Choosing which house to blow up wasn’t at all easy. The houses looked strikingly identical, and if there was a reason why he should prefer one to another, he didn’t see it. Of course, your imaginary terrorist manual told you it had to be the one with the biggest amount of people currently indoors or in the immediate vicinity, but there was no way of him making a survey so late in the day. After all, the five buildings lined up along the road were all filled with rather unremarkable flats inhabited, he presumed, by rather unremarkable families: husbands, wives, widowed and enuresis-stricken grandfathers, teenage kids... Maybe dogs, maybe cats, maybe guinea pigs – pets, however, were immaterial. So: which house to choose then?..
The thing was, he shouldn’t have left it for the very last evening in the first place. Back when the plan was conceived, he thought any house would do nicely. Back then there were other things to consider: the explosion, the street, the day of the week … Some writers naively believe that the novel’s title will come hot and easy once the job is done and the publisher is banging on the door. But no, it never works out that way, and now he (also an artist of a kind) had this unfortunate and completely unnecessary dilemma on his hands.
His heavy grey bag clutched in his fist, he stared blankly into the distance in front of him. Nothing about the house or the street was telling him anything.
There were five houses standing along the street which he had long considered his target. No special reason for choosing that particular street, but it really was on the quiet and rather inconspicuous outskirts. Ideal setting for him to make his point. It’s just that making his point on a random basis seemed somehow… wrong. He didn’t want to let chance get into it, certainly not the very first time.
It was gradually getting darker, which he thought was rather handy: that way fewer people could see him. The dissolving light made the problem he was facing even more painful and gloomy, though it did contain a rather unlikely clue: the windows. People were starting to give themselves away by switching on the lights. Which wasn’t much, but it was at least something to go by. There was of course no certainty to it, but by counting the number of lit windows in each house he could make a more or less decent guess of the number of people presently indoors.
People were only beginning to settle down in front of their kitchen and living room TV sets, so this gave him time to consider a couple of other important issues. Like his alibi, for instance. The problem with his alibi was that he didn’t have any. He did make the point of telling one or two co-workers about tonight’s horror flick in one of the city’s cinemas, but if it came to it, there would be no ticket to declare. Admittedly it would be a disaster. He was stuck, and he wasn’t even sure that Helen would care to play along or that Andrew would come out of his drunken haze – and they were telling you about families corroborating ridiculous, grotesque stories to cover up hapless sons, misguided uncles and wives…
He went back to the windows and, as it often happens, the idea that seemed so full of uncanny genius at first, was slowly becoming less and less appealing. In all honesty – it just couldn’t work. Watching those houses at night was a bit like shaking kaleidoscope. The lights just kept changing, there was a completely different pattern every minute or so. The whole thing was fascinating in a way – as if people were spending their hard-earned evenings just running around their flats switching lights on and off like crazy.
Procrastination no longer seemed comforting. It felt annoying. He was a terrorist, for God’s sake, he had to think of something.
While the idea was rather whimsical, he decided to go along with it. After all, he didn’t have a better one. It was fairly simple: he will blow up the house out of which a man will come out. In an odd way the plan reminded him of a fairy tale in which a princess would marry the first man who proposes to her. Silly but efficient.
It was with a feeling of harrow, sickly excitement that he was looking at the front doors of those five houses. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long. Pretty soon a shadowy, obscure silhouette came out of one of the houses and started to move in his direction. He was supposed to do likewise, but he was somehow mesmerized by the sheer incredibility of the whole scene and felt glued to the part of pavement he was standing on.
In a minute or so he could easily discern that it was an old woman, and she was clearly approaching him in a relentless, bewildering fashion.
Red light, green light. Having crossed the street, she stopped and looked directly in his face.
- Please, young man, could you tell me what bus will take me to the nearest underground station?..
He looked around, and realised that he was standing in the middle of a bus stop. Also, he heard himself utter the following words:
- Any bus will do from here.
- Oh good. Thank you.
There was an odd feeling of discomfort, and in a moment or two he became aware of a huge grey bag weighing heavily on him. He sighed, looked down and opened it up to see what was inside.
Nothing remotely new about that one. The same thing, all that time. God, will they ever publish that?..
In the distance he could see a bus approaching. He looked at his watch and then at the number of the bus. Always the same number. Okay, so what was the escape route again?..