Today the weather broke. It happened while I was walking home from the bureau, through the Gurletz park. Suddenly that smell started up and you heard the movement of thunder and it was hot rain. Everyone ran out of the open areas to be underneath trees and I found my umbrella and set off marching.
I hurried down the road to my colleague’s apartment. It was usually a busy thoroughfare but the rain had emptied it completely. I felt so alone that I almost shouted when I ran into the old man, lurking beneath the building’s canopy. He did not show any surprise; I stepped back.
‘Huh,’ he tutted. ‘Umbrellas.’
‘What?’ I said. ‘What about them?’
‘They’re for school children, aren’t they? Little babies and so on. A real man doesn’t use an umbrella.’
I looked up at my umbrella, unsure of how to respond. ‘It’s just useful, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, I suppose it is useful, if you want to lose your spine once and for all.’
I moved in beside him and lowered the offending article. His little wrinkled head was moving in and out of shadows and I saw he was drunk—not much, but a bit.
‘I don’t recognise you. You’re new in the building. What are you? American, Australia-something?’
I gave my nationality and explained that I was living in the apartment only temporarily. I began to say that I was sharing with my old colleague, but that didn’t sound right, so I told the old man I was borrowing a friend’s place.
‘And for what? You’re on a holiday?’
‘No, I’m carrying out some research.’
‘Ha! Research! I’ve got more research in my finger,’—he showed me his pinkie finger—‘than most have in their whole person. I’m a machine of knowledge.’
‘I see,’ I said. I wanted to get past him but he was leaning on the door-handle. He was so short that it was elbow height for him.
‘I know your friend,’ he said. ‘He borrowed some ladders from me and I remember he didn’t give them back. Is there ladders, in the apartment?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘Hm. Maybe I will come down and check sometime. You are lonely, I can see this. We will have a drink and so on and I will see about the ladders. He is a strange boy, your friend.’ He waved his hand around his face and head to explain my colleague’s dishevelled appearance.
‘That sounds… that’ll be fine,’ I said.
‘Of course it will be fine. Do you want to sit up there rotting like a lemon on the shelf?’
He shook hands then and his grip was powerful, like a friendly vice.
‘You will call me Mr Erdnuss—this is what everyone calls me.’
‘Goodnight Mr Erdnuss,’ I said.
‘Goodnight, quiet lamb,’ he said.
I nearly said something back to him but he had cracked his head in a leer of sarcasm and I knew he was longing for a reaction. I only shook my head and he moved to let me inside.