I returned as usual to the bureau today. I walked through the Gurtletz park as normal, passing the dealers and rollerbladers and old ladies with shopping carts. It was a fine, fresh morning. I walked normally, neither very slow or very fast.
The bureau itself was as I expected. Like every other morning, I spoke to the girl on front desk who gave me my visitor’s pass and asked about my journey, then I strolled to the reading room with the microfilm machines. I set up my files and notebook on an empty desk and began a new page in my notes. I wrote the date at the top, then underlined it.
I looked around. It was the normal group of individuals that I had come to expect. Ancient gents reading the daily papers, a handful of fastidious students, ladies working on the computers in the far corner. One of the students caught my eye and we both nodded in recognition. After consulting my notes from the previous session, I worked out which records I would need to consult and removed them from the files. I set up the machine and went to work, passing the day in quiet study.
At around six in the evening, a young man entered the reading room. He was carrying a large atlas under one arm. I watched him heave it across to a table in the middle, flip it open, and begin to scan the huge pages of map. After a minute, he looked up and our eyes met and I quickly returned to my machine. After scrolling through the film for a while, I swivelled round in my chair and caught something from the corner of my eye—the quick movement of the young man’s head.
I thought to myself, alright, and began to pack up my documents. I thought, this is a normal time to finish for the day. This is as expected.
I went out into the road and walked down the street, crossing between parked cars. I dithered on the corner, pretending to search around inside my rucksack, fishing for some imaginary item. I was watching the grand entrance to the bureau—the equine statues, the leaping salmon, the devious cherubs. As far as I could tell, no one came out after me, so I went on my way, feeling a little embarrassed.
As I walked, shopkeepers were placing boards in the bottom of their doorway. I kept hearing this sound from open windows, this chik-chik-chik, and something was rising in my throat, but then I saw the source of the sound—there were groups of three, four men sitting around, playing dominoes at the tables of empty restaurants.
I entered the apartment building and made my way down the corridor and through the central courtyard. Mr Erdnuss was reclined on a bench there.
He scowled at me. ‘You son of a bitch,’ he said. ‘You went to them, didn’t you? What did I say? What did I tell you?’