It was such a relief to arrive in Alexandria. As you say, John, the further we went down the Nile, the greener and lusher it got. I felt that I was coming back from the land of the dead - hot, dry, harsh, pitiless - and plunging into this great cool pool of life. Yes, that was it: it was like diving into some great mountain lake, its cold waters a shock, making you gasp for air, but a refreshing shock and a pleasure.
The next morning, on the overnight train we had caught after our flight to Abu Simbel, I talked a little more with Alekko, keen to find out what happened to him in England, but conscious of what had happened in France.
"So, Alekko," I said, "I'm surprised that you stayed in England since we had the bad manners to keep you on the Isle of Man."
"Ah!, lady," he replied, "it was not so bad. It is a beautiful island - it reminds me of home, of my poor Albanian hills - but a little cold and wet. The mists on the moors are good. And, well, it will not be a surprise that I soon found myself friends there. There are beautiful kind ladies there too of course."
"Of course," I said joining in his smile. I felt happy in a silly sort of way that things had worked out there, that he had not suffered and mourned.
"Besides, lady, you must know that there a special road between England and Greece. Every Greek has a love for England and the English in his heart."
"Why is that, Alekko?"
"I will tell you. Because of your great Lorthos Veeronas - that is, the Lord Byron. You know, he fought for us against the evil Turks. He died for our freedom."
"Really? And the Greeks remember him still?"
"The Greeks do not forget their friends. I do not forget our friends." He said this with a fierce pride, as if any suggestion that he our his people would let time diminish their sense of responsibility would be an insult.
"And so, yes," he continued, "it was not very comfortable on Man. But I understood: I came across the seas, I was a foreigner - and you English always doubt foreigners - there was a war, I had no papers. They must put me in the camp. But we have an old saying, 'if a ship finds a port, it can put its anchor there'. After the war I had many friends, they helped me that I could stay in England - for Greece was England's friend."
"And after that?"
"Oh, lady, too many things to tell, too many people, too many places. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes I make a sea of things, but now I am happy, I am lucky."
"Yet, despite all these people you know, all these ladies you have told me about - and lots you haven't - you still never married?
"Lady, once upon a time, I was too young to marry. Now, I am too old. And I will tell you: marriage is an ending of things - there is no more travelling after that. I must travel or I will die. So I am here, in Egypt, a new place again. I cannot live with an ending, the past, but my life has been always beginnings and after the beginnings, always the Big Now."
"Does that mean you have never had a profession?"
"Lady, of course I have a profession, I had the Knowledge."
"Is this another Albanian saying?" I asked, not entirely sure.
"Lady, you must know: The London Knowledge, to be a taxi driver. I know London like my pocket."
"And is this a good job?"
"It is the best, for people always talk to the drivers of taxi, they tell you their stories. I love people's stories. I make many friends this way, meet many kind ladies. Besides, you know, I like to travel - still, that is why I am here, I have time, I have moneys, but I like a little help now in groups and some words from your clever husband. And was not London a world too?"
"And do you still live in London now?"
"Yes, I live in the famous Wood Green. There are many Greeks there, many good Greek shops. We have our radio too in Greek. It is paradise - all this Greek, but in London where I am safe. You know, lady, my big fear? I will tell you. That in the war England also would be invaded by the Germans, and that I must flee again. For where would I go? Yes, it was simple: I must swim the Atlantic to America."
And with that he burst out laughing at the outrageousness of his own tales, such a healthy, honest, twinkling laugh that I had no desire to question him further, to find out if he were really as happy as he seemed, whether he regretted not marrying, not having his children - however many there were of them - about him. Instead, I was content to accept him on his own terms, to live with his splendid present, his Big Now, as he did.
So we passed on up the Nile, like a great wave along the river. We stopped in Cairo then moved up into the Delta, the day overcast - none of that desert sun here. Later we started moving through suburbs again, stopping off at stations that could have been almost any major city. Blocks of flats around us. Eventually we arrived at Alexandria's Masr station. Alexandria is such a romantic word: as you said, it does seem to conjure up images of a glorious past, very cosmopolitan, very sophisticated, a kind of Paris of the Middle East. I am sorry that it seemed to you so different now: for me, despite the cracks in the plaster everywhere, Alexandria was still that place, with its cafés, its corniche, its fort - and our wonderful hotel.
