the house in half and carry the other on a mobile home, the rooms gaping into the wind and slowly growing into the elements?

Life is like a multitude of circles. Venn diagrams connecting people and places and memories and things and dreams. These circles are contained within bigger circles of lives and generations and ancestors and descendants. People merge together then drift apart, lots of smaller circles spiralling away from their union. People die, but their circles are continued by those who knew them until they, too, die. But oops, others knew those dead people and so on and so forth.

There is so such thing as an ending, I think. It is more like, goodness, I have closed this chapter now because I really cannot go on reading this story. I have learned all I care to learn from it. So, they get married. Good for them. Now I shall have some jam on toast and figure out why this equation makes 12 when I could only ever make 8.

And I would complete the equation – happy ending! Only it is the beginning to new equations and new horizons and more mathematical problems.

This is where I choose to end this train of thought.

Perhaps you would like to start a new beginning by sharing yours?

Storytellers

Stories have been told to countless audiences throughout the centuries of human existence. We started off with oral storytelling, where the individuality of a teller was just as important as the telling of the story, where both of these aspects married with the dynamic nature of the story itself to produce something vivid and magical, to ensnare an audience and teach countless generations lessons pertaining to life, morals and their own rich history and ancestry.

Storytelling does not just limit itself to mystical tellers enrapturing an audience around a campfire or in an ancient tent, however. Stories can be found in the most common places, around a dinner table, at a sleepover, during a picnic, at a meet up, over a steaming cup of coffee, in a diary and even through a Facebook message! A story does not just have to be a well written, much drafted and severely edited piece of work. It can also be an event dressed up and communicated through several choice words, expressions and gestures, all interplaying to create a tale which is uniquely creative to the person telling it.

A story is a performance, no matter it does not strictly adhere to a play or an opera. A story is individual or collective artistry, working closely with the conventions of performance and forming something familiar, yet distinct in its own right. And that is what captures the attention.

Tradition is therefore a huge part of storytelling. Be it at a pantomime or around a dinner table, certain conventions and expectations of performance intertwine with the teller’s innovation. The key here is manipulation of convention – a good story turns expectations on its heel, and makes something new out of something expected. A good novel has an unexpected twist, or challenges conventions of creative writing by using unique language structure, or changes the face of a genre by interlacing two completely different ones. A good play is one that challenges the audience to think and bates the breath. A good family story is one told with enough wit to conjure laughter at the table, or with a hilarious display of gestures to endear, or with solemnity in an otherwise jovial demeanour. The ways are countless, and they all can be understood through the context in which they are told, and the audience must therefore be familiar with the traditions around these stories. A story from Shakespeare’s time would not, perhaps, be understood in the midst of the Arabia desert, since they are worlds apart and flourish under different cultures.

As to how stories and story telling affect one’s life, well, we are living and breathing results of such an experiment. Every single one of us has heard stories in the past, has perhaps been influenced by a story or has had a story change one’s mindset.

As a child I heard hundreds of stories, from books, from relatives, from the security guard of our building warning us not to do something because so and so did it and such and such happened, from my mother relating past experiences in her mesmerising way, short and concise, yet carrying deep meaning, from my grandmother adding snippets in conversation, rolling rotis out and telling me the servants used to let her roll the last roti because they didn’t want her to ruin the batch. From my paternal aunt telling me stories of my father as a child, helping me understand his character better. Stories have added to my life perspective about people, places and feelings. And accompanying the stories themselves, the ways of narration, the different accents and languages and gestures and fonts and structures through which they were told have had just as much impact as the stories themselves. Stories would not carry the way they were, for impact as much as they have been, were it not for storytellers and story weavers.

Research has shown that storytelling in very young children improves their cognitive abilities. Stories are important. They are life changing, and they add colour and insight to one’s existence. They are the small threads that connect people together and unite them under one cause or many, under one tradition or many, and make people feel as though they are part of something larger in this vast world. I think that is something everybody wants to feel, don’t you?

How have stories and storytelling impacted your life? 

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Reaper

My attempt at a 100 word story.

Merrin Reaper was a charmer.

He belonged to the Hill people, renowned for their electric blue hair and waif figures. Five foot tall, and a brilliant smile. Everybody loved Merrin, even the big people down by the river. Too bulky to venture near the Hills for fear of trampling on those mines, they only ever dwelled on the banks.

Merrin tripped there daily. An ear for everyone, and a comforting shoulder for those in mourning. It was hinted at darkly that there was a dark shadow behind the small fellow.

Merrin knew better, of course. It was his brother, Grim.

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Notes

Notes.

Everyday, with a timestamp, and a small sentence or a quote that, frankly, meant nothing.

6.23PM – Sat 18th November

May this day beam you well, and the rest shine brighter.

What did that even mean?!

It was mid autumn, so the days were short and grey, flashes of red and brown and vibrant yellow swiftly dragging the winter ever closer. Soon even those colours would vanish, as the world settled in its dismal, bare armed huddle to wait the winter out.

I liked this time of year. I loved my jumpers and my thick red scarf aunty Mel had bought for me from Harrods three years ago. I wore it everywhere, and it still looked as delightfully new and pristine as it did the first day I unwrapped it from its cocoon of crispy tissue paper.  I loved the way leaves would pile up in soggy mounds on the wet pavements, and the way damp gravel scraped under my heel. I loved how the tip of my nose and my cheeks glowed with the warmth of my body, as the raging elements whipped around my outer garments. They had no way in, and I loved that.

