2…beep. 5…bip. 5…bip. 2…beep. 4…barp. #…blip.
The door bolt clunked open and buzzed. The subject, head down and hands in pockets, pushed through with his hip and walked into the foyer. He didn’t notice the lady watering the aspidistras, but she saw him. Later to be known as witness D, she was often fussing around in the foyer and she didn’t miss a trick.
“They always wore hooded jackets and most of them had beards,” she answered. Could she single out the subject though? “He always opened the door with his hip and he never ever looked at me. All the others looked and smiled.” And then: “Yes, he was definitely wearing a blue hoodie, black jeans and fluoro green runners on that day…that horrible day. I will never forget it.”
At unit 7A the subject removed the leather thonging from around his neck and with the key threaded on it, opened the door. The apartment was clean and sparsely furnished. A table and two chairs occupied the dinette. The kitchen had a fridge, a kettle, and six small glass tumblers sat inverted on a tea towel next to the sink. Everything else was bare. One bedroom door was closed but the second was open to reveal an assortment of rectangular mats arranged in neat rows facing one corner. The bathroom and toilet doors were closed. The lounge room had one sofa and on the wall opposite hung a large white sheet. A video camera on a tripod stood in the middle of the room. On the wall adjacent to the sofa, in stark contrast to the rest of the place, was an aquarium. It was a six footer, illuminated and humming. On the gravel sat an octopus.
“Hello Ahmed,” said the subject to the mollusc.
Ahmed blinked and unfurled one of its tentacles – a greeting of sorts. The subject smiled and proceeded to the freezer. He withdrew one pilchard and returned to slip it quickly under the tightly sealed glass lid. Except for its pulsing siphon, Ahmed remained motionless, watching as the pilchard sunk to the bottom corner.
“It will be thawed soon my friend.”
From a built-in a cupboard, in the hallway that led to the toilet and bathroom, the subject removed a black backpack and placed it on the dining table. In the meshed side pocket was a piece of paper with a mobile phone number written on it. He took out his mobile phone and punched in the number. He hit SAVE, looked up to ceiling for a moment, and then punched in PARADISE. He hit SAVE again.
Noting the time, the subject twitched and reached into the back pocket of his jeans. He removed three warm creased envelopes. He placed them on the table, arranging them neatly like the mats in the bedroom. The first was labelled Mum, the next Kelly, and the third envelope was labelled Yousef, with ‘not to be opened until 12’ written in brackets underneath. He looked up to see Ahmed changing colour and moving from his corner towards the pilchard.
The subject placed the key on the leather thonging next to the envelopes. He slung the backpack over his right shoulder and left the unit.
Witness D would later respond, “Yes, when he left he was carrying a black backpack,” and, “No, I did not notice anything different about his demeanour.”
The train was more crowded than usual for a Friday afternoon. The regular commuters, in various shades of workplace, pretended not to notice the dozens of noisy young people. Their uniforms, worn to blend in at this weekend’s music festival, were much more vibrant. The subject sat on a bench seat facing inwards in the vestibule section of the carriage. The backpack was nestled between his knees, and he looked straight ahead without expression. It was hard to ignore the many nubile female buttocks hanging out of the bottom of denim short shorts at eye level, but the subject remained poker-faced. Jostling, giggling, and a cocktail of modern deodorants and perfumes assaulted his other senses.
A member of the party crowd spotted the subject, “Hey, Brad. Is that you?” He edged over to squeeze in on the bench seat. “Man you look so different, haven’t seen you in years bro. Hey, have some calamari.”
The seafood eater, though at least ten years older than the other punters, sported a dozen assorted festival bands on his left wrist.
“Hey come on Brad, have some calamari. It’s the best stuff to line your stomach. You’re going to the festival aren’t you?”
“Thank you, but I can’t eat that type of food,” replied the subject.
“Allergy eh? My old man blows up like a balloon if he even looks at a prawn.”
The man boy pointed at the backpack. “You know they’ll go through that with a fine tooth comb. Pretty hard to get anything in these days. You’ve got to drop the pingers, and skull down as much as you can, before you get there. You know, pre-load. So Brad, you going or what?”
The subject shook his head. He twisted his head and squinted to look through the scratched window. The harbour and late afternoon sun disappeared with a whoosh of changing air pressure. The fluorescent lighting became apparent.
The subject took out his mobile and hit CONTACTS.
He scrolled down and stopped at PARADISE.
“So, where you going then Brad?”
The subject held up his phone to show his long lost mate the name on the screen.
“Paradise? What are you on Brad? I’d like to give that a try.” The hyped-up calamari-eating hipster laughed.
“Yes, paradise my friend.”
The subject hit the green call button as he kicked the backpack out under the legs of the excited party crowd.