At the risk of being boring, John, I must say that you really excelled yourself with this one. The Hotel Metropole - even writing its name sends pleasant shivers of memory down my spine. How I loved it there. I can honestly say that I have never been so happy as in that charming run-down place. Which is perhaps a bit unfair on you, John, but I hope from what follows you'll understand why I say this.
I loved the entrance - up those marble steps, through the fine doors - and then in to reception. It was strange: the hotel clearly had aspirations to being very grand once - perhaps it still does - but now it felt very friendly, homely even. The reception desk with its huge wall of keys - does this place ever get full? Perhaps it does in the summer when the Cairenes come here to escape the heat and dust of Cairo. The little tea-room or whatever it is at the front, with the chairs looking as if they've come from some gentleman's club - and the chandelier; the rickety old lift whose light goes out rather disconcertingly when it stops at your floor. Next to it, the telephone operator in her tiny cubicle repeating constantly her catchphrase: 'Hallo? Aiwa, aiwa' - 'yes, yes....' The tall, echoing corridors, some dusty aspidistras in pots, faded prints on the walls.
And our room - number 482, I remember. Again, very tall, cracks in the plaster, old mouldings on the wall like something out of a French chateau. You were dubious about the waterworks, which chugged and groaned when you tried them, but I had eyes only for the balcony, with its view of the sea, the Mediterranean in all its grey-green majesty. And that amazing sensation, the bouncing and swaying of the floor: the hotel was obviously so delicately sprung that the whole room shook in the most sensuous way whenever anyone walked past.
As always, I've saved the best to last: the dining room. We had to rush down there as soon as we had dumped our things in the rooms - they were waiting for us. What a beautiful room: brilliant white, like spring sunshine personified, cool and fresh. No one else there except us. A very high ceiling, with a wonderful pea-green frieze around the top of the walls - full of classical Greek figures in relief - a perfect complement to the colours and spirit of the room. More chandeliers. And in the middle of the room, an amazing piece of furniture: a large pillbox shape in dark wood, with metal bands around it, marble-topped, about four feet high. Perhaps for the cutlery - though I never saw any removed.
The waiters lovely old men, dressed in immaculate white uniforms. They looked like retainers from some distant colonial past. They were so friendly - but so old too, their poor hands shaking as they dished out the vegetables in the best fork-and-spoon manner. I had to restrain myself from offering to help.
I suppose that this room was the perfect setting for getting to know Mr and Mrs Smith, two of our party that I have shamefully ignored in my descriptions so far. I had made small talk to them before this point, but had been too absorbed with Alekko's fascinating tales and suchlike to give them the attention they deserved. I tried to make up for this omission now.
I don't know to what extent you really noticed them at all, John - they don't seem to have cropped up in your journal much. So, to remind you, they basically look like everybody's favourite grandparents. Mr Smith - Eric - is in his sixties, but looks younger. He has grey hair, white at the temples, thinning a little, which he combs straight back from a high forehead. When you meet him, he has a ready smile, but one born of shyness and a slight lack of self-confidence. This natural reticence sits oddly with his big, imposing frame, now beginning to shrink a little as if he were starting to move off inside himself in some way. He is basically a very kind and decent man.
Enid Smith, nee Cholmondley, is simply one of the nicest people I have ever known. She is also quiet - which is why the Smiths seems such a perfect couple - but it is a watching, generous kind of quietness born of great inner strength. Her hair is very fine and slightly wispy, and like her husband she has a good smile, but one given more naturally and less forced than his. She is in her late fifties, and in contrast to Eric is a tiny bird-like thing. But within her small frame you sense a tremendously powerful heart beating.
I daresay I have made them sound terribly dull. I am sure that you found them so when you were with them. In which case you will be unprepared for the tale of fire they began to tell me over lunch, and which they rounded out over the next days as we visited the sights of Alexandria. The tales of Alekko were extraordinary enough - even allowing for the generous re-tellings which he gave them; but in a way they are not so surprising given Alekko's full-blooded character. They are completely unsurprising compared to the story of the mild-mannered Mr and Mrs Smith.
"Well, Eric," Enid said as we sat down to lunch, "can you believe that we are here again?"
"No, my dear, I almost can't." I couldn't resist the opportunity.
"So have you been here before - in this hotel?"
"Ah, yes, we certainly have, haven't we?" Eric asked Enid with a gentle smile.
"Has it changed much?" I continued.
"Oh, no, not really - what do you think Enid?"
" - I think that for us it will always be the same, after what happened here."
" - Yes, I think you are right."
"Could I ask what did happen here?" I said.
"Shall I tell her or do you want to?" Eric asked his wife.
"Oh, go on, you do it Eric."
"Well, it's very simple, really. It was in this dining room that we first set eyes on each other - "
" - Yes, in this very room, it all began," Enid added.
"That's so nice," I said. "So how many years have you been - I mean how long ago was that?"
"well, let's see," said Enid, "It must be about 34 - "
" - about 34 - "
"- Can it really be 34 years ago that we first saw each other? Oh Eric, how time flies. All those years...."
"So you must be up to your, what?, silver, pearl wedding anniversary?" Looking back I am horrified that I was so inquisitive - except that had I not been, I would probably have never heard their story - they were a very quiet and self-effacing couple.
"Oh no, nothing so grand, I'm afraid...." Enid said.
"Is there any special name like pearl for your second anniversary?" Eric asked with an innocent air. I laughed, thinking it was a joke, but stopped quickly when I saw that neither of the Smiths was laughing. They looked rather embarrassed.
"I'm so sorry, I-I thought - I mean - " I stuttered in confusion.
"No, it's quite all right Janet, it's a mistake that many make. We find it hard to believe too, don't we Eric?"
"We certainly do - it is almost unbelievable - but true, praise God."
"Amen to that, Eric. You see, Janet, we were married only two years ago. And yet we did indeed see each other for the first time 34 years ago."
"I saw and I fell in love with you at first sight," Eric said simply, taking his wife's hand tenderly.
"And I with you" she answered, squeezing his hand gently.
I was too confused by all this to know how to go on, but luckily Alekko leapt in with honest interest in them, and said:
"So you must tell us please - if you do not mind? - what was this great and wonderful history of love then?"
The Smiths were unsure:
"It wouldn't really be that interesting to anyone but us, I think. What do you say Eric?"
Once more, Alekko pressed them good-naturedly:
"But yes, I feel it. There is an old Albanian saying 'Every heart has its glory moment' - and you have your moment - have I right?"
"We think so, Mr Papadakis," Eric answered, meeting his wife's gaze and echoing her smile.
"I beg you: 'Alekko'. You make me a policeman or a politician with this 'Mr'. So...?"
"Alekko, we mustn't pry, if Eric and Enid prefer to keep something private," I said, trying to make up for my earlier blunder.
"No, Janet, Alekko" - here that good man nodded with satisfaction as if to say, that's more like it - "is quite right. We do have our glory moment, and we are proud of it - "
" - Happy of it too - " Eric added,
" - and we are pleased to tell you what happened, but on one condition, - "
" - that you tell us -
" - if we become tiresome - "
" - we would so hate becoming tiresome," Eric concluded. We promised on this count, and so the Smiths began their story. Enid spoke first.
"It was in 1956, it was just after my father's death, and I was staying in this very hotel with my mother. Poor Mother was recuperating from a nasty bout of pneumonia - Father's leaving us had been a terrible blow to her - and we had come out to Egypt for her to recuperate - the air and sun were good for her, they said. We were due to stay here for a few months before going back to England. She seemed to be getting better, but...."
"I had been sent here for a spot of recuperation myself, as it happens," Eric said, taking up the story. "I was in the army - nothing important, of course, but my background, you see.... Anyway, I'd caught a dose of malaria out here - very careless of me really, but it was nothing serious - and all for the best, as it turned out."
"So we were both in this hotel, although I had been here some weeks when Eric arrived, and we saw each other that, that evening. Do you remember it Eric?"
"How could I forget? - In the weeks and months and years that followed I went over it all a thousand times, trying to remember the last details, trying to recall some tiny fact that might have slipped my memory, something that might have made all the difference.
I remember I was sitting in the middle of the room, - "
"You were in your uniform - you looked so smart. Mother and I were sitting by the window - Mother hated to be in the middle 'with all the waiters rushing around one' as she said - though even then the waiters hardly rushed very much. We were there before Eric - Mother was always a great stickler for punctuality, for order, so we always came down from our room at 7.30 on the dot."
