Traffic lessened considerably in the early hours of the morning to the point of becoming virtually nonexistent. Slush and ice filled the streets, making driving treacherous, let alone walking. Even with rags stuffed in the crevices around the windows, the frigid air still seeped in, making me shiver and attempt to wrap my coat closer around my frostbitten body. The meager and ragged barrier didn't help much, but it was better than nothing. Sighing quietly, I turned from the window. The light from the street lamp on the corner streamed through the grimy window and fell softly on the sleeping form of a young boy. He lay under a thick quilt, sympathetically given by the wealthy apartment owner. I watched the rise and fall of the quilt made by his laboured breathing. I watched as a coughing fit wracked his gaunt body. I ached to gather him up in my arms and smother him with kind words until it passed. I shook my head. It wouldn't do any good. The movement would just make it worse.
Engrossed in a feeling of hopelessness, I mechanically grabbed my red binder from the table and left the apartment building. The wind howled and the rain poured but I paid it little heed. My way was lighted by the moon and the pools created by the streetlamps. I walked without noticing where I was going. I kept my eyes and my ears watching and listening, not knowing what for. My mind raged with bittersweet memories and turbulent thoughts. I didn't stop until I got to a towering brick building in the affluent part of town. It looked exactly the same as the others buildings on the street. Perfect rectangular prisms as far as the eye could see. I climbed the steep stairway and opened the door as the bell in the clock tower chimed the hour. One, two, three, four, five. Five o'clock. Time to get to work.
The clangs of the bell were followed by a growl from the old man in the corner. He was in actuality 70 years old but was one of those people that don't appear to grow older after a certain point. His grizzled hair was the only thing which heralded his true age. His muscular frame and keen gray eyes stood in opposition of it. His name was Idris Corbett.
"We have a debtor coming in at five. Be ready."
I shut the door behind me, and sat down at my desk, not bothering to take off my coat. The office wasn't heated, not even in this inclement weather. It was best to bundle up. The surface of my desk was crowded with stacks of papers, heaps of leather-bound ledgers, and a computer that was on it's last legs. I opened one of the tomes and started to copy one of the numerous debt statements. Shortly after beginning, I had to stop on account of the trembling of my hands making my handwriting barely legible. Cursing them, I tried in vain to keep them still. I eventually admitted defeat and logged into the computer. Typing doesn't require as much of a steady hand as writing does. I shot off several emails, reminding people of the encroaching due date of their debt.
When the bell struck five, I stood in front of the door with the necessary papers in my hand, ready to receive the debtor. He didn't come. The bell chimed quarter past, no debtor. Half past, no debtor. Only when the bell clanged for a third time, marking quarter to, did she hurry through the door. She wore a brilliantly yellow rain slicker and a pair of muddy workboots. She walked up to where Mr. Corbett sat, leaving a trail of water and mud behind her. I glanced backwards in the direction of Mr. Corbett. He stood.
"Mrs. Aurelia, you are late."
Her piercing azure eyes shone with indignance, "I told you on the phone that I would be here at 5:45 and here I am. Perhaps you are mistaken."
Mr. Corbett merely grunted and gestured towards me. I brought the papers forward and set them in front of him. He shuffled through them, searching for a specific form. He grunted again, this time in dismissal. After closing the door of the inner office, I grabbed a rag from a cupboard and mopped up Mrs. Aurelia's footprints, then returned to my spot in the corner. The sunlight flooding the dusty room grew dimmer and dimmer, finally disappearing altogether. The office was plunged into darkness, save the circle of light from the desk lamp. It was nearly 8 o'clock when the sound of arguing came from Mr. Corbett's office. Next came the sound of a slap across the face and then silence. A few moments later, Mrs. Aurelia came storming out, a look of fury slashed across her otherwise pretty face. She slammed the door behind her and stalked towards the doorway. She paused with her hand on the doorknob, then whirled around to face me. She spat out a question then left with the same fury that had been released on Mr. Corbett. Her query hung in the air long after she was gone. I leaned back in my chair, pondering the answer, perceiving not the flickering of the light-bulb as it died out or the peal of the bell. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
"How can you stand to live in this world of madness?"
I did not know.