Dan woke up bright and early on Saturday morning. He bought a copy of Loot and scanned its flat adverts in search of those he might want to live in.
Agencies were never open on a Saturday, but there were a few good-sounding places being handled direct by the landlords. Dan phoned some of them up, and made a couple of viewing appointments for the afternoon.
A bus turned up just as Dan arrived at the bus stop. He hopped on board and was hit by a wall of heat; he went upstairs where it was hotter still. Worse, none of the double seats were free. Dan opted for a double seat of his own in the sunlight, rather than sitting next to a stranger.
The bus ride was quite quick; Dan had expected it to take about half an hour, but it only took twenty minutes: Traffic lights turned red just after the bus went through them (once just before it went through) or turned green as it made its approach; and nobody wanted to get on or off at any request stops.
It being a weekend, the bus was half full of chatter, and mostly of people talking to the person next to them. A few talkative passengers had not boarded with a companion and spoke by phone; Dan was more annoyed by this, though he knew not why.
One woman in particular raised his hackles. She seemed pissed off at something — she spat out Slavic syllables with venom — and it was that which got on his nerves so.
He sighed, and looked out of the window at a parade of shops. A security camera on display in the window of one of them stared back. The kebab shop next to it had a particularly garish pink-and-yellow colour scheme; a corner of its fascia claimed it was established in 2008, as if that was a particularly long time ago.
The Slavic woman seemed to be having trouble with her phone; Dan couldn’t think of any other reason why she would repeat the same two syllable question every couple of seconds. She gave up in the end, held her phone in front of her, and regarded it with an accusative look for deigning not to work.
With one caller reduced to silence, Dan took exception to another: An African gentleman who spoke in melodic tones (almost as if he were speaking Chinese, not English) and placed stress seemingly at random within his words. The upshot was a pattern of speech far enough removed from what he was used to that Dan could neither totally ignore nor totally understand it.
The African man was recounting a tale of woe: His bank had eaten some of his money, and two phone calls to sort things out had resulted in differing explanations but a similar lack of action. Whatever suggestions his friend made had already been tried; whatever tentative explanation was proffered met with the response “I do not understand why they would do such a thing” rattling out like a polyphonic machine gun.
Shortly after that, the African’s phone misbehaved. Its owner stared at it for a moment, then placed it in his shirt pocket.
Dan didn’t get a chance to relax; he was startled by a bird of prey screeching loudly behind him. He realised it was only a phone ringing when the Slavic woman started talking again. There was a trace of contempt in her voice that unnerved him.
And then her phone seemed to stop working again. Irritated, she tapped it against the wall a couple of times, glared at it once more, then gave up and stared blankly out of the window.
But Dan still didn’t have a chance to relax: His own phone started to ring; it didn’t recognise the caller’s number, which made him suspiscious, but he answered it anyway; yet when he said “Hello?” all he heard was the triple beep of a broken connection.
He looked at the phone’s screen: It said “No signal”. With a screech, the Slavic woman’s phone rang again.