The Ministry of Flowers
HE CLIMBED THE LAST STEPS of the subway to a city of ghosts. For the second time that week the street lights had failed and his fellow citizens, drab and dispirited at the best of times, were a shifting mass of shadow trudging the gloomy avenue. Lorenzo instinctively placed a hand over the wallet in his pocket and prepared to find a way home.
If he was on familiar territory, it didn’t feel like it. Slipping into the shapeless to and fro, he kicked a raised paving stone so jarringly that it stopped him in his tracks, and before a curse could leave his lips, an unintentional shove in the back caused him to stumble into the post of a traffic light, which turned red, bringing vehicles to a halt in an agonizing screech of brakes. For a long, confused moment, Lorenzo thought that something was expected of him.
As he collected himself, his eyes focussed on a flower seller in his stall. It was one of many that occupied the long sidewalks of the city’s criss-crossed streets. Along with the newspaper stands and the lottery kiosks, they were as common as they were anonymous. The man had just poured from a thermos flask. As he put it down, he briefly met Lorenzo’s gaze before looking away, rubbing the heel of his hand over his forehead as if to suggest tiredness, or a headache.
“Are you back already?” asked his wife, as she heard him coming up the stairs to their apartment. She held a skirt in her lap and was rubbing at a stain.
“The usual time,” he replied, but wondering if he had forgotten to do something on the way home from work. Pick up an item being repaired, do some shopping, pay a bill...
“The radio today was full of stories about office cutbacks. People working extra time so that they won’t be first in line for the chop.”
“They’re happy with what I do,” asserted Lorenzo, going into the kitchen to make tea. “Where are the matches?”
“Right in front of your nose, sir. You won’t lose your job, you’ll just misplace it.”
Pati was scrubbing the stain with increased vigour. She told herself to calm down and stop teasing Enzo, but being surprised in her knickers as she was getting ready for the evening had made her defensive and somewhat animated.
Lorenzo went into the kitchen to make tea. As he waited for the kettle to boil, he looked down at his shoe where he had scuffed it in the street. A small hole in the tip looked back at him accusingly. She was right about staff cutbacks. If he lost his job, he wouldn’t be able to buy another pair, and he needed these to go dancing. Leaning into their windowless living room, he said, “Shall we look for a dance tonight?”