Ringing. Loud, piercing ringing.
Nicholas held tight to his pillow, as if he wanted to hinder the reality from breaching into his dreams. But it kept ringing, painfully and without mercy. He had to wake up.
He opened the door still half asleep, without checking who it was who had so callously awakened him.
“Nicholas, I have to talk to you…” said a rugged, somewhat sad voice.
Nicholas rubbed his eyes and was then able to see his landlord, Phillip Horsten, looking at him with an expressionless, blank stare.
“I’m really sorry, I’ve just woken up…” it was hard for Nicholas to set his vocal chords in motion. “Tell me, what do you need?”
He then remembered. Yes, that must be the issue… Nicholas was late with his rent. But it wasn’t his mistake! He should’ve already gotten his salary, but for some reason his bank account was still completely dry. How could Nicholas explain that his salary simply didn’t come? Will the landlord believe him?
“Nicholas, I’m afraid you’ll have to find another flat”, was the cold, bitter answer.
“But, sir!” Nicholas cried out. “I know I’m late now but I’ve always paid my rent in time. When I get my…”
“No, that’s not it”, the landlord stopped him. “My son is coming back to town and I need the flat back. I won’t be renting it anymore.”
Nicholas stood motionless, trying to process the information his brain refused to accept.
“I’m sorry, Nicholas, but it is what it is. It all happened too fast and I wasn’t able to inform you in time, but I would like you to move out by the end of next week.”
Nicholas wanted to say something, to complain, but the words remained stuck in his throat. He almost felt sorry for himself – always a lowly loser who can’t stand up for himself.
“I’m sure you’ll find something”, said Horsten and sympathetically patted Nicholas on the shoulder.
It felt false, and very hypocritical. Nicholas felt the rage simmer inside of him. But he still did nothing. He nodded in agreement and locked the door. He never really liked this flat. Maybe it would be better for him to move away from it, to forget about this bitter part of his life and, most importantly, to forget about her…
The alarm clock rang. Another set of maddening high-pitched sounds. Nicholas just couldn’t move and turn off the ringing. He couldn’t stop the deafening pain.
And that’s why he had to run… He was late for work, and that was something he couldn’t afford. On the way, a pigeon almost hit him, but it just grazed him with its wing. Nicholas suddenly felt as if someone was aiming at him, and shooting him with invisible missiles of sadness which dispersed once they hit his weakened body. And then, the pain would stick to him, and like some foul liquid soak his clothes, and absorb through every pore of his body, leaving him cold and covered with stains which can never be cleaned.
He stood in front of the door of the fast food restaurant he was working in and desperately reached for the key to open them as soon as possible. But they did it on their own, and Nicholas faced the boss’s red face.
“You’re late again!” he screamed.
Again? Nicholas couldn’t remember the time he was late. He always tried to come on time. Ashamed, he looked down, at his old, torn sneakers. And then he remembered the morning he was late. It was the day she left…
“I’m sorry” he said quietly.
“I’m not interested! I told you last time I won’t tolerate it! You can easily be replaced, you know!” the boss was very intimidating when he was angry.
“It won’t happen again…” Nicholas was still staring at his sneakers and was a bit ashamed of the way they looked.
“It doesn’t matter anymore! You’re fired!”
The door slammed before his eyes, and Nicholas finally had the courage look up. The place sickened him, stuffy and hot. He could feel it, no air inside, just the smell of food and human breath. The dreadful kitchen, repulsive pieces of red meat fried in deep oil which spattered around, greasy and nauseating. If the people who so voraciously devoured their hamburgers knew how horrible it was to spend hours and hours in that little oily room, they would surely never even think about eating the food that was made there.
But, unfortunately for Nicholas, it was his only source of income, and he would give anything to be let in again into that world of fat and blood. He wanted to go to college and make something of himself, earn his place in the social hierarchy, but the lack of money averted him from his plan. For the same reason, he was now wearing those dirty, torn sneakers. Maybe that was the reason she’d left. Because his clothes smelled like hamburgers and he wore disgusting sneakers.
“Nicholas!” a familiar voice called him.
Nicholas looked at the man who called his name in such a friendly, warm voice. But he couldn’t place his face into a story which would connect them. This man was dressed elegantly, in a smart suit and patent leather shoes. He carried a briefcase and a silk tie hugged his neck.
