At 7 am sharp, I was fully dressed for my morning adventure on the local bus. I waved goodbye to Margaret’s photo and cheerfully ran downstairs, pushing the unwelcome thoughts of reuniting with my ex to the back of my mind. The travel from West, a district where I lived after a nasty divorce, to the train station usually only took 28 minutes.
I have to admit, I loved my daily trips as much as I loved the glowing nature of the hot summer, when the body is melting, producing the salty water of acrid thirst. That feeling of being on the bus reminded me about the Thousand Pieces Execution, which once was popular in China. Seeing, touching, breathing the dust of the female hair, watching how the sweat crawling down, slowly, inch by inch, would cut out a tiny square of my soul, bit by bit, until my whole being was slaughtered into nine hundred ninety-nine pieces.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for, whatever that is.” The voice from under my arm pierced my feet to the floor.
“I wouldn’t mind if I’d find you.”
“Let me go; this is my stop.”
I nodded. The lady leaned against my chest, staring at me.
“Maximus Strong. That’s my name…”
“You already told me that last week, Mister.”
My mind began to dehydrate as soon as she left. For the rest of the trip, all I did was pretending to check social media, adding occasional laughs here and there or mirroring the movements of those whom I placed on my list of “wanted bodies.”
The bus stopped. I glanced out of the window, accepting the sunny waves of July on my skin. Like a bat out of Hell, I sprang to the bridge, counted 48 stairs up (as I always did), while embracing the world of trains, the bright spots and silhouettes of hurrying people, then slowly ran down 49 stairs from the other side, following the path to the grey building where I worked. The Museum of Archaeology, with artifacts from the prehistory of Rsa and a notable collection of skulls, was located in the brick house covered in moss near a roof that had almost collapsed from decrepitude.
I spent my morning counting containers on the shelves and playing sudoku. At midday, I sat with a cup of tea and a book about Sobekneferu – Egypt’s mysterious queen. On the empty block near the book, I started to draw the sign of infinity, thinking about the woman in a floral dress.
I hadn’t noticed the boy who was leaning above me, looking with curiosity at the drawing I created.
“I bet you’d like to touch them,” the boy suggested.
“That’s not what you think. This is a sign of infinity.”
“You did a good job, yo!”
“Do you need any help? Who are you? What are you doing here?” I added (as much as I could) the thrill of irritation and annoyance to my questions. And then I saw her – the woman with long dark hair, wearing red joggers and a tight top. I had a feeling I’d seen her recently but couldn’t recall where.
“Mum, he showed me a picture.” The boy said.
“What kind of picture?”
“The parts of a naked woman.”
“What the hell is going on, Mister…” her eyes slid to my badge. “Harmless?”
She stared at my red face, expecting the answer. Time stopped: a long gap between her top and my desk; a notebook slipped to the floor, making me jump; the fiery steps outside of my room.
After two minutes or less, my phone rang.
“Would you be so kind as to get up for a short chat?” asked the voice of our director, Mr. Killing.
When I opened the door and stepped into the arctic room, all my self-respect and self-worth, which radiated this morning, were gone. I stood inside, trying to figure out the director’s mood. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t a thunderbolt of joy and smiles, rather death and grief.
“Do you know why you are here?” he asked.
I decided to keep it cool and said nothing.
“Do you know who that woman was?”
God, this is boring. I said to myself.
“It was Missis Vegas.”
“Vegas? Which one?” I almost coughed out the words.
“The fifth of them.”
“The fifth? The last wife of Mister Vegas?”
I pictured myself in the coffin, my skull filled with porridge instead of brains, because my brains were on the floor, torn apart by the two famous birds of Mr. Vegas.
“Are you ok, Bullet?”
“Not really…” I answered, still haunted by the image of my grave.
“Double gin, no tonic?”
I ran to his desk, took a big gulp from a glass, feeling an irrational twinge of guilt. At that moment, Mr. Killing handed me a piece of paper: “Sign here.”
“What is it?” My heart sank.
“Parental leave for two weeks.”
“I don’t have kids.”
“You don’t know if you have them or not until you give yourself a chance.”
I stood outside the room, leaning against the wall and staring at the ceiling. “I’m having a midlife crisis,” I said to the space guarding my solitude. Not long ago, I discovered it hurts less when you tell the truth openly and aloud.
What if my whole life was a midlife crisis and that crisis was my only reality?
When I walked past the buzzing train station, some way ‘covered’ in the chirpy sound of the bags, worries, and goodbyes, I could feel like a free time of my future vacation is rotting inside of my head, cooking up the perfect food for the worms of fear. I had no idea what I’d do the next day…
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