by Kelvin Smith
(10 paragraphs/1000 words)
A small group on the corner were speaking a language Ø did not recognise. It was a language he had never heard before, so he observed their behaviour closely. They were serious at first, and then, after furtive glances to make sure no one in the vicinity was listening, they began to smile and laugh. Ø could not determine if they were telling jokes or making fun of something or remembering a shared experience that had given them all some sort of pleasure. Whoever they were or whatever they were amused by, Ø didn’t think these people were concerned about his activities.
Nevertheless it was clear someone had been asking about him. He knew that much. Enquiries were being made. There were signs. There were some indications of what was happening but, quite frankly, there was not a lot to go on, so Ø kept his eyes and ears open trying to work things out. If someone were observing him, seeing and listening to everything he did, he wanted to be sure he knew what was going on.
Ø did not want to go straight home, so he went to his usual café for a hot drink. The woman who served him his coffee was polite but not friendly and the few customers who were standing at the counter ignored him. They did nothing – no gesture or glance – to indicate that they knew that Ø was there, let alone that they cared who he was or what he did. When his phone rang in his pocket, he turned it off without answering and waited until he was sitting down to look and see who had called. Ø did not recognise the number so he did not call it back.
Walking through the town he looked in many of the shop windows, examining the items displayed and also the reflected images of the people who were near him on the pavement. None of these people seemed familiar, and even his own reflected image was not as Ø remembered it. Once or twice a passer-by paused and looked in the same shop window. Ø waited, looking furtively at the other’s reflection, until he or she moved on down or across the street. Once he noticed that the other person who was looking into the window was someone he had noticed doing the same moments earlier.
Ø got on the bus and paid the fare in the customary way. Everyone else paid like that except for one person who didn’t pay the fare at all. The driver refused to move until that person got off the bus and when the bus started off again they could see that person – whoever it was – beginning to walk home, or wherever.
There were big mirrors on the bus so it was possible to get a good look at most of the other people if you were in the right place. Not many people looked at the mirrors or at the cameras that were placed at various places in the bus. People hardly talked to each other, although some had phone conversations in various languages. Most of the others looked at electronic devices and moved their fingers backwards and forwards across the screens. A few people looked out of the bus windows.
It was quite a long walk from the bus stop to Ø’s front door. It began to rain so he put up his umbrella and kept his head down. People could not get a clear look at his face in these conditions, because he pulled the peak of his hat down over his eyes. When he got to his front door, Ø looked back and saw some people sitting in parked cars chatting and looking out into the rainy street. When he got inside, Ø picked some envelopes off the floor and put them on the kitchen table. All of them had his address on them, except for one that said ‘to the occupant’. There was one official-looking one, two bills, and one with a hand-written address. None of them seemed to have been opened.
After hanging up his coat on the hook in the hallway, he turned on his computer and the radio and the kettle. He made a cup of tea, drank it and ate a chocolate biscuit. He added some items to the shopping list he kept on the kitchen surface near the kettle. Ø heard someone knocking on his neighbour’s door: he listened as the door open. He could just make out a short exchange of conversation. Then the door closed again. No one knocked at his door.
Shortly afterwards the lights went out. Ø stumbled around his living room by the dim light of the computer screen, and when he sat down in front of the computer he could see that he no longer had a connection to the Internet. He scrolled through his collection of photographs showing various events of his life. He deleted some of the pictures he didn’t like. After a couple of hours Ø saw that the battery power was getting quite low so he turned off the computer to make sure it would still work if he needed it before the mains power went on again.
Ø went to bed and lay awake. Cars drove down the street outside and there was an occasional sound of footsteps. Some of the cars went by very fast and some of the footsteps went by at a slow pace, but none of them altered their speed when they went by. In the middle of the night Ø heard a car park outside his house but he didn’t hear the doors open or close. After some time, before the lights came on again, Ø closed his eyes and slept soundly. When he woke up the electricity supply had been restored so he could boil water for his morning tea. He thought about how someone had been asking about him, and how it now seemed to have stopped.