He didn’t know how long he’d been travelling. He only had the barest conception of who he was. He had a name, that was all, just a name. A single name to cling to, to stop him disappearing entirely.
There were other names as well – he was sure – but he couldn’t remember them. He couldn’t remember anything else either: where’d he’d come from, where he was going, why he was travelling.
He was sure he could remember if he wanted to. Those memories weren’t lost, they were just hidden. He was sure he could find them if he looked hard enough. The problem wasn’t the finding, it was summoning the will. It all seemed like too much effort for no real purpose. He wasn’t exactly sure why he felt like that. He simply knew there was no point remembering, no point trying to find whatever had been misplaced, that it wouldn’t do any good. Better to keep travelling, always looking forward, never back.
And it wasn’t as if there was anyone he could ask, because there wasn’t anyone, anywhere. He passed through villages, towns and cities, all empty, all abandoned. The detritus of recent life was all there – empty, foam-spattered glasses on tables, coats flung carelessly on the backs of chairs, cars left everywhere – but of actual life there was no sign.
He walked along paved streets, down wooded paths and across metal bridges. He walked as the sun reflected off buildings and filtered through trees, squinting against the glare. He walked through the weak illumination of streetlights and stars, peering into the murk. He walked towards heat hazes that brought out beads of sweat on his skin and curtains of rain that left beads of water dripping from his face. But always there was no one.
The people had just gone. There was no obvious signs of calamity or disaster, no burnt wreckages or collapsed buildings or bodies. At some predetermined signal, everyone seemed to have got up and walked away, leaving him behind. He knew there was a reason, knew there was an explanation, but he’d misplaced that as well. There weren’t even any animals: the skies and rivers were empty, the undergrowth devoid of all noise. This was his world now, just for him.
So, he kept on travelling, for want of anything else to do. Occasionally, he’d stop for days or weeks, when a house took his fancy, or he grew too tired. Then, he’d sit and read, and watch films. It was at these moments that he came closest to remembering. When he read and watched other people, their worlds and lives. The world he used to share with them, before he gained his own.
Then the veil was very thin, barely concealing the shapes and forms of his past. But still he resisted the urge to lift this thinnest of coverings, so light that the barest of breezes must dislodge it. So light that letting it fall away would almost be easier than holding it in place.
In the end, what finally shifted the veil wasn’t books or films or any stories of the world before, the world before his own. What caused the veil to slide smoothly off and waft silently to the ground was a cup of tea.