Citizens of the Night
AT SIX O'CLOCK, just as she did every morning, even though it was still night, Anja shut the front door and braced herself against the unforgiving subzero, the kind of cold to put a person in shock, before descending the steps to the street. The new security light illumined her way down then clicked off parsimoniously as soon as she reached street level. It was windless and the freshly fallen night snow glittered.
As she adjusted the neck muffler inside her zipped tracksuit with oversized mittens, Anja observed the basement studio. Shutters down and lights out, as usual. Her five-thirty message had clearly failed to raise him. Some people never make anything of themselves. They accept failure. They wallow and decline. The thought made her shiver in the gripping freeze and she stamped her feet. Well, she’d warned him. First a month and now six weeks late. No rent by five pm and he was out. She lingered a while looking at the apartment’s silent door, as if it could swing open to a fanfare if it only wanted to, but had somehow forgotten how.
Anja blinked. A mist was freezing onto her face, making her small nose want to shrink further in. With a clipped, decisive hup, she turned and jogged off through the street’s empty shadows, past dirty ice heaped in the gutters, huffing breaths that steamed when she passed under lamplight. Every thud and crunch that she made in the snow, every metronomic bob of her blonde hair, every yes, yes, yes, yes of her advance, confirmed her belief. She was going to make it. It was what she did. Hers was a bulldozing figure, small and svelte, pounding onward. Sensing her from the road, an automated delivery buggy shifted cautiously away before rolling by on its fat tyres.
In the basement bedsit, the lights would not come on for another two hours. Within the building, all remained blessedly quiet and her tenant snuffled contently in his sleep. He dreamed that he was standing alone at night in the shallows of an ocean, while all around him, like softly falling snow, points of white light dropped out of the sky and down to the sea, making gentle sounds as they met the surface. He cupped his hands together to catch them. Every softly shining dot that landed in his hands melted to a colour and sounded a musical note. More began to fall and faster, playing a rhapsody like some rapturous xylophone. It might have gone on everlastingly, but when he looked down the black water stared back at him with a million eyes and he felt fear. Even though he could not see them or the sandy ocean floor that they were scurrying across, he knew that two silver lobsters were coming straight for his toes. Yannick woke with a start. Tall even for a Nordic man, his feet stuck out the end of his lumpy duvet and he instinctively drew them in.
He reached for his flashing mobile.
“Today’s the day,” read the message.
His head fell back against the pillow. The bedsit was a lost cause. His for another few hours only. Maybe he should he just stay in. Make the most of it, do some laundry, then go and enquire at the shelters. He lay under the covers a while longer, debating between spending one last day in a warm apartment with a bed and a hot shower and giving work another go, however futile it had become.
Recently, his daily earnings as a rider had dwindled to little more than the price of a hot meal plus bike repairs. Saving towards the rent, let alone anything like a future, was a hope abandoned. If only...