Cautiously, before opening the door I take a peek through the spy hole. There’s a man standing in the hall holding a brown package. He’s short, wearing dull clothes: a grey jumper and dark trousers. No jacket. His head is balding; the little hair he has left is jumping about in messy; random strands that seem to disagree with each other. He looks around fifty or sixty years old and he’s smiling.
The happy smiling balding man reaches for the doorbell and it rings again, this time loudly in my ears.
There’s nothing about him that tells me he poses any danger. A cheerful neighbour here to deliver something that may have accidentally found its way to his flat instead of mine. Or maybe he’s a postman, off duty but diligent. One last parcel before a welcome cup of Americano and carrot cake at the nearby Starbucks.
I decide to turn the lock carefully but it makes a loud clicking sound as it slides into its new position. There’s no changing my mind now. He knows someone is in. I sneak another glance through the peephole to see that he’s still wearing the same gleeful expression.
Twisting the other latch I pull the door open. Cold air from the hallway rushes at my face.
“Good morning sir,” the man grins. “I…”
After his eyes meet mine I watch them shift to the rest of my face. The natural beaming smile is suddenly changing to that of a forced one. There’s a hint of apology and of sudden awkwardness as he stutters out the rest of the sentence.
“I… I’ve been told that a Mr Christopher Morton is living at this address. If… are you, is…?”
“Yes, that’s me,” I say, maybe a little too aggressively.
“I… okay, great. So, I…”
“Yes, it’s okay, I had an accident last night but I’m fine,” I offer, to make up for my initial shortness. Now that I’m looking at him in the flesh he seems somewhat small; weak, rather pitiful: nothing but a silly old man here to annoy me.
I watch as he gathers himself together. A slight relaxation in his body language. Then there’s a shift from one foot to the other before he holds up the package in his hand.
“I… you see I promised to deliver this to you this morning. A pretty young girl, well I probably shouldn’t say. She made me promise not to say anything…”
“A girl, what girl?” I respond, immediately thinking of Ruby.
“Nothing, no, sorry, nothing.” He’s looking a little flustered now. (Was I being too forceful again?) “I’m only supposed to give this to you and go. To not say anything else.”
He holds out the package nervously. It’s a box shaped object, the size of a thick book that has been stuffed into an A4 parcel.
I’ve no idea what could be in there. After he hands it over I realise it’s lighter than I first thought. I give it a shake and it rattles with a dull series of thuds. I determine that there are at least two medium sized objects inside the box. I wonder for a moment…
What is the thing that I most desire right now?
Could it be my stolen mobile phone? Maybe even my wallet too?
“I have to be going,” says the man suddenly.
“Wait,” I spurt. “Who gave this to you?” I’m sounding aggressive again. I’m frightening him. I can see it in his eyes; he’s beginning to regret that he ever agreed to come on this strange errand. What was it that persuaded him anyway? Was it money? Or the charms of a pretty young girl? I can see that if I’m going to get anything out of him I’ll need to change my tactics.
“I ought to at least offer you a cup of tea or something. Did you have to walk far?”
“No, not so far. I was only across the road when she stopped me.”
“A pretty girl you say.” (I take on the possibility of her still being close by).
“Well, I… No, I swore not to say. And I really should be going.” There’s a new-found firmness in his words.
“Oh, come on,” I give him a friendly wink. “If I’ve got a secret admirer I’m sure there’s a part of her that’d like me to know who she is.” I attempt to put a tone of humbleness in my voice as I shrug my shoulders and continue: “You could at least tell me what she looked like. The luck I’ve been having lately, it’d be nice if there’s someone out there who could put a bit of brightness back in my life. How about giving me something to go on, what do you say?”
I can see him weighing up the arguments for and against him spilling the goods. Once again he takes in the sorry state of my battered face.
“I do apologise,” he answers, “but it’d be wrong of me to say anything more.”
“Tall or short? Fat or thin? What colour hair?” I’m sounding desperate again (what’s wrong with me?). “You say she was pretty. Pretty like how?”
But now he’s backing away towards the outside door. I swear that if he had a hat he’d be lifting it to bid me a good day. Instead he smiles and nods politely while subtly making his escape.
“Don’t you at least want to see what’s inside?” I shout.
But he’s already gone.
I hop to the sofa, package in hand. I decide against opening it immediately. Instead I make myself another cup of tea and light a cigarette, staring at the thing.
The reason why I’m taking my time? It’s simple. To me it’s like an unopened present on Xmas day when I’ve asked for something specific but still not sure if my parents have got me what I want or are going to surprise me with some other gift. Or maybe it’s like receiving your exam results in an envelope. There’s a moment before you open it that you want to savour. Because in that moment when you don’t know, the possibility remains that you’re about to get exactly what you’ve been hoping for.
The kettle flicks off, telling me that the water’s boiled. I return to the kitchen, grab a fresh tea bag and add a few extra spoonfuls of sugar. As I pour the water I think about the man’s reaction to my face. Not good.
The package is still on the table (of course it is; why wouldn’t it be?). It’s tied together with a piece of string, which I burn with the end of my cigarette. On the telly the gunge has stopped. It’s time for some music. There’s an all girl pop band I’ve never seen before. The lead vocalist isn’t my type but one of her token backup singers has got my attention. Standing around not doing much with a short sequined skirt, high heels and great legs. I think about Ruby again. If things had gone according to plan she could’ve been with me right now. Maybe I’d have cooked up a nice eggs and bacon breakfast. We could’ve been watching a film. A bad one. I imagine us giving up and having sex again. My hand moves up to my swollen face. Fat chance of that happening now.
The brown paper envelope tears easily. Inside there’s a purple box. At first I can’t work out how to open this but finally spot a sliding mechanism. My wallet is inside. And my lighter too; bizarrely.
That’s it. No phone.
I check my wallet to find almost everything intact. Drivers licence, bank cards, my old student ID, Young Person’s Railcard... The only thing missing is the loose change and twenty pound note that I didn’t spend last night.
I go back to the purple box. It’s plain and offers no clues; other than the fact that it has the mystical smell of a girl’s bedroom. (The amber nectar.)
It makes no sense. But also it’s exciting. Somebody knows something about what happened to me last night. Someone who’s on my side. A friend. And if what I’ve been led to believe is true, she’s an attractive, mysterious female.
A casual thought occurs to me and I check my wallet again. Stuffed into the bottom corner of a zip compartment is my sim card. I’m almost laughing. (In fact I do let out a fairly happy set of expletives.)
“This,” I say to myself, “could be the beginning of a beautiful adventure.”