When Kap Fynncraft woke up on Tuesday morning.
When Kap Fynncraft woke up on Tuesday morning, neither he nor anyone else knew that it would be different from any of the previous days. He walked to the bathroom, washed his face, brushed his teeth, had a bath, brewed some coffee, toasted some bread, boiled an egg, breakfasted, dressed up and locked the front door behind him. When he reached the last rung of the ladder he had to climb down, he seemed as if he forgot something, and climbed all the way back up. Wedged in the window grill above the first rung was a folded-up white sheet: the newspaper. He stuck it in his mouth and climbed back down. Adjusting his cap, he stood at the bus stop. It was 07.40.
As always, Chip Ramirez stood to his left, and as always, Ark Eiwen stood to Chip’s left. They had nothing in particular to speak about, but a decade-old habit of waiting at the bus stop for 10 minutes in each other’s presence made the silence anything but discomfiting. At 07.42 precisely, The Man In The Green Helmet would ride by on his scooter. A minute later, The Two Men With Their Briefcases would open the store on the other side of the street. Just as they reordered everything inside the shop and turned the sign to “Open”, a red bus could be seen driving up and down the mounding road on the horizon. At 07.50, Kap, Chip and Ark boarded it.
The bus ride to the factory took precisely four minutes everyday because the amount of traffic between 07.50 and 07.54 was the same on any given day. In fact, the amount of traffic at any point of time was the same on any given day. In fact, nothing else about the city had changed in the last 10 years. As he rode the bus to the factory, he also knew nothing would ever change either because the smoke rising from the smelting factory a few miles in the northeast was always of the same hue, density and emotion. Sometimes, he’d look at it and wonder. Sometimes, he wouldn’t look any way at all but the paper. Sometimes, he thought what it would be like to jump out of the bus onto the pavement and shatter his head. The telltale jerk brought him out of his reverie on that Tuesday morning, and a minute later, he alighted.
It was winter. The westward wind was strong and cold, unrelenting against his thin woollen shawl. He drew it tighter around himself, although it had never been of any help. But he’d had nothing else to complain about all year, and something like this was all that he had to keep himself from thinking of different ways to kill himself. He signed elaborately in the register, and as always the clerk looked up at him queerly. Before he went to his seat near the drill, he looked at the calendar. It was March 17, 2144. The celebrations were exactly a week away. Exactly 10 years ago, on March 24, 2134, the country officially declared it had nothing significant left to achieve. The standard of living was appreciable, nobody was poor, no wars seemed possible, diplomatic relations presented no challenges, research output had been steadied, diseases had been eradicated, consumption was regulated, the surplus was sold at fixed rates, the weather was shielded against, and state-sponsored festivals provided distraction from the melancholy.
Kap Fynncraft had been a journalist. When The Threshold was breached, he was reporting a story on a woman giving birth to quadruplets at the capital’s government hospital. A few days later, he had been promoted to sub-editorship with the newspaper. A week later, there was nothing to go by except a repeated declaration of the government’s accomplishments. A month later, the paper had shut down and he was forced to find work in one of the factories. A year later, in 2135, his wife died when she slipped on the ladder outside his door. He had tried to instigate a revolt in the factory: when they asked him what the problem was, he had said something about wages. The next day, he was arrested by the police. A few days later, he was forced to admit there was nothing he could do about it, and when he did admit it, he was released. When he went back to work, he found they’d also increased his wages. When he tried to look intimidating, they reminded him of his wife. “This is for you to spend as you wish, Mr. Fynncraft. We’ve a feeling you loved your wife very much.”
At 16.00, he lined up near Gate 2. The queue for the bus was two labourers long, and he joined it as he always did as the third man. At 16.06, the bus started on its six-minute journey. On that Tuesday, it took more than an hour: just as they passed the Presidential Boulevard, they were stopped behind a few other buses, some cars, many cyclists, and what looked like an upside-down truck, its underside charred and smoking. Kap Fynncraft, somehow, had sunk back into a reverie. He would be home late today, dinner would be late, he’d have to eat as he watched the game tonight. He smiled. Maybe he’d annoy that old woman downstairs by walking around at 22.00. Maybe he’d miss the bus in the morning and hitch a ride. Maybe-
Before he knew it, the bus was on its way again. He could no longer see the plumes of smoke on the southwest, the inky blue of the late-evening sky had swallowed it in its entirety. The streetlamps were lighting themselves one by one, as if they knew Kap Fynncraft was coming, as if they knew he’d want to alight and, somehow, not want to break his head on the pavement on a night that involved a postponed dinner and an angry old woman. A moist film of water had condensed on the windows of the bus, and he waited by the door lest he missed his stop. Under the bright white glare of the streetlights, he could see the patterned tiling on the pavement whip by in the oblong shadow of the vehicle. He knew they were somewhere near his house, he remembered the hexagonal patterns from a terrible day when he had reached the bus stop early one morning and had decided to look down.
Black, white, black, white, black, white, black… the lines between the colours trapped his eyes, and he could feel himself moving through the Universe one coloured tile at a time.