Having been half-paralysed in the hospital bed from flying from the fourth floor of a building blazing from fire (and a broken heart) for a month to heal my broken ribs and bones (I broke an arm, a leg and two ribs if you're keen to know), I am finally freed of hell. Man, I never want to live through that again, never. Not you either.
They feed you like farmers feed animals: When the time comes and the food always looks the same old. The only form of civilisation was a square box – the television, through which you know what is going around in the world, in thirty minutes, thrice a day. Besides, all forms of electronic devices are prohibited unless switched off. I'm quoting this from the nurses who never fail to tell me so, 'It may hinder with the machines used in the ward, please switch it off immediately. Thank you.' I guess that iswhy people celebrate when they get out of that "white house".
Oh, did I mention? I haven't a clue why, but there was this lady in her late thirties, probably ate too much fast food. Severely obese, have heart, liver, kidney and respiratory problems, average height, probably from an average family too. So yes, she was the main crux of why I was away from civilisation for a month. God really blessed me to have walked out of that place alive!
The only weird thing other than that though, was that a young lady, from what the nurses described, probably around my age in office lady dressing, kept trying to visit during the last week of my stay, but never made it in time for visiting hours.
I swipe through all the mission list on my tablet. What? I only have one? Final Mission: 2nd October Law Suit? After a month away, I only have one? Well, whatever, but what is with the 'Final Mission'?
'Boss! What's with Final Mission?' I question when the line gets through.
'You will be promoted to Manager after this mission. That means, you just have to order people to get these done. Your job from the day you finish this mission will be to watch for calls and make calls. Roger?'
I hang up, a little daze by the news. Ah, still have to work on this before I get to live a better life… But before I begin the agent work, I have something else to do…
Mission one: To get another part-time job, since I got fired from being so reckless and having to cause the company hiring me to cover my expenses (sometimes my company can be really lucky to have me), just to look like a normal city boy from a below-average family who is struggling to make ends meet.
'Percy Quinter' I lean back against the registry counter of the job hunting agency, 'Age 19, Height 1.8metres, acquired driving license. Don't mind any job, anywhere, anytime, so long the pay is 8per hour and above… Anything else?'
'Your IC please, sir.'
I flip open my tattered wallet, the perfect decoy as a member of a struggling family, and slip the local IC out of its slot. I may be related to the FBI, but I am essentially not their agent, thus I have multiple citizenships. Of course, I never go by the same name in any two countries. Therefore, I am only born with the name, Shinchiro Mastumoto.
'There's a night-day shift job as a delivery boy from 5pm-11pm, 10 per hour. Overtime work-hours, past midnight, are at 12 per hour. Usually requires overtime working. Keen?'
'Sure' I shrug, 'I'll just take anything that comes. When do I start?'
'Today.' She retrieves a piece of paper from the feeder of the printer and hands it to me. 'The location is marked with a red X. Directions to get to the workplace is on the left, pay, shifts and other details are on the right. If you need any other assistances, you can come back again.'
'Thanks.' I nod, taking the paper with both hands, portraying the excited look.
Once my back is turned, a smug grin spreads across my face. Mid-night job huh? I sure do have some luck with me, since I walked out of that hell of a place hospital. It's just what I'm hunting for dear.
Pushing open the door of the exit, even the usual gushing air that never failed to tick me off by messing up my stylish hair feels like a friend congratulating me of my lucky job. In the distance, the Ferris wheel makes its slow revolution about its axis as the sky beyond displays a vibrant array of colours, a common but still breath-taking sight. Yet, when it is all over, darkness is all that is left.I let out a heavy sigh as I follow the directions to my new job.
It is about time I should turn up for my job, to start hunting for names to use as vessels.
Flicking the paper against my palm, a sensation of fervour rush through my veins, lightening my steps much, I feel as if I can drift away into another world. Life is good when you are not stuck at the same place. Trust me, it is. Even though it probably isn't going to bring you quite as much as sitting in front of a computer nine to five, typing till you rot inside out. Shrugging to myself, I whistle to the tune that pops up in my mind.
'Looking for a place?' A stranger stops as he sees me squinting at the words on the paper and then at shop names, 'I think I can be of some help.'
