Achilles, a retired clerk of an old high school, didn’t open his sleepy eyes to a peaceful and quiet morning as he expected. All his naked body in the bed, from feet to neck, was covered with a lot of short wires. The wires connected some small screens to each other on which red digital numbers showed the countdown.
They looked like bombs. He didn’t even dare to move a finger. But he was only a harmless office man and father of a little ordinary family. Naturally nobody wanted to explode him.
Then he saw a vague, dark shape in the weak light of the sitting room, looking like a man.
“Hello, Achilles.” The shadow’s voice wasn’t familiar, a manly, serious and confident voice. Achilles was still lying on the bed motionless. He was sure that this man was somehow related to the wires and screens but only asked a simple question: “Who are you?” He asked it softly but in a shaking voice.
“I am the one who can press the button,” the man answered immediately. His voice wasn’t violent, but he knew he was the boss.
“Please introduce yourself.” Achilles was panting like a sick man.
“No, we are talking about you here,” the voice answered with no pause, “and no one in this city knows you better than me. You are a hypocrite, a professional liar, a clean, well-mannered thief.”
“You said something about a button . . . ” Achilles said after a long silence.
“The bombs will work tonight, exactly at 10 p.m., even sooner if you try to open them or call the cops. But I can press a button and stop them if you tell the truth.” He was calm and cold, like a man who is only explaining a fact.
“What truth?” Achilles mumbled.
“Not to me, to your wife.” Every minute, that voice seemed more powerful and this conversation was getting more terrifying than the bombs themselves.
“We are divorced, for two years now.”
“It doesn’t change anything.” This man knew a lot; about things that nobody knew.
Achilles felt tears in his eyes. “You can’t kill a man because of one little lie he’s told to his wife years ago.”
“It’s not one little lie, Achilles.” The shadow’s voice was merciless. Then he opened the apartment’s door and went out.
Achilles called his wife, over and over, but she didn’t answer. So he called his daughter and went to see her. In the street, everything was moving tensely, cars, buses, people, but bombs had sucked all his energy like some little monsters and he was trying hard not to faint. His daughter’s blue car was parked in front of her small flat. She was waiting for Achilles in the car not in the flat.
“Listen, kid, I have to find your mother, it’s so important.”
“What happened to hello, how are you?”
“Ok. Hello, my sweet child. I know maybe she is busy or simply not in the mood to talk with her ex right now, but you have to call her. Tell her I really need to see her. Believe me. It’s not a usual problem.”
“But you are the usual Achilles. You are a father who has met her daughter after six months, what happened to how is your life?” Sometimes, she seemed bitter and judgmental to Achilles like her mother but only sitting beside her, with those full lips and milk-white teeth and young flashing eyes had made him calmer.
“But I know how your life is. You are in your first year of law school.”
“That’s enough for you?”
“I bought you this car, didn’t I? Now please call your mom and ask her to call me. Before 10 p.m.”
Achilles was watching those slim arms and legs. He was enjoying. They were much better- shaped than both his and his wife’s.
“What’s wrong, dad?”
He needed to arrange his formless thoughts to answer and he needed a very strong will for this. “I have a confession to make to your mother.”
“What kind of confession?”
“We’ll talk about it later.”
“Yeah, like all the things we talked about later.” She straightened the unbuttoned, messy collar of her father’s shirt.
“This car is so clean.”
“My university is near. I am not used to driving for fun either.”
“Why didn’t you sell it then?”
“It’s a gift.”
She called her mother. Achilles wanted to see her in the restaurant in which he’d proposed thirty years ago. When he got there before his wife and sat at a table near the window, he was shaking all over. He was murmuring to himself: “Please come . . . Come . . . Come . . . Please . . . ”
“What’s the meaning of all this?” She’d heard his murmuring.
He hadn’t seen his wife for a year. She used to wear more jewelry before but now they even looked prettier. She knew how to use them.
“I have missed you. I really needed to see you,” Achilles said.
“In here?” She controlled her irritation.
“This restaurant was livelier back then, right?”
“What’s the matter, Achilles?”