"Yes, I was a bit raffish in those days - it was a good job that was one of the evenings I decided to wear my uniform - I'm afraid that sometimes I didn't - it was so hot and uncomfortable."
"You came down, and sat at your table which was not far from ours. I was eating my soup, I recall, because the sight of you made me drop my spoon with a clatter. 'What on earth's the matter, dear?' my mother asked. I said that the soup had burnt my tongue - a lie, I'm afraid, but I could hardly say it was that handsome young man at the next table - could I Eric?"
"No, not really. I of course was more fortunate, I had nobody to tell me off for dropping my spoon - not that I had a spoon of course, but had I had one, I am sure I would have dropped it. Because once I sat down, and was about to look at the funny typewritten menu - I see that they haven't changed that in thirty-bonk years - I saw young Enid there, a vision she was, a veritable vision. You had some smart dress on, I recall, very neat I thought at the time. Looking back, I can see that I was rather impertinent - I must have stared awfully rudely."
"I don't know about the rudeness, because I was glad that you were looking at me - and annoyed too, because it wasn't my best outfit that I was wearing, and my hair was a sight, and I kept on blushing when I caught your eye. Mother just could not understand what was the matter with me. I put it down to a touch of the sun, which also provided a handy explanation for why I ate so little."
"I too didn't have much of an appetite that night. My mind was working feverishly, trying to come up with some excuse why I might talk with you, but I couldn't think of anything that was not plainly ridiculous. And your Mother, God rest her soul, looked so, well, fierce - I was imagining all too vividly her cutting reply to any overture I might have made. But then I have always been something of a coward in these situations."
"Oh Eric, you are too hard on yourself. Mother could be quite formidable, it is true."
"And then, of course, I noticed It: I can't imagine why I hadn't seen It before, but one does try to ignore what is inconvenient. Once I saw It, my heart simply fell into my boots. I couldn't do anything - just regret."
"Yes, that was hard - I'm surprised at myself - then - that I went so far as to forget it"
" - I'm sorry, but I must have missed or misunderstood something: what was It?" I asked in confusion.
"My engagement ring," Enid said matter-of-factly, as if it had been quite clear from what had been said so far.
"Ah, I see, yes, that would make things a bit different," I said.
"But, yes, forgive us. Eric, we have got carried away already - what hope have we of telling these good people how it all happened if we cannot even give them the facts at the start?" Eric nodded sagely. "Well, as you have gathered, when Eric and I met, I was already engaged to be married.
His name was Jim - a perfectly decent young man, a civil servant with a good job with the government, excellent prospects. He was kind and dutiful. Every Sunday he sat down and wrote me a kind letter, which I received a few weeks later. He had been very good when my mother was ill, he had shown every consideration, and I was grateful. Mother liked him - 'a proper young man' she called him. He said he loved me, and I had no reason to doubt it. And I loved him - or so I had thought until that moment 34 years ago in this dining room, when I saw Eric and suddenly doubted my feelings. But perhaps I was the coward, for I was frightened of what I had glimpsed of myself, frightened at this threat, this unexpected overturning of things. And so I was grateful in a stupid kind of way when that disturbing young man - Eric - signed his bill, rose from the table, bowing slightly to the other diners as he passed - including us - and left the room. Mother and I ate our dessert in near-silence, then went to our rooms to read and then to retire."
By now we too had all finished our desserts, and drunk our coffees, and you, John, were impatient to continue with our tour. So after going to our rooms to change, we met up again a little later to take an afternoon stroll along the corniche. Inevitably, after what the Smiths had told us, I was burning to hear more, so initially I was rather resentful that you were herding us on somewhere else. But once we got outside beside the sea, with the stiff breeze and odd patches of sun, I soon began to revel in the sights and the sounds and the smells of Alexandria today, postponing my enjoyment of Alexandria 34 years ago until later.
We came out of our hotel, turned left along the busy Sharia Saad Zaghloul - what a lovely name - and went along to the square behind our hotel, the Midan Saad Zaghloul. This is a bit of a sad-looking public garden with a monument and statue on top - Mr Zaghloul presumably - striding confidently out to sea. Cars and buses zoom around the square at all hours - much to your annoyance, I recall, John - you seemed to be having increasing difficulty sleeping at this point. The bus station there probably didn't help. The famous Hotel Cecil lies on the west of the square, looking quite grand from the outside. But having peeked inside it - very stiff and stuffy - I'm glad we stayed at the Metropole.
