“When Kip called them, they walked out of the kitchen and onto the terrace, whose border, with its low stone balustrade, was ringed with light.
“It looked to Caravaggio like a string of small electric candles found in dusty churches, and he thought the sapper had gone too far in removing them from a chapel, even for Hana’s birthday. Hana walked slowly forward with her hands over her face. There was no wind. Her legs and thighs moved through the skirt of her frock as if it were thin water. Her tennis shoes silent on the stone.
“‘I kept finding dead shells wherever I was digging,’ the sapper said.
“They still didn’t understand. Caravaggio bent over the flutter of lights. They were snail shells filled with oil. He looked along the row of them; there must have been about forty.
“‘Forty-five,’ Kip said, ‘the years so far of this century. Where I come from, we celebrate the age as well as ourselves.’
“Hana moved alongside them, her hands in her pockets now, the way Kip loved to see her walk. So relaxed, as if she had put her arms away for the night, now in simple armless movement.
“Caravaggio was diverted by the startling presence of three bottles of red wine on the table. He walked over and read the labels and shook his head, amazed. He knew the sapper wouldn’t drink any of it. All three had already been opened. Kip must have picked his way through some etiquette book in the library. Then he saw the corn and the meat and the potatoes. Hana slid her arm into Kip’s and came with him to the table.
“They ate and drank, the unexpected thickness of the wine like meat on their tongues. They were soon turning silly in their toasts to the sapper –– ‘the great forager’ –– and to the English patient. They toasted each other, Kip joining in with his beaker of water. This was when he began to talk about himself. Caravaggio pressing him on, not always listening, sometimes standing up and walking around the table, pacing and pacing with pleasure at all this. He wanted these two married, longed to force them verbally towards it, but they seemed to have their own strange rules about their relationship. What was he doing in this role. He sat down again. Now and then he noticed the death of a light. The snail shells held only so much oil. Kip would rise and refill them with pink paraffin.
“‘We must keep them lit till midnight.'”
~Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient