I dock my boat on a strange and quiet bank. I am looking for someone I have never met. There is a slip of paper in my pocket with the name. The shore is a lighter shade of gray than the water, and there is a weathered palazzo style edifice in front of me with a faded pink facade. The sky is pale blue.
I enter through the first door on the right. It is someone's apartment and everything is made of white porcelain painted with bold, blue patterns. Cool sunlight streams through the open arched window and catches the steady drip of water from the kitchen sink faucet. Bouquets of herbs are hanging by the arched doorways, and they look crusted by the decades, but not dusty. Someone must maintain them with care. There are some fresh plants too. A potted cumquat tree and some hanging ferns. Or something like it.
A woman around her fifties is sitting by the window. She notices me but does not say anything. Her demeanor is cool but friendly, and I can't tell if the fine wrinkles on her face are from years of frowning or of laughing. I look around her apartment for a while before I walk over to her porcelain bench.
"Are you looking for someone?" She looks like she has been sitting in the same position for a long time.
"Yes. I just arrived on a boat. Do you know this name?" I show her the little slip of paper.
"I came here many years ago looking for someone too. I didn't find her. Or maybe it was a him, who knows? But you should go next door and ask my neighbor. Everyone comes into my apartment looking for someone. I just send them next door so who knows if they ever find who they're looking for. Maybe, maybe not."
"Where are you from originally?"
"Somewhere far away. Never mind where, but it's beautiful. And far away."
I thank her and the porcelain knob squeaks as I open the door to her neighbor's apartment.
* * *
Everything is made of clay. Dusty, camel clay. Floors, counters, chairs, everything is made of one clay, seamless. They look like natural rock formations, but smooth and too symmetrical not to have been manmade. There are plates and bowls too, also made of camel clay. A young man is standing by the glassless windowpane, backlit by the hot, dusty sun.
"I suppose you are looking for someone who is not me," he volunteers. I show him my slip of paper and he confirms.
"Are you looking for someone too?" I ask.
"I used to but not anymore," he says. "I built this place with my two hands. And I'm going to stay here. You should ask my neighbor if he knows this person."
He hands me a fruit and leads me to the door.
This apartment is tiny. Turquoise tiles with little white and red mosaic, and the pots of unremarkable leafy plants crowd the floor. The room is the size of a bathroom at best, but there are winding iron stairs that go up and down. On the top is a skylight and everything is bright like a greenhouse. Every time I go down a level, I discover another floor. There are seven in total, and each becomes darker as I descend away from the skylight.
At the bottom, I find the master of the house watering his moss.
"Hello stranger, how do you find my home?" He is a leathery old man. All of his hair seem to have found refuge on his chin in his old age.
"Very vertical," I say. He seems pleased with my observation.
"Just a foreign old man and his plants here," he gestures up. "You're welcome to look around but you'd better ask my neighbor about what you're looking for."
And so I knock from door to door until I happen upon a vacant one. And this is how have I become one of them in the House of Ones.