But the main thing, of course, was the glorious Mediterranean, and the long, long corniche alongside it. Once we managed to cross what seemed like a motorway separating us from the corniche, you could hear the waves breaking against the seawall, and even smell the sea. Once or twice some of the larger waves actually leapt over the seawall, nearly splashing us. You could see that this happened quite frequently by the way the paving stones had been eaten away by the salt in places.
So we just strolled along here in the afternoon sun, looking at the blocks of flats along the corniche - they seemed quite French - trying to see the ships far out at sea, admiring the fort in the distance. We walked - and talked, mercifully, because my curiosity was getting the better of my self-control, and so was Alekko's, I could see. As it turned out, the corniche was a suitable place for the Smiths to continue with their narrative.
"So, Eric, how many times have walked along here together?" Enid asked.
"How many? Hundreds of times I suppose. But not always together, Enid...."
"No, you're right. Together were the good times, but we had enough sad ones too."
"Like after that first sight in the dining room," Eric reminded her.
"Yes, of course, that was the next time wasn't it? You stopped coming to the dining room for a while - at least at the times we were there."
"Yes, my cowardice again, I'm afraid. I couldn't bear the thought of seeing you again and not daring to do anything about it - not able to, after I'd seen It. I don't know what I thought I was doing - hoping that my feelings might disappear? Hardly - that first image of you was seared into my memory for ever. My heart raced every time I thought of it."
"Of course Fate had different ideas anyway. Mother and I used to walk along here in the morning, before the sun became too hot for her - it was summer by now. The air was wonderful - as it is today - and it was very peaceful just walking, talking a little, admiring the view. And one day, as we walked out together, gazing at the fort as we do now, I saw Eric standing by the seawall, looking out to sea.
I didn't know what to do. It was too late to try to redirect our steps without Mother wondering why. I was just praying - what a little fool I was - that Eric would stay as beautifully poised as he was then. But no, it was not to be."
"I turned round," Eric said, " - why at that moment, I've no idea - who knows what makes us do a certain thing at a certain time? And there she was, looking lovelier than, ever, and marching straight towards me. I was like a rabbit caught in the beam of an oncoming motor car. I fell back on my military training, stood up straight, and touched my cap as they passed. Your mother, I recall, acknowledged my salute, but without really seeing me. You glanced quickly at me, your eyes burning, it seemed to me, then looked down, a beautiful blush on your lovely cheeks. I knew that I had to do something, never mind the consequences. I did something terrible. Tell them what I did, Enid...."
"No, Eric, you tell them."
"It's terrible - I followed them for the rest of the day." Eric smirked like a schoolboy, as if still embarrassed by the awfulness of his action. "I was just desperate to find an excuse to talk to Enid - but for the whole day, I couldn't think of any reason. Yet like some whipped poodle I sneaked around behind them."
"And did you manage to find any ever?" I asked - but at this point you had flagged down a couple of taxis, John. Not to go back to the hotel, but to go to the famous Pastroudis for tea. The name sounds like something out of a novel; it's certainly something of a throwback to an older Alexandria. Although there are other cafés around, none that I saw there - or read about afterwards - had the atmosphere of Pastroudis.
Inside it was rather dark, with tiny little tables and cases of cakes. Outside were the best seats, under the awnings protecting us from the surprisingly hot sun, comfortable chairs with low tables alongside them, suitable for sitting and drinking a Turkish coffee, eating one of the delicious cakes, and watching the world go by in the time-honoured Mediterranean manner. I remember a man passing with a barrow-load of ice, stacked white square pillars wrapped in sacking, drops of water falling into the road.
The head waiter was a real character. Tall and thin, he wore thick, dark impenetrable glasses. He spoke English well, but his silence was even more eloquent. Most importantly, he never rushed us, but knew that time was of the essence here. At the table next to us, another character: a late middle-aged man in an expensive but dusty pinstripe suit, his right hand sheathed in a black leather glove.
Sitting there proved the trigger for next instalment of the story of Eric and Enid. It was as if there were buried in Alexandria little time-bombs of memory: revisiting a place set off the explosion of remembrance. Pastroudis, perhaps inevitably, was one of those mined places.