“Ok, I am sure you remember that young painter who was madly in love with you.’
“You know I run a store and it’s very successful, and I want to keep it, so I have to go back to my work as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, all my friends buy your shop’s glasses. They say you are the best in town.”
His wife’s hand was actively typing a message on her cell all the time, to the store people probably.
Achilles went on: “Our marriage was a financial arrangement between me and the painter’s father. The boy never wanted to leave you. But his father had other plans for the kid. And there was no future for me at the time. He gave me this apartment that I still live in to pretend that I was in love with you and he convinced his son that you didn’t want him. All my presents, all my romantic letters, all I said about how I had been saved by your love, they were all lies.”
She of course hesitated to answer, but not a bit shocked. “All of them? I don’t think so. But what you did was really nasty anyway.”
“I am really sorry . . . I . . . ”
“I have to go, Achilles. Everybody in the store is waiting for their manager.”
When she was walking to the door Achilles wasn’t watching the restaurant anymore to see how much it was changed. The place wasn’t there anymore. There was only her.
When Achilles entered his apartment the smell of foods of last days annoyed him. It was the first time he even sensed the smell. If his wife was there, she’d open the window without any pause, but he didn’t. He wasn’t in the mood for any kind of action. Someone was knocking on the door. He could guess who it was and he was filled with excitement, not of fear this time, but of hope. He opened the door, even with a weak smile of triumph, but he was wrong. A high-school boy was at the door.
“I am so sorry for the interruption, sir.”
“Boy, it’s the smallest interruption I’ve had today . . . Come in kid . . .”
“You don’t even know me, sir.”
“What? You might be dangerous? Come in and tell me what you want.”
He came in. Achilles unbuttoned his shirt and checked the bombs. Half of them had stopped, but the rest were still counting the time. The boy saw them but managed not to ask anything about the wires and screens.
“I said, what do you want?”
“I have written an essay. If it’s published, it will surely help me to win a scholarship and it will change everything for me. But I have to be graduated for publishing it and the new man, the one who sits at your desk now; he says this class I need to take to be graduated is full. Everybody told me that Achilles always helped the students. You even arranged another exam for a student whose mother was sick. All students in that high-school know that you were great in your job.”
Achilles was shocked. He buttoned his shirt again to hide the bombs. “Really?”
“Thanks a lot. And about that, tell me the name of the teacher of your class. I’ll write a letter to the teacher and your problem will be solved.”
“They were right about you.”
“Give me a paper.”
“But not a pen.” It was the shadow’s voice. He was standing in the dark bedroom, where his face wasn’t seen again. “This man writes his official letters only with his own pen. It’s an old habit.”
The boy remained silent, a little scared. Achilles started to write the letter. The voice went on: “We need to talk again.”
“Don’t you see that I am busy right now?”
“It’s about your life, Achilles.” The man’s tone wasn’t like the first time, like a man who is talking to an ape in a cage.
“I am doing my job right now. You can come later.”
“I am the one who says when we talk and when we don’t.”
“You said they will stop, but half of them are still working.”
“You lied to yourself too, that you are an honest man with a decent life; don’t expect me to forget this.” The man raised his voice: “Say something.”
The student was listening carefully. “I can come for the letter later.”
“No, this letter is the most important thing right t now.”
“I am the one who says what is important.” There was emotion in that voice finally, anger.
“You are just a murderer,” Achilles said.
The dark figure said nothing. It was odd for a man who always had a ready answer. Achilles turned to the student. “It’s your letter for that sulky old teacher.” He said it with a little smile. By the door, the boy turned back to Achilles. “Sir . . . About this . . . I mean . . . Do you want me to do something for you?”
“Of course.” He pushed the boy out. “Publish that essay.”
That man was still silent. Achilles went to kitchen to drink some water. When he came back the man was gone. He wasn’t in the dark bedroom anymore. Then Achilles started to read his old notebook and forgot the time. He used to write the students’ problems in this notebook. It was 10 p.m. and all the screens showed the zero but the retired clerk didn’t blow up. He was still reading his old notebook.
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