There is a crowd waiting for a bus. They are not in a queue. Two men swagger past me; they are looking for trouble. I stand there trembling. They push their way through. A bus pulls up; a boy is the first to board. The two men jump on – they are beating him up. I hear his screams. No one tries to stop them – the crowd stands there as stationary as statues – and I wake up, my body battered.
A bird outside is in distress; it twitters and twitters. I go to the window. A squirrel scampers along the wall. A magpie plucks out the eyes of a blackbird.
The transport cafe was clean and the furniture was green. The cups and plates were blue-striped but the knives and forks were plastic. I had eaten there – ham, egg, chips, tea, tart, custard, coffee – with my extended family. They had gone ahead of me to a dance class. Had they paid? I wondered. The girl at the counter shook her head and started a long list. She gave me the bill and I read: $200.06. This seemed too much. The Manager came and checked and said it was correct. I went over the list but couldn't dispute it because my family had gone. I noticed that one item – a doughnut – had cost $4.99. I gave him my card and put in the pin. He gave me the slip and it read: $425.10. I was shocked, but the Manager shrugged and said my family had feasted. The girl gave back my card and I left.
Sitting in my car with the slip in my hand, I felt dejected and cheated; then looking down at the paper I read: Transaction Declined. I put the key in the ignition and muttered, "I'll give them the slip."
My brother was cleaning them in the dining room at the family cottage in Deanfield Avenue. He told me not to open any of the windows, although I could not see how he was going to clean the glass from outside without opening each one, unless he went out at the back door and stood on the rockery. But that would have been hard, because he could not have reached the top of the frame; the job would have remained unfinished.
A meow came from a cat in the cupboard. I opened the door and it sprang out, meowing still.
"She wants to go out," I said.
"Yes," my brother said, and opened a window. The cat jumped onto the table and through the window.
"You opened a window," I said. "You told me not to."
"For the cat, yes. Not for you."
"What do you mean, 'not for me'? I don't need to leave the house via the window."
"It doesn't matter how you leave the house, but not through a window."
Outside, a pigeon fluttered past and smeared the glass with its dropping. My brother looked at me in all seriousness and said: "You see now why the windows are to be kept shut."
No," I replied. "It could have brought me luck."
Antony Johae wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Dostoevsky and Kafka. He has a book on Kafka ready for publication. Poems of the East came out in 2015. After-Images: Homage to Eric Rohmer will appear in 2019 (Poetry Salzburg). His Four Stories appeared in Issue #62 of The Cafe Irreal.