Imagine you’re on a beach in Salvador, Bahia. The exact place, country, isn’t important yet. Just imagine that the urban—the traffic horns, darting jaywalkers, abandoned building fronts—all of it runs right up against the sand, almost to the ocean.

People wait on the sidewalk for their buses. They stand, or sit on benches or along the wall on the other side of which is the ocean, on whose sand you stand, blinking.

From a great distance a percussion group you can’t see hammers out soulful rhythms. You’re not looking for them, but you’re listening. You’re not looking at the popsicle vendors whose voices carry and you carefully avoid eye contact with the strange men who lean against the seawall, arms crossed, alone.

Your vision is only focused on one thing, which is that if you stare straight into the blank space in between objects, if you can look just right, it’s possible to see something moving in the air. Ocean spray. You’re breathing it. You know it by taste, by smell, but less often can you actually watch the seamist dance and vibrate to the music of the city. 

Probably you remember winter, looking through the window of your college dorm towards the street lamps, and the first tease of snow dancing there, barely more than slush. Over an hour you’ve been staring for it instead of studying for your exam, in the hopes that staring hard enough will somehow cause the snow day that cancels class, and look, it worked because there’s the snow. The moisture in the air on the beach looks just like that. You stare and you feel at home in a strange place, because you recognize the promise of magic.