The square was as busy as ever.


I breathed in the slightly sour tang of yeast. A second breath brought the sweet scent of sugar. A third — the fragrance of buns and nostalgia. 


It had been a while. 


The sun beat down on my face as I picked my way through the familiar stalls, so tightly packed that they might as well be on top of each other. My bare feet tapped on the toasted ground, getting warmer by the second. I wondered if my stall would look the same. Would it still have reflective green ribbons wound around the poles? Would there still be stitches in the faded blue tablecloth? Would children still crowd around, waiting for someone to hand them a delicious pasty?


I slowed down as I approached where my stall was. A sort of apprehension filled me up from the soles of my feet, almost glueing them in place. Did I want to see it? What if it wasn’t there any more? What if the people I had once known were now gone for good? It had been many years, and mortals don’t live long.


“Hey, you okay?” A boy, with dirt streaks across his face, approached. “Are you hungry? When was the last time you’ve eaten?”


I shook my head, and the motion sent my dust-covered, grime-packed hair flying in front of my face. “I’m fine.”


“You look too skinny.” He said, studying me intently. “C’mon, I know a place where you can get free food.”


Despite the glue in my feet, I followed as he pulled on my arm to my stall. And there really was no need to worry — it was the exact same one as my memory. The green ribbons, the faded tablecloth, and the people. My people.


There was Rae, her silver curls tamed into a bun, working the oven. There was Emery, slicing dough so quickly it was just a blur of motion. There was Freya, knuckles bruised as always, laughing with one of the many children engulfed in soot, handing out fresh, crispy bread.


My eyes stung with the force of nostalgia, washing over me in a delicate ache. They looked well.


“Hey.” The boy that had brought me here waved a hand in front of my face. “What’s wrong? The bread is here. Do you want me to bring you one?”


I scrubbed at my eyes, probably covering my face in more dust. “It’s fine. I can get one.”


“Hello.” Rae was the one I spoke to first. She graced me with an angelic smile, one that she could still let loose after all that she had been through. It shone, as did her hair. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before. What’s your name?”


“Kalo,” I said, without thinking. The smell, the scene, it was all so familiar. So familiar it hurt.


“Kalo?” Rae asked. “That’s the second time I’ve met one.”  Sadness seeped into her smile.


I stayed silent. Emery was next.


“Good morning! What’s your order today, milady?” He said it in a joking tone, but there was an ease in the way ‘milady’ rolled off his tongue. “You have the option of crispy bread, crispy bread, and crispy bread.”


I giggled. Still a teaser, like always, but he looked happier; there was sunlight that shone through the windows of his eyes.


Freya was last, and she grabbed me and started scrubbing at my face with a cloth before I could open my mouth. “Goodness, look at how dirty you are. What have you rascals been up to these days?”


I let her warm, calloused hands clean my face and brush my hair. Still the same Freya, unable to sit around and do nothing when she could be helping instead.


She handed me a bun, wrapped in coarse brown paper. “And you’re so skinny you might as well be skin on sticks. Eat! I’ll grab you another one.” She headed inside, presumably to find Rae and scold her for not giving me a bun already, and to take the chance to stuff one in Rae’s mouth as well.


The boy that had brought me here gave me a strange look as I quietly slipped away from the green ribbons and faded tablecloth. “Hey, where are you going?”


I shook my head at him.


He ran to catch up. “Freya’s gone inside to find you more bread, she can’t give it to you if you go! They won’t hurt you, I promise.”


Tears threatened to fall from my eyes. No, they wouldn’t hurt me. It was the opposite.


I’d already hurt them by leaving, and I was leaving again, because what else was I meant to do? How would I explain the ability to present myself to them in different bodies? How would I tell them that I won’t age? That I cannot die?


I wiped furiously at my eyes. “It’s fine. I’m full already.”


He furrowed his brows. “You don’t look full.”


“It’s fine.” I turned and left, slipping between two stalls. I heard the boy calling out for me to wait, but his voice slowly faded into the distance as I weaved between the shops with practised ease. Even after all these years, I could still pick my way through the crowd by memory.


The bun was still clutched in my hand, and I slowly brought it to my mouth and took a bite.


Exactly how I remembered it.


A hint of butter, warm and golden, skimming over my tongue. Two spoons of sugar, sweet and soft, swirling in the back of my throat. And a feeling. 


A feeling of nostalgia, nestling gently against my collarbones.


Written by Amy Zuo and edited by Emily Chan. Published on 3/9/23. Header image by Sarah Shin.

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