The memory of Oxford could only be revived, M. thought, by going to Oxford. And so he got the bus one weekend. He visited the converted public house in Jericho where he had once lived, rapt in study. Near the house was a delicatessen called Nellies, and almost every day he would pop in there for baklava or coffee, and chat briefly with the proprietor, 'Mr Nellie', as M. named him, who was, they said, from Iran or somewhere, and was always effortlessly happy and content, so it seemed. And sometimes, when M. was snowed under with work, he would stroll past this humble shop and see it warmly lit and familiar, and think how lovely it would be to lead the life of such a shopkeeper, sat reading on quiet days, or engaging customers in idle conversation. At times, it served as a dream that M. could, at will, pull out of a drawer, a dream of comfort and secure existence, ensconced in one's own little fiefdom, a dream thrown up and made appealing only in relation to the then instability and uncertainty of life, the burdens of work and laborious days leading who knows where. And so today, this little wish-image, swam towards him again: the yellow light in the window of the deli glimpsed in passing on a winter's night, the reassuring rhythms of Mr Nellie's comfortable life, the joys of ownership. Like that inexplicable feeling one has, sometimes, passing a house at night and seeing through the window, what cannot appear but as some utterly desirable domestic scene, some place of inviolable refuge and contentment, like those house windows found only on Christmas cards.
He wondered what had happened to Nellies. He went there and at first though he had the wrong corner for there was no sign of any shop, Nellies or other, until the realised that the shop front had been torn down and reconstructed as a house. Someone lived there. And what of Mr Nellie, he wondered. Had he gone back to Iran? He would never know, or so he thought. For the following day M. headed down to Port Meadow, to sit by the river and smell the smells that would tell him what he used to feel and think. And the images that entered his retina, the small untidy cottage on the far shore, were like emissaries from a former self, bearing the images that had once comprised his soul. And so he headed back to the town, woozy with the past like a pollen heavy bee, up the dirt track and back into Jericho. But walking toward him the other way was, to his disbelief, Mr Nellie, happy arm in arm with a younger woman, chatting and smiling, not winnowed with years as M. had expected but seemingly intact with only minor modifications to the external vessel, and this was evidence, if any were needed, of the unpredictable eddies and backflows, the stagnant pools of time, that exist always alongside its more devastating floods.