When Nikka grabbed his arm to warn him, Dickson jumped back from his Mercedes. Looking through the driver’s window, he saw only the newspaper on the seat with a ripped front page headline that said;
TWO ALBINOS KILLED AND BODY PARTS SOLD!
Dickson had purchased the paper not to read it, but to conceal a ring in the torn page, until he would need it.
Now in the empty parking lot, lights clung to the whiteness of Dickson’s bleached teeth as he smiled at Nikka. But Nikka did not smile.
“What’s wrong Nikka?” Dickson demanded.
“Behind you!” Nikka screamed, pointing.
A bony-faced teenager dressed in black, was pointing a pistol.
Dickson spun on his heels, saw the firearm and burst into laughter. It was pink and green, one of those toys that squirt water, he thought.
“Put that thing away and go home, boy!” Dickson cried.
“Move and I’ll shoot!” cried the jittery young man, pointing the gun at Dickson.
Dickson glanced at Nikka.
“Dickson, don’t!” she warned, speaking with clenched teeth. “We give him what he wants.”
“No way Nikka, he’s bluffing,” he assured her, taking a nonchalant step forward.
“Hey!” Yelled the young man. “I say stop!”
But Dickson flew at the young man and the gun went off with a loud bang.
A single projectile floated like lightening through the air, and Dickson tumbled, with a loud thump.
As Nikka stared in shock, a soft unblemished voice interrupted the strange silence.
“Sorry…” It sounded like a felon confessing to a priest. “…no witnesses.”
He aimed at Nikka and fired.
When Nikka’s body hit the pavement, the teenager was already going through Dickson’s pockets.
As he tugged on Nikka’s wedding ring, he noticed an inscription: J & N.
He pulled harder, but the ring seemed stuck. He produced a shiny knife from his pocket but loud sirens suddenly filled the air.
The young man dashed into the darkness without cutting off Nikka’s finger and a flutter of wings followed him, belonging to a flock of doves flying very low.
Jack Mann had always worried about his weight and height but he became even more sensitive as he stared at the doorman of the building, a man as tall as a tree, wearing a white shirt tucked into a plaid skirt.
With the top of his head barely reaching the doorman’s navel, Jack raised his eyes at the giant’s long gray beard, wondering where he could find food and something to drink.
But a curly-haired man in army uniform with a thick mustache bolted out of the building before Jack could speak.
“What do you want this time?” cried the doorman in a booming voice.
“I’m lonely,” replied the man in uniform.
“Didn’t I tell you to read that sign?” asked the doorman, pointing.
“Sure,” said the man. “It says S.F.H. How does that help a lonely man?”
The doorman ignored the question.
“Why are you not at your post?” he demanded. “Why are you not watching the sad dam?”
The man in uniform scratched his head and said, “Easy for you to say. Have you seen the blood in the water? Have you seen how scary Mr. Reltih can be?”
“He can’t harm you.”
“What about the keeper of the bin? I hate his beard.”
“Go!” cried the doorman.
Grumbling, the man turned towards a huge door.
While the two men had been arguing, Jack had been staring at colorful signs on the building. When they stopped, his eyes were fastened on an electronic one that said FREE.
The food better not be free, he thought. I hate when things are given away…
“WHEN WILL THE BUSH GROW?” the uniformed man yelled suddenly. He stood at the door, ready to enter.
“Stay alert,” replied the doorman. “No one knows the exact time.”
And then he turned to Jack with a giant smile.
“I’m sure you have questions. Don’t waste time asking why I’m wearing a skirt. I’m not Scottish.”
“Anything a man can eat inside?” Jack blurted.
“Why do you want to eat?” replied the doorman.
“I am starving!” cried Jack. “How much is the entrance ticket?”
“Entrance is free.”
“Quit joking, sir,” said Jack. “Successful men don’t believe in free things. They should pay. I don’t want people asking me for free stuff in return.”
“That’s you,” replied the doorman. “Entrance is free but you need the recipes now.”
“Is that your policy?”
“I didn’t say the recipes are compulsory, I said you need them.”
The man reached inside his pocket and took out a scroll of parchment.
“This is ancient Egyptian papyrus,” he explained.
Feeling too hungry to laugh, Jack stared at the parchment.
“This is America, not Egypt. I need food, not recipes!”
Unrolling the parchment, the doorman said, “Most people don’t know what they need and…”
“I don’t need recipes!”
“Everyone needs them.”
“That’s because they like free stuff…do I look like everyone?”
