You can find the Prologue here.
I was taken to the house of a relative, a narrow place with many staircases in the midst of the city. At first the bustle tossed me around, but then I learned to dart up and down the creaky wooden stairs, to hide in corners, and when I could not hide I learned how to run errands through streets that teemed with hands and smells and curses.
The meals I had once known were revealed to be elaborate, the rooms I had had played in were revealed to be clean and beautiful, and all was beyond reach.
They talked of money often, in that house with many staircases. By the end of that summer the yelling swelled and at night the air was heavy and unpleasant. As their resentment grew the meals became poorer and I ran more errands, hiding out of the house rather than within.
You could hear things in the streets. I listened, I learned who was safe to question, and I eventually began to ask.
In the meantime my pallet on the floor disappeared. My portions shrank and I attracted dark looks. When men came to the door with staves and cudgels a plate was thrown; it broke on the wall above my head, the clay bits raining down as my relatives were dragged out and the men took what they wanted. I found a corner and they did not see me as they carried out what was serviceable, and what few things were still pretty. That night I waited, and I tasted relief when my relatives did not return.
I took a shirt that had been left behind, and on me it made a tunic. There was rice still in the windowless room behind the kitchen, and to my surprise, the copper coins that I had seen hidden under the rice basket.
They would not buy me warmth or shelter. Yet I thought that this house must now belong to the men who had come, and I did not want to stay.
The time that came next was endless while I lived it, and hurried as a dream when I look back upon it. There were many places where I slept, many things that I ate whether bought or stolen, and I became nervous and quick under the calls that would rain down – you, boy – urchin – stop there. Still I listened as I had before, and when calm moments came I would try to clean myself up and ask questions.
Leaves fell, and the cold came, and I did not realize that I was dying. There was one day like all the others, except that as I ran, legs quick under an empty stomach, it suddenly came to be. I could not run any more.
I found myself crawling down a street I did not know. The end of the dream was divided between numb hands and knees, and my fading vision.
In a room with white paper walls they asked me if I had any reason to live. If I had, what had I been doing during my time in the streets? What had I been doing with all that I knew and all that I did not know? Why had I not been seeking, tireless as the pole star, after some way – however despicable – to climb up from my impermanent place in the world?
Kneeling, head bowed, I begged their forgiveness.