And everyday, when I left home after giving my mother a toast-and-tea kiss, pulling on my stripy gloves, I would catch a note.

The first note was just lying on the ground. It drew attention to itself because it was so out of the ordinary. It certainly looked ordinary enough, but it had been raining all night, and the note, sitting atop the bush at the end of my front garden, was dry as a bone. It flapped a little, but it was wedged in between the twigs. I pulled it out,

6:10AM – Mon 26th September

I don’t know where pineapples come from, but I would sure love to see the apples my Pines produce.

Huh. I put the note in my pocket. Perhaps it was somebody’s and they dropped it and it got caught in that hedge. I went off and had my day.

The next morning there was another note.

7:23AM – Tue 27th September

Where the wild creatures roam, a sea of orchids will nod.

 This time it was folded neatly and slotted in between the wooden slats of my front gate. I slid it into my pocket again.

This one seemed intentional.

 

 

Love Letters #25

 

A note slipped out of Emilia’s book while she was tidying out her dorm room.

My dear, 

Nothing is sweeter than your bright smile those cold mornings when I miss your arms around me. I can’t wait to see you again tonight.

M.L

Emilia’s fingers ran along the words. A romantic affair. She remembered it as though it were yesterday. Why is love so much more sweet when it is forbidden? Sweet. Painful.

Kisses under the underground arches when the rest of the students had moved on ahead. His hand on her knee under the table, while he played merry to the adults.

Sweet little notes slipped between the pages of borrowed books.

Glances above the heads of the laughing crowds, knowing smiles when introduced to each other by mutual friends. Her heart would surge with joy and excitement and a giddy pleasure. At the back of her mind she knew it was wrong, oh, so wrong.

But love was good, was it not? Love was sound. Love was beautiful. How could something so beautiful be wrong, then?

Her mind had been racing much too fast to focus on any words. Her legs were crossed at the ankles, where they rested on the other side of the wide window ledge she reclined on. Her eyes wandered the green outside the college windows. She couldn’t eat those days, she couldn’t sleep. That was, she told herself countless times, what it was like to be in love.

She saw him walking across the courtyard and her heart quickened. She felt her pulse pounding through her veins as she watched him stop and speak to some students. They laughed, and she smiled. Ever the charmer. Then he glanced up at the windows, and, not seeing her, hurried indoors.

She hadn’t stopped to think about why she was so special, when there were countless other young girls in her classes, some prettier than herself, smarter, funnier. She knew they were all after him, and it gave her a sense of huge satisfaction to know she had been singled out from amongst the masses. She was above them all, even though she couldn’t say anything about it.

Nobody knew, but they didn’t have to. Her confidence grew daily. And nightly. She would tiptoe back to her dorm room, wrapping herself tightly in her night gown. Slip under her covers and lie there looking at the ceiling, smiling to herself. She would be exhausted the next day, and when he handed her her assignments in class he would murmer,

‘Late night, Miss Clarkson?’

She would cast her eyes down and hide her smile, but joy would surge within her. And under her papers a small yellow note in his thick, straight handwriting.

Later that day she was going to Lord Warrington’s ball. Her whole family had been invited, it was to be a grand affair. She had prepared her red evening dress weeks earlier. Diane had gone with her and they had chosen matching shoes as well.

‘You will look positively ravishing, darling. Pity Tommy Sand couldn’t take you.’

‘Oh,’ Emilia said airily, ‘Oh it doesn’t matter. I am perfectly fine going with Mother and Father.’

Diane had glanced away, eyebrows raised. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine how anybody could go alone, or with their parents. The humiliation!

Out on the dance floor, Emilia was never short of partners. She spotted him across the room, speaking to a woman with thick black hair. Surprised, she started forward. Nobody from college was here. They could talk, maybe even dance!

She excused herself from her dance partner to squeeze past people to get to him, in her hurry slipping a little on the dance floor. His back was to her when she reached out and touched his shoulder with her gloved hand. He turned around, and she smiled wide, about to say how good it was to see him and how they could be free, here, and would he like to dance?

Before a single word fell from her lips she saw his eyes widen, and dart sideways. She wanted to laugh out loud. He had nothing to be afraid of now! Oh, she was so excited!

‘Ah, Miss Clarkson.’ he said, before she could say a word, and smiled politely at her.

‘Martin! I..’, she began breathlessly.

‘Meet Laura,’ he interrupted firmly, as the lady next to him looked questioningly at her,

‘Uh, yes, hello, I’m Emilia,’ Emilia said, bewildered, holding her hand out. Laura took it warmly, smiling wide.

‘Emilia, pleased to meet you.’

She was beautiful.

‘This is my wife. Laura, Miss Clarkson is a student of mine. I was not aware your family knew Lord Warrington.’

His voice faded into the background, as her stomach fell to her feet. She murmured something faintly before staggering away, aware Laura was staring her her with a frown.

‘Is she alright?’ she heard her ask him. Him. 

‘I’m sure she is. Come dance, darling.’

She staggered outside to the wide balcony where she fell painfully onto the banister overlooking the dark orchard down below. She was heaving, and her ears were ringing. And it hurt. Oh it hurt like a hundred knives slicing through her body. She was numb, and the tears refused to seep from her eyelids.

She would have to pull herself together, of course. She would have to get up and stand tall and smile and dance and charm people, then go home with her parents and make merry.

She would have to get on.

Emilia looked at the note again, and crumpled it in her fist, throwing it into the fireplace.

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