The first time I saw her was in a dream, the colours were intense; the air was full of vibrations; everything seemed magnified and slowed down.

The street lamps were lit but the sky was still light. She was waiting at a bus stop. A sign said BALSAMIC although there was nothing vinegary about the place, no friars and no Gilead in sight. There were nondescript buildings in warm colours, perhaps leaning a bit, perhaps painted on canvas. She was waiting for the bus; there were obscure figures queuing behind her.

At first she had her back to me, then she turned as I drew near. She has long straw-coloured hair, blue eyes. She was very thin and very pale; her face was fine-drawn and haggard. She was wearing a white T-shirt with music staves and notes on the front of it, faded jeans, white plimsolls. She looked at me and clenched her fist like a tennis player who’s scored a difficult point at Wimbledon. ‘Yes!’ she shaped with her mouth, didn’t say it out loud.

A bus was coming. No number on it, only the destination: FINSEY-OBAY. Not a place I’d heard of. The bus was a tall and delicate thing of bamboo and rice paper, sheets of yellow, orange, and pink pasted together and candlelit from within like a Japanese lantern. It was much bigger than a doubledecker, towering so high above me that even when I tilted my head back I couldn’t see the top of it.

Still with her eyes on me, she beckoned to me to follow as she boarded the bus. A thrill of terror ran up through me from my feet; I stepped back and work up, cursing my cowardice. I tried to get back into the dream but I couldn’t, and I was left with a sense of loss that stayed with me. I searched in my A to Z for anything Balsamic but there was nothing.