She began to speak, and as she described her aunts on their hands and knees, scrubbing the now-rotting steps leading to the second floor, it seemed that her persona altered, transformed by the kind of fleeting memory that leaves before it fully arrives. Suddenly she was grasping for words. With no vegetation in sight and just a few cracked tiles covered by the sooty evidence of where the coal was stored, the courtyard felt like a haunted place. Above us the sky had turned a milky white, suffusing the space with a silent glow.

As she stood bravely in that battered and crumbling enclosure my mother removed her glasses, her emotions welling up inside. We were alone in her reverie, me with my camera as a shield and she with her half-buried past pushing itself out, trying to break through. It seemed no one would find us here; no one could disturb the stillness.

When I look at these photos of her, visibly shaken in that dismal place, I imagine her as a girl of three, naïvely unaware of the cataclysmic events stretching out before her, playing and whispering and secure in her tiny universe. Undoubtedly that world had spun in a slower way, filled with promise and sweet noise.