Janet Frame: “The Envoy from Mirror City” (1990)

“On the day of my appointment with Dr Berger at the Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill, I walked from Clapham South to Clapham North along Clapham Park Road and Acre Lane, through Brixton along Coldharbour Lane to Camberwell Green, past the rows of dilapidated brick houses; everywhere was grim, dirty with an air of poverty; the voices were strange, the woman in the shop said “luv”, “Here you are, luv,” when I bought a packet of peppermints, Curiously Strong; the women wore headscarves, their faces looked tired; the men were pale, of small build, like burrow animals; beggars sat on the pavement, with cap or tin beside them, waiting for money to be thrown in response to the placard propped against the wall beside them – War Wounded, Stumps For Legs. Blind From Birth. Born This Way. A Wife and Five Children.

I passed a shop that advertised Horse Flesh For Human Consumption. I read the notices in the newsagents, and the chalked menus outside the uninviting transport cafes. I arrived at a square of dried grass bordered with a few shrubs and seats and surrounded by traffic going to Peckham, Forest Hill, Central London, Clapham. I walked up the street to the outpatient department of the Maudsley Hospital where I hoped to find at last the answers to the questions I still asked myself about my “history”. I had to know whether my own views, usually met with polite disbelief or sometimes with sceptical agreement, held any truth or were merely another instance of self-deception.”

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