“You’re wearing a suit like most people that come here.”
“I don’t need this…I don’t need your recipes!” cried Jack
As he marched into the building, he snapped, “Let me know how much I owe and I’ll have my secretary write a check!”
The doorman chuckled, finding it funny that people misinterpret the signs.
If only they didn’t rush in life, he mused.
Jack Mann too, had failed to notice that the sign, FREE was an abbreviation. The full meaning was printed at the bottom.
It said, Forgiveness Requires Emotional Elevation.
Jack Mann stood inside a quiet lobby, the size of two stadiums. A tender breeze caressed his face as he heard leaves rustling and twigs snapping.
Seeing no trees or branches, Jack wondered if his mind was working in slow motion. Was nature tricking him? As a kid when Jack told his mother about the strange noises he heard while playing by himself, his Mom would smile and say, “You hear the footsteps of your guardian angel, your personal body guard.”
Now, he saw a white dove flying across the room. But when he looked again he saw nothing except huge desks standing next to chairs behind smaller desks carrying computers.
He touched a screen and ran his hand over the surface of a desk.
Cinemas have workers and customers, he thought. What’s going on?
Then he had an idea.
If he stopped walking, stopped breathing and listened; perhaps he would hear human voices? The desolation of isolation sharpens the senses, so that the slightest sign of life is sniffed up, identified and craved like an addiction.
But the more he listened the deeper his ears plunged into the void of silence.
It was so quiet that Jack heard the noiselessness.
He began to suspect his sanity. If people go mad because they see and hear non-existent things then this was his season to lose his reason.
Whoever heard of a breeze, rustling leaves and snapping twigs in a theater?
The stillness in the air was like scenery in a photograph.
Did I really see a white dove?
As far as he could see, movement came from a sign flashing the words; PLAYING NOW.
Struggling with the distortion, Jack let go his breath… and then…he heard.
Scrub! Scrub! Scrub!
The shelves near the wall were producing sounds. Silence, hanging between intervals had a rhythm, as if a stopwatch was allowing two seconds of silence between each scrub.
An inner voice suddenly yelled:
With great effort, he stopped his shaky legs from running.
He was starving. Nothing mattered now. Not even his life. He had to eat.
A step towards the noise magnified the ball of fear in his stomach. His heart pounded, but he kept tip-toeing, holding his breath, overwhelmed by curiosity and dread.
In less than ten seconds, he would come face-to-face with the cause of the noise.
A gray-haired man on his knees looked up. The light in his big green eyes gave Jack an uncanny feeling.
Without warning, the man sprang to his feet. Swinging a wet rag in the air, he growled like a disturbed animal.
Jack saw nothing after the cloth hit his face.
“Hey!” he cried, wiping his face.
“I shudda killed ye in the bathroom!” the old man yelled.
He flung the bucket.
Jack heard the sound of air as it flew by.
His blurred vision cleared up and Jack picked up the bucket but a light burst forth before his eyes. The bucket bounced against the floor and Jack’s body shuddered.
He screamed, wondering what was wrong with his voice. And then he heard the old man screaming too.
When a thick fog suddenly enclosed them, an overpowering love exploded in Jack’s heart.
Was this his grandfather?
Jack had suddenly developed a powerful urge to wrap his arms around the man. To tell him how much he loved him.
It felt so right! Like saying a prayer!
Jack opened his eyes in shock.
He was hugging the old man! The old man was hugging him too!
“What are you doing?” Jack cried, pushing the man away.
The old man blinked in confusion.
“Who are you?”
The man gave a dry laugh.
“Who am I?” he quipped. “I’m the Janitor! Now, come on!”
He positioned himself like a boxer, with raised fists.
Does he really want to fight?
Considering his age, it would be wrong to hit him.
Wait a minute!
This was confusing.
The man was about to fight him, but why was Jack thinking only about hugging him?
An overpowering feeling.
What was this sudden love?
Why was it growing?
He should be angry.
No! No! No!
Jack panicked and ran towards a brightly lit corridor.
The Janitor burst out laughing anew.
“Run! Coward! Ye’re good at that!”
When Jack stopped to listen, the old man’s voice had faded, so he walked on, slowly, breathing heavily, and rubbing his protruding stomach, wondering how he had managed to run away so fast.
Fat people should try to lose weight when they have the chance, he mused.
The passageway twisted and turned before coming to an end.
Jack Mann pressed his face against a padded door and smelled leather.
The sign said, Movie Theater.
Or take a leap of faith and: