In the morning there was still no sign of my colleague. I woke and went directly to the living room, expecting to find him balled up in a camping bag, sleeping off a hangover, but there was nothing.
I looked over the apartment in the light of morning, trying to understand his absence. I had to admit it was a nice place, which was a surprise. During undergrad, my colleague was unkempt and dishevelled and all his accommodation had reflected this. A friend once described him as a dog’s bed come to life, with the dog still inside. This was like the home of a different individual. There were tasteful prints hanging on all the walls—stylised maps, ads for exhibitions—and the decoration was clean and modern.
That’s when it struck me—there was probably a girl or a boy somewhere in the city that he didn’t have the guts to tell me about. That was it. He was probably holed up somewhere, too embarrassed to show his face.
Half annoyed, half amused, I got myself ready for a day of research. I managed to scrape together a breakfast from the remnants he had left behind, but as I was eating I heard a commotion in the staircase. At first, I assumed it was the superintendent and kept to myself. However, the noise didn’t die away and was followed by a great deal of gravelly shouting and what sounded like swearing. My bag was packed, ready for the public records bureau, so I took it and went to see what the fuss was. I found an aged man on the stairs, bald and tanned and as wiry as a hand. He was carrying these long metal poles and appeared to be overwhelmed by the task.
‘Yes, what?’ he snapped.
‘Do you need help?’ I asked.
He blinked, noticing my language. ‘Obviously I do,’ he said. ‘Haven’t you got any respect for your elders? You get those.’
He directed me toward the end of the poles he was dragging down the stairs behind himself. I edged by and he gave me a dirty look. They were heavier than expected and I was impressed by the old man’s compact strength.
Together, we carried them down to ground floor—as we went, he complained. ‘I can’t believe I have to lug these down four flights before someone comes out. This generation, I can’t believe we made such a selfish generation.’
‘What are they for anyway?’ I asked.
‘They’re for selling for scrap of course, you moron,’ he said.
There was something about his intensity that made it difficult to be offended. I can’t explain it.
I helped him to load the poles into the back of a truck on the street. He climbed aboard without thanking me and pulled out into traffic, the other vehicles responding with a series of honks and shouts.
I watched him go, then worked out a metro route to the bureau and spent the rest of the day working.