He peers over at my paper and gestures towards the junction right at the end of the pathway, 'Ahh.. Looking for a job? Many youngsters have been coming around here to work. Right turn at that junction, Cross two roads and you should see it. Break a leg, young lad.'
Are people around here this friendly, all the time? I stare blankly at the stranger who continues his life as if what he just did never existed to begin with.
I shake my head to clear my thoughts as I head for the junction, still baffled by the odd and sudden intrusion. I enter the alley, right of the junction. Even with the throngs of suffocating crowds, the place still feels dead – Everyone seems to be whispering to each other. What is going on?
It is not till I see the sign then do I know what it all means – Civilized Week. No shouting, screaming, touting, bargaining. As I make my way towards the end of the alley, a stall at the end appears to be the most crowded. I should just check it out before I start working, just to know what it is like around the work place.
'Kenneth!' A low feminine voice comes from within the stall, 'Get it sent and back in 15minutes! There's another order waiting!'
'Yes Mrs Audrey. It's to street 41, Andy Cameron, am I not mistaken?'
Ahh… Mrs Audrey. Kenneth. Andy Cameron. I smile slyly as I store all the names into my brain.
Oh my Holy Goddess!I gasp silently when I raise my head to take a look at the shop name.
I step in as the familiar welcoming sounds of bells that most stores use to notify their workers that a visitor has arrived.
'Yes young lad, anything you want?' A plump lady stands up from her seat and manoeuvres over slowly, as if a duck waddling its way into the water.
'Hi M'am, I'm Percy Quinters, looking for a job.' I put on my professional look.
'Ahh, I heard. Working the night shift, no?'
'This way Percy, you'll need to know how our kitchen works because for your midnight job, you may have to come in to get the food from the respective sections due to a shortage of helpers.' She leads me around, her lips moving all the time.
Pulling on the mask of eagerness to work, I keep nodding to her words, not really taking them in. The windows are pretty low for a restaurant, good use for escape, I note.
'Finally, these are the permanent staffs; it will be good to know them.' She raises her hands and claps for attention, 'People, we've a new staff for night-shift. Percy, Percy Quinters.'
'Hey there, young lad!' A chef raises a hand smeared with oil and dough, 'I'm Percy too, Percy Lorey Connan!'
A self-introduction session began as my mind snatches every name and sticks it into the memory bank. I really do have some NICE luck since I got out of that hell of a place.
'Okay, you can come in at 9pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends.' She finishes, 'Come again later.'
'Thank you. Mind if I leave by the back?'
'Oh sure! If you can find another way to speed up delivery.' She waddles back to the counter.
Another door. Why is it that I am always opening and closing doors, but I never seem to be able to close that stupid door I opened by mistake to her heart?I run my hand through my hair. She, Joanna, really wrecked my life, completely, utterly, absolutely, definitely. I sit down on the steps and lean against the door.
She is probably dead, no, she must be dead, or she would have gone to visit me back at the hospital.The last thing she did when the flames forced us to the windows – Push me out of it. When I was down there, looking up, the whole of the window through which I jumped from was swallowed by flames. She sacrificed her life for me… But she shouldn't have. Let me die, and be forgotten in the roaring fire. I flip open that old wallet I still refuse to change. It is for decoy, but more importantly, I will never let go every little bit of memory we once shared. I never trusted someone this much, and actually went to get a driving license just to drive her to places. Her presence must always stay with me, I owe that to her.
A tear rolls down my check, marking out the contours of my face. Ever since I jumped off, I haven't been able to pass a day without thinking about her, even when I was wrapped in cast and lying in bed. Despair nibbles painfully at my conscience as the incident already engraved from regular reminders floods in again.
Stop thinking about the past, you've to move on idiot. I curse myself.
Sweeping and straightening the creases on my shirt as I stand up, I take in the surroundings. A nice street, not too many people, not too crowded, not too suffocating. Quick delivery passes, keep a window of the kitchen along the street open and things can be delivered faster, there is almost nil traffic here.
I tug on the window until it gives way before shouting into the kitchen, 'Hey brothers! I'll be collecting deliveries from here tonight'
As if a choir, their voices of different deepness resonates their answers. I leave for home.
A week passes without much of a wind, other than the frequent repetitive nightmare of that incident, until the following Friday night, three hours before my shift begins. I slam my hand on my buzzing phone and sit up in bed. Dammit I curse, Right in the middle of my beauty sleep.
This is what happens when you're working in this field, even sleep isn't a choice. So maybe a regular nine to five job isn't all that bad after all. Grumbling, I answer the call.
'Code grey, code grey. Law suit dated 2nd October, deadline two weeks. I repeat, code grey.' The team leader's urgent voice sounds through the speaker.
I lie lazily in bed and bring my tablet to my face. It doesn't matter whether if it is red, blue, yellow, black or grey, they are just colours to me, beautiful colours that can make up a nice piece of art. It is probably labelled grey because it will bring more money. Well, all's good though, I will get more for completing this task. I flip myself off the bed and grab a casual shirt. I call in to get a night off, giving the usual 'I-have-fallen-sick' excuse. It is a Friday anyway, so the other delivery boy should be able to handle the extra load.
The screen flickers just when I pick up my tablet. A mail from my boss has come, with the usual details of the involved parties. Patricia Morrison… This lady…. I saw her yesterday! She stays opposite Civilized Alley, where I work at!
She's married and she loves coming over to our shop for dinner. The boss of the shop always spends time with her at her table when she comes, but I rarely hear her voice; the boss seems talking to herself almost all the time.
Once again, the thought of me being lucky ever since I survived the 'white house' strikes me. I can't help it, things are just going too smoothly! Everything is falling into place so neatly, like a jig-saw puzzle forming a picture! I switch all my devices to silent mode and slip them under the bed before leaving.
Excitement rushes through me as I pick up my pace and head towards the busy city workplace where this lady stays.
'Happy Birthday to you' the ending line of the birthday song rings in my ear as I near the unit she stays in.
Don't tell me she's having a birthday party now? In the midst of all the law suit she is going through?I shake my head; it must be coming from her neighbours. I sigh deeply when I got to her door. She really is having a party amidst all the problems. Okay, a good way to take a break, but is now the time for a break? I doubt so.
I heard the name 'James' and 'Morrie' and 'Jean' and 'Kim' a lot. I decide to hit the name 'James' for a head start when I am back at my apartment, for that name appears to be the same name her husband goes by. Surprisingly, I am transported to somewhere in town, arm around a sexy and lanky lady. Definitely a model, I've seen her face somewhere before.
Chattering on like a machine gun, going on about a movie, probably what the two of them just did, before I step in, she seems oblivious to what just happened. Good.I put on a practiced smile that looks normal enough to pass as a genuine smile.
'Yes indeed, dear.' I answer her question, looking down at her.
I hide my shock, Holy Mother! Isn't she the dancer, Jeanette, of this law suit? The lady whom the wife wants to sue for stealing her husband and robbing both she and her husband of their life savings?
'Love, where should we go next?' She leans closer to me, hugging me and resting her head on my chest.
Her action strikes me… It reminds me of the times before the incident… This was how we were, stuck to each other, like two wads of gum. Pain sears through my heart. I don't want to be weighed down by all these, but I owe it to her. I owe everything to surroundings begin to quieten down as the hands on the clock tick past midnight, everyone is going to bed.
'Love?' She looks up at me and gives me a seductive smile.
'Anywhere you'd like to go to.' I quickly quoted his speech style towards her.
'Oh… You must be tired from a day out.' She surveys my face, 'Think we should just go home.'
She takes a bend at the nearest junction and heads for a stretch of landed properties. My eyes scan the signs at the junction. This is where he stays. I note. So they go home together? Just like we did… Just like we did…I let out a silent sigh. Why do I have to be here, doing this? Ah… But this is my job after all… I still have to do it. I blame myself for being found with this ability by my company.
I act normally and dig my pocket for the keys to the gate when we stop, 'Just a moment, dear.'
She seems to me to be more like super glue than a wad of gum. The keys don't seem to be in his pocket I realize, after turning them inside out.
'Ah, you're always this cute.' She giggles, 'I've got them here.'
She fishes the keys out of her purse and opens the gate, 'You keep forgetting that you're leaving this set of keys with me… Speaking of which, you should divorce her quickly, really. I can't stand it. Why do you have to accept her crap like that?'
Her eyes are that of a puppy, as if looking at a stranger, hoping that he can become its owner. That sad and pitiful puppy look in her eyes irks me, but still, she is the love of the man I am currently in. A pang of pain hits me, the feeling of being with a girl reminds me of those times I had with Joanna. It is undeniable. She will always stay in my heart.
'Dear, just awhile more. Just wait a little more. The lawyer is dealing with it.' I quote the famous line that never fails to appear in dramas.
'You always say that.' She whines.
I hug her from the back, when she turns round to lock the gate, 'See? I gave you the keys to the house my parents left for me and my wife.' I whisper into her hair, 'Things will work out, dear. I've been going to my lawyer every now and then to get things moving.'
'It's not that I won't wait… Just that it's slow.' She goes on, 'You should take a rest. You said you have some urgent matters tomorrow and you have to report early tomorrow, didn't you?'
'Yea,' I pretentiously fiddle with the phone while looking through all the contacts, messages and all.
She skips up the stairs, her dress swaying along with her movements. A graceful dancer indeed.
Time for some serious business. I quickly send contents from the phone to my tablet, there is not much time left. Fatigue is revealing itself to me as I yawn. I hurry myself with the information in the phone.
Footsteps sound from the planks of the stairs. About time I should go before she realizes that something's amiss.
'Love, time to sleep.' She coos.
I can see her feet, she's fast approaching. I finish deleting the sent history and return the body back to its original owner. What a close shave!
Smiling smugly at my perfect timing, I throw myself onto the cheap bed of my apartment and draw my tablet and phone out, turning on the sound once again. I have everything in hand now. It is so wrong to have done that, but who cares! The people who want these will give me a hefty sum for it, why worry? I'm just doing my job. After all, this is why I am who I am.
'We found love…' My phone sings.
Not again!I pick up the phone, 'Yes, speaking. Yes. Yes. Yes.' I paused, 'Soon. Bye.'
You can never speak to a boss with a friendly tone, it's always the same few, 'Yes', 'Roger', 'Received', 'Soon', 'Task accomplished' and 'Bye'. You rarely get to greet them either. They always seem too busy to bother themselves with friendliness and courtesy. I barely get a chance to speak to anyone in the company since I'm a 'priced' asset that the boss always watches over, ensuring I don't get tangled up in the messy relationship matters. I guess he failed… Since I am now in a state of half-depression over a girl whom, I believe, is dead.
Anyone but her. I can forget anyone but Joanna. She is probably the only one whom walked into my life and left me positive memories. Even my parents do not know my whereabouts, and they probably cannot careless about it, so long I keep my grades up and let them have something to be proud about. In fact, they don't really want me; they are just keeping me because my grades are always the top cream. Joanna sees through all the surface and digs deep to understand me, knowing this power I own, yet not shunning me because of it. No one has done that before, and no one will. I am a nobody with an abnormality that everyone should shun.
Day one of mission: First set of information and a little more about his personal life acquired. Tomorrow will be a long day, with that lady stuck to me. I shudder at that thought. I look through in great detail, marking and underlining all the possibly helpful clues from each file.
Things are really going smoothly, aren't they?I grin smugly at the screen.
I still have about two weeks to deal with this law suit, and I still have a lot of things to settle… In which, first and foremost, I have to let go of all those emotional baggage I hold towards Joanna.
'Aish!' I ruffle my hair roughly, kicking all other thoughts out of my mind.
I need to focus at this crucial point in time to plan for my next move. Other than his side, I need information about his wife, just to get a more complete picture. It doesn't matter whose side I should be working for, I just have to gather everything from every side. After all, that is my sole duty, and my source of bonus salary. I don't work for nobody but money.
The night passes faster than it usually does when I'm working to earn extra cash. Daylight shines through the white translucent curtains, stirring me from sleep. I toss in bed, hoping to steal a little more sleep, but my merciless alarm blares its wake up call, filling the room with heavy metal rock music. Annoyed, I roll over my phone and get out of bed. Ah… Life's like that. I groan. You never get to sleep enough, whether if it's as a student or working in the society.
I inhale sharply as I await myself to settle into being James again before moving into his body. Taken aback by the lack of a woman's arm around me, I survey the surroundings and realize I am in the dining room of a three room flat.
'James Morrison.' A lady who is looking out of the window speaks, 'It is time we end this mess.'
She pauses and turns around. She is formally dressed in a sales lady uniform and proper heels. She has a ring similar to that I see on this man's hand. Oh, it has to be his wife, Jennifer.
'End it? Why not?' I answer sarcastically, 'You wanted it to end this way, so we end it this way.'
'Because all these belong to me.' She sits down calmly and sets her glass of wine on the table, 'I am just taking back what is mine.'
'This house has my name in it. I have the right to decide too.'
'I was the one who paid for the down payment. You? What did you chip in? Chaos.' She sips her wine and continues, 'All you ever do is spending my hard-earned money on that lass'
'I just received photos of you and her together from my lawyer' As if almost unbothered by it, she flings the photos right in my face.
Standing up, she adds quietly, 'Proof these pictures wrong.'
'You know my job. This is what I do for a living. If you have a problem with it, why did you marry me in the first place?'
'Because I was dumb.' A long silence draws between us before she speaks again, 'Not anymore now. Thank you for coming, I don't think we have to meet anymore, until the hearing the Monday after next. See you then.'
She sends me out of her house and shuts the door in my face before I can think up a reply. She sounds like a decent lady to me from the way she speaks, I wonder why this asshole I'm in the body of can't seem to appreciate her and will prefer being around with a whore. Well, but that whore is pretty, prettier than her.
I head to the bungalow he owns. Unlocked, the door swings open. Nothing is locked. She isn't around either. Again, isn't this too coincidental? She is out when I need her to be.
I am rummaging halfway through a stack of paper when Jeanette enters the room.
'Love, what are you doing?' She squints.
'Oh, just looking for something.' I answer on impulse.
'Can I be of help?'
'No need for that dear,'
'I'll make you something nice, come down when you're done.'
It is a good thing she doesn't ask much. I don't need someone questioning me what I am doing, especially when I am not all that sure of it myself. I am just flipping through in hope that I can find something useful, as required of me for my job.
I plop myself on his bed and let out a heavy sigh, my brain is buzzing from information overload. That's all I can handle for a day. I send his soul back to his body, while I return to mine own. I haven't notice that it is already night and almost time for me to turn up for my shift until now!
Getting myself ready, I look into the mirror. I sure have dark eye circles after having only 3 hours of sleep last night, or rather, this morning. I don't look good at all, but it is sure a good camouflage for being down with a bad flu.
'Oh boy, are you alright? We don't want any accidents, you know? If you're not feeling well, just go home and rest, it's okay.' The boss pats me on the back.
'No, I'm okay.' I fake a sniff.
'Don't push too hard, young lad. You can take a loan or have an advance if need be.' Her brows sag at the sides in pity.
'No. I'm fine, really.' I display a weak smile.
Giving a worried nod, she watches me exit the shop to send my first delivery of the night. Through the misted windows with Christmas designs, I see her sauntering to the kitchen. I start the engine and speed off into the night.
It is bad enough that I don't have enough sleep. What makes it worse is that I have to cover the other worker from 5 to 8 in the morning the following day. My body is weakening, my asthma is acting up, but I still have to work. I leave the alley once again for another delivery.
8:30AM. Where in heaven's name is the other delivery boy? I sulk as I ride back to the shop, just because I miss a day of work, he is making me pay for it this way? And to actually think people here are nice! What a mistake to make!
'Sorry bud, sorry! The bus broke down. Ran all the way here. Sorry!'His sweat glistens under the sunlight.
'No problem' I yawn.
At least he is humane enough to give me a lift home after taking over, I guess life isn't all that bad after all, and he probably really ran all the way to the shop. There isn't much I can do about the short of sleep. My eyelids are heavy, so is my breathing. I grab an energy booster and stuff it whole in my mouth, hoping it can serve as a supplement for the short of rest. I swallow hard as I feel my breath tightening from the ignored symptoms of an asthma relapse. I fling the refrigerator door open, I need my inhaler now.
Relief wash over me as I puff the medicine down the passage. Just for your information, no one but Joanna knows about this… Or maybe my parents too, but I doubt they remember anymore. I've been dealing with all my problems on my own since when I moved out of the house (of course, under the lie that I moved to a hostel). See? That's how much they care. Have I mention this before? I am just a nobody. Yes. Was, is, and will forever be.
Thirteen days passes with me just pushing my limits by having barely four to five hours every day to gather more information while working to get some extra cash to pay my day-to-day expenses which my company refuses to cover for. Ah, cheap people. Well, it's my last time doing this, so it will be fine. It. Will. After all, I am already completely wrecked, how much worse can it get?
I pour myself a cup of wine and savour it alone by the dining table. I stare at the empty chair opposite me. It used to be taken by Joanna. Just then, a series of quick raping against the door is heard. I frown; I don't remember ordering anything. I look through the peephole. A little shocked by who is by the door; I quickly swing the door open.
'Shinchirou?' She smiles, 'I hope I didn't get the wrong house.'
Overwhelmed by emotions, I simply pull her into my chest. Even if it is hallucination, I am happy enough to see her. It is Joanna, my Queen of Spades.
'Joanna?' I whisper in disbelief after a long interval.
Hearing that, she extends her arms to return my hug. She still looks as pretty as she used to be, just a few scars here and there. The fire hasn't taken anything from her, at all. Uncontrollable tears flows down.
'I miss you.' That's all I can manage in between tears.
Her head nods violently against my shoulders as I feel wetness on my shoulders. She is tearing too. I let go of my grip and wipe her tears dry. Stepping aside to let her in, I close the door behind me as she settle in her usual seat, brushing her palm over the table.
'I am home.' She looks up with a brilliant smile on her tears-stricken face.
I lean against the back of the sofa, trying to gather myself. This sudden appearance is something my callow mind cannot conceive.
'But you don't look good,' She says, her face centimetres away from mine.
'Didn't I tell you to sleep?' She pouts.
'Work, you know how it's like…' I bend down and plant my lips on hers.
This feeling! The feeling of a dead heart revived. I feel so alive, I pull her closer to me, to savour more of her as she presses herself on me. Losing my balance, I topple onto the sofa, with her landing on me. We peel our lips apart. She giggles and makes herself comfortable on my bare chest. Life is good, too good to be true.
Just when I'm sinking into relief and rejoice, my tablet gives me an anti-climax beep to remind me of my work.
'Hey, I've got work to do. Today is the last day. I'll come get you when I'm done with it?'
'Mmhmm…' I bury my head into her hair.
'I am going to shop today, come get me there!'
'Don't hide from me. I'm warning you in advance.' I jitter.
I get myself ready for work. The last day of being in James's body, the last day of being hugged by a stranger lady, and the last day of being tortured like this, it makes me overjoyed!
'Meet at the usual restaurant.' She sits at the edge of the bed.
I swap into James's body and start my work. Today seem to past slower than ever. I guess I anticipate it too much… Who wouldn't, right? While working, I occasionally whistle to myself.
'Love, you're acting weirdly.' Comes Jeanette.
'I can't find an important document, so I'm just searching for it all over.' I continue with my final search – the top of the cabinet.
She turns and her feet tap on the stairs as she leaves. There is nothing left, all that I can find has been found. I even searched his desk in a private room that he forbids anyone to enter. It is where he sits to create his lyrics to sell. Poor guy, he is earning a couple of hundreds for so much hard work, at least I am earning in the thousands. It is weird though, that I am feeling a weird sensation of dizziness that I have never had before in past missions.
Finally, I have to make a visit to his office to make sure I don't miss any tiny details. It is, at last, the conclusive day of my work and the ultimate end of the crazy life of mine, stealing and swapping bodies with people I don't even know.
The haven above is a wide blanket of blackness, with stars peppering when I step onto the streets again, still disturbed by the persistent giddiness from before. I will bring his body back to the room so that he can rest well before I join my beloved for a long awaited dinner.
From his workplace to his home, there is a pedestrian overhead bridge. It isn't usually used as most people are too lazy to take a detour up there and back down, even though there are escalators to bring you up and down. It's just inherent of the Human nature, it can't be helped. Walking by the shoulders, I pass the bridge from under, behind other office workers who have also knocked off.
A loud screech stops all of us in our tracks to watch. A body was flying down from above. From the looks of it, I know it is my body. Before I can do anything to save the situation, the body has already fallen to the ground, hitting it with a loud thud. The dizziness turns into a splitting headache. I hold my head as I feel the body weaken. I sink to the ground as I watch James checking his appearance against a car mirror before turning away. That is the last thing I see, and is probably the last thing I will see too.