But not everything had changed.  University students stilled milled about or whizzed by on red bicycles, their tires encrusted with fresh pink petals from the blossoming cherry trees. It was Artevelde!

I found my way now easily through The Noose, and finally down the hill to The Flattening—the street and area on the edge of the city where I used to live.  The non-descript entrance to my old flat above a pub was now plastered with photos and clever greetings from the children who were apparently the new residents.  There was smiling Jeroen, in his striped shirt, in apartment #4.  There were Nele and Femke, wearing fake animal ears of some type, in # 1.  Martijn offered us the backside of a knobby angel/alien with droopy wings and an outsized round head.  And there was the American cartoon character, Homer Simpson, beckoning me to ring #2 for Kristien.  There was still a Veronique living at The Flattening, #88, but I could see by the photo that it was not the Veronique I had known—she had been cute, blonde, unassuming, friendly, natural, and not American at all.  This one was in #3 and wearing fake animal ears along with Nele and Femke.  I noticed a small vertical window in the door that I did not recall from my days at the flat.  I stopped to peer in, surreptitiously; I didn’t want to attract too much attention, as I still owed the landlady, Madame Block. I caught myself, realizing it had been nearly two decades since I lived there—no one was going to care if I took a peek inside, and Madame Block had probably moved on to something else years ago (possibly the afterlife) and nonetheless would not remember me, or certainly would not recognize this gray and shapeless version of my young self.  It didn't matter, anyway -- the window was stitched with industrial grade wire and was oddly tinted, so that rather than allowing a view inside it only offered a dim reflection of tangled tree limbs and sky behind a blurry self-image.  As I was contemplating this and pulling my face away, two figures emerged from the side door of Brewhall (the pub) and made their way toward #88.  I stepped away quickly, but they gave me severe and suspicious looks.
I stood in the middle of the street, taking in the surroundings that had once been so familiar. Brewhall looked to have been fancied up a fair bit, but was still totally recognizable -- a strong piece of evidence in my favor.  But the theater complex across the street had been renovated and changed names, and looked, overall, suspiciously new.  More troubling, the bar that would put tables out across the street in the spring, on a thin strip of sidewalk next to the canal so that the student bartender would walk gingerly across the cobblestones in his bare feet with a tray of drinks, had disappeared completely, replaced by an ostentatious boat, a floating bar of sorts sporting an undeniably huge corporate brand logo of a Danish beer!

On to Part I, Page 3
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