"I followed them back to hotel, " Eric continued, "and then when they took a taxi up to here, I managed to grab a taxi too, and followed behind them. I felt, well, so furtive - not something I was used to at all. I sat in the back of the taxi, wondering what on earth I was up to, trying to ignore all the usual questions from the taxi-driver."
"He was only trying to be friendly, dear," Enid remonstrated mildly. Alekko nodded vigorously. "There was no way he could know what you were going through."
"No, I suppose not," admitted Eric. "You sat inside - the sun was too hot for your mother - so I was able to sit in the corner in the darkness unnoticed."
"Oh no, Eric, you were certainly not unnoticed. I had been watching you all this time, willing you to do something. And yet at the same time I was terrified you would, and that Mother would divine what awful thoughts had been passing through my mind."
"So I sat pretending to eat these terribly sweet cakes," Eric continued, "when I felt like eating nothing - and the head waiter - the same one as now, I do believe, but much younger of course, but just as tall and mysterious - hovered around me. I still could think of no reason, no pretext for talking to Enid. I was twice as frustrated as I was before. My blood was boiling with anger at my own timidity, my own stupidity."
"But Eric, it all worked out in the end - we mustn't get upset over how things happened then, over what did and did not happen," Enid said soothingly.
"No, no," Eric agreed, "you are quite right, dear. Perhaps I am just a little ashamed still that it was you who pulled it off in the end."
"What did you do?" I broke in excitedly.
"Oh, nothing very clever - I simply left my umbrella behind - Mother was always very distrustful of what she called 'this Egyptian weather' - and even in blazing sunshine we carried an umbrella with us in addition to mother's parasol."
"No, Enid, it was brilliant, it was wonderful. I saw you leave, my heart almost ready to explode, and then suddenly, I saw it - you had left your umbrella. I knew instantly what to do. I jumped up - and the head waiter jumped too - for perhaps the only time in his life, judging by the way he moves the rest of the time - thinking no doubt that I was about to run off without paying. But instead I threw down far too much money, and ran after you."
"We had not gone far - Mother was still quite weak - when I heard footsteps behind us. I did not dare look round in case it was somebody else. But it was Eric. He came running up to us, 'Excuse me, excuse me, madam' he said to Mother, who turned, wondering who was calling out so loudly - Mother hated all these 'explosions' as she termed them."
"Luckily," Eric said, "my running covered up my confusion and my inability to talk. I stammered something about the umbrella, and stood there panting stupidly like some great big labrador."
"Eric, don't say that. Anyway, I like labradors. It was wonderful to hear your voice, to see you close up. I wanted to gaze into your eyes forever - but thought that Mother might notice. I was about to say that I thought we were in the same hotel, when you said it for me. Mother, unfortunately, was no longer interested. 'Really?' she said, 'well, perhaps we will see you there tonight. But I'm afraid we must be going now,' and with that she said goodbye and we parted."
"But we had spoken," Eric added, his eyes bright with the memory - almost as if it had happened last week, not 30 years ago. "And I felt that perhaps other things would happen too - or even that I might make them happen since now I felt that there was a bond between us. Even in those too-short moments, I had looked at you and felt that you were, well, it sounds a little cliched, that you were the one for me. I just knew that we would be married - engagement ring or no engagement ring. So I went off so happy, feeling that this was only the beginning. Which it was, eh? Enid?"
"Yes, it certainly was, it most certainly was."
And they held each other hands, and looked at each other, perhaps not very differently from how they had looked at each other in the same café, all those years ago. I was struck by how timeless they looked, how young, even.
After that, John, as you know, we got taxis back to the hotel, inching their way through the Alexandrian rush-hour - nothing so terrible as that of Cairo though, and the city looked beautiful by night, the shops lit up with that lovely orange glow you see only at dusk as the sky turns deep blue, people coming home from work. I had a bath - plenty of hot water, despite your doubts - and we both rested before dinner. Outside the dark sea pounded against the corniche seawall.
Dinner was even better than lunch - perhaps because of that special quality of light that you get when it is dark outside and bright inside. The food was good, simple fare, the wine - my first Egyptian wine, Gianoclis Village, a very dry white - a nice complement. And the waiters bustling around in their ancient, friendly way. All-in-all, a day that got better and better as it wore on. I went to bed happy and excited by the prospect of the next one.
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