„Don’t you remember me? It’s me, Miles Richards! We went to school together.”
After hearing his name after a long time, Nicholas remembered his former colleague. The same man who was now looking down on him used to copy his homework and sometimes even exam questions. Miles wasn’t particularly smart or persistent, but his test results were always good.
Nicholas felt shame in front of this clearly successful man and he looked down. Across from his shabby sneakers, Miles’s shoes shined.
“Well, what happened to you? You don’t look so good”, Miles’s words seemed harsh, but his voice sounded sympathetic, almost worried.
“A lot’s happened… I’m being kicked out of my flat, and now from my job…” Nicholas wasn’t completely aware of his words. Why was he telling all this to a man he hadn’t seen for years and had never been particularly close to?
“Really?! O, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out. Come on, I’m taking you to lunch and we’ll talk.”
Even though Miles was just a barely known character from the past long forgotten, Micholas felt an inexplicable need to talk to him. He had no true friends; he lost contact with most of them after high school. Most of them went to college and then scattered all around the country and the world. And if he talked to his family, everyone would get worried and cause him even more headache.
In the end, it somehow happened that Nicholas moved in with Miles. Miles lived in a huge flat, but all by himself, so he offered Nicholas to stay one of the rooms for a few days, until he decides what to do.
Nicholas couldn’t sleep that night. He found himself sitting at the designer glass table which could’ve been his, in a living room filled with wonderful things which could’ve been his, in a flat which also could’ve been his, if only he’d had more luck.
Nicholas felt as if something was suffocating him. The air in the luxurious flat suddenly became too heavy for him to bear. His heartbeat accelerated and panic rushed through his body. It was so hard to stand up, but Nicholas couldn’t stand the stagnant atmosphere so he ran out into the street.
He was looking at the concrete, feeling too humiliated to look up. It was there, on the chilly street, where he realized that he forgot to put on his shoes. Maybe it was better this way. Better not to look at their shabbiness. His bare feet looked like the feet of a homeless beggar. Was that this destiny?
Nicholas couldn’t stand the thought so he finally raised his head to avoid looking at his feet. He then saw a flock of pigeons on the roof of the building. They stood there, almost completely still, like statues. They, which were given wings, just stand in resignation. They, which could easily fly away. Someone once said: “I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then I ask myself the same question.” And it was true. Aren’t we free? Don’t we have the right to go wherever we wish? Why do we so cruelly put ourselves in boxes and impose rules on ourselves? Why did we even create a society which suits only a minority of lucky individuals?
Nicholas once again found it hard to breathe. He felt claustrophobic, and he felt watched. As if his own anger and panic became a separate being which was now lurking, hidden in the darkness around him, invisible but strongly present. He was afraid to look around, certain that some kind of creature might appear, so he kept looking at the top of the building. Yes, he would go there, up there where everything has to be better, where the pigeons are, pigeons which have wings and can fly!
The elevator ride was almost too much. Nicholas felt so feeble and unsafe in that tight little compartment. And then he was finally able to run out onto the roof.
The pigeons remained still.
Have you dozed off? What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you flying away? Fly!
Nicholas stormed towards the pigeons; they got scared and flew away. It’s what they always do. If they feel some kind of danger, all they have to do is spread they wings and go somewhere safe. Nicholas sensed danger as well. Life was wrapping around him like a snake and threatening to suffocate him. Could he fly away, too? Leave to a different place, take a new path in life?
Nicholas approached the edge carefully. What if he really tried to fly away? He would fall and become a lifeless, bloody stain. And maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he would go to a better, fairer place. Or maybe to a place where he would be stronger, where he could look at others with arrogance and laugh at their poor life choices.
Steadily, he crossed the edge. He felt no more rage, no more sadness. Around him just cold air. And her face, a pair of green, almost yellow, cat shaped eyes. For a moment he remembered her eyes were actually blue. But it didn’t matter anymore, he would never see her again. But why were the feline eyes still staring at him? And why was he certain that the creature which followed him was closer than ever?
The next day, entire country was shocked by three murders which happened the same night. Phillip Horsten, a pensioner, Arnold Andrews, the owner of a fast food restaurant, and Miles Richards, a businessman, were all found dead in their homes. The police still don’t know if the murders were committed by the same person. The three men had never met.