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It all began with an invitation for tea. Sunlight had almost vanished, leaving Narathiwat with a bittersweet lethargy. The last call to prayer wafted through town, preluding silence. I found myself riding my bicycle through unlit, empty streets, gliding past weathered shophouses whose doors it seemed had never opened. As the world fell under the swathe of darkness, a feeling of serenity enfolded me. A few weeks earlier in Bangkok, I had heard of this far-off place; a neglected land, ravaged by bloody conflict and uncertainty; a land set apart by an invisible frontier of fear and foreboding, banished in a shadowy corner of public consciousness. Yet, now that I was here in the Deep South, this same land had not carved fear into my heart, but was enveloping me in a soothing blanket of obscurity. “How strange it is to find peace within darkness,” I was thinking when I saw them: two men who had improvised their own tea shop under the dim light of a stucco porch. They drank their tea in quietude, as if the only inhabitants left in town, everyone else swallowed by the evening shadows. As I passed by, a rare white foreigner riding a bicycle, they eagerly beckoned me to join them. Soaked in sweat, craving a cooling bath in my hotel, I slowed hesitantly only to speed up again. Then, a final thought led me to pause. It is impossible to find the extraordinary without opening ordinary doors. I turned back and rode towards them, recognising the owner of a Chinese restaurant where I had breakfasted a few times. But it was the first time I had seen his companion, who greeted me in English, a man whose goatee and Middle Eastern features struck m­e as foreign but who, in fact, was a Thai-Muslim. They inquired about me with all the usual questions I had been asked around the town, but dispensed with the local customary, “Aren’t you scared to come here?”

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