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1 THE PAPERS
Sam was alone when the papers arrived. Anje had deserted him some months before. She took the kids in the middle of one night when he was asleep. He hadn’t heard anything from her since. Seven years of relationship stopped and that was that.
Sam did not miss Anje; he did not miss her narrow mouth and her cold back. He did not miss her sharp words. But he surprised himself most of all in not missing the kids – a boy and a girl – both sullen, both tolerant of their father and that was as far as the relationship went. He didn’t even like the way they looked. Perhaps they weren’t his.
Two men, one white and one black, dressed in yellow and black coveralls, the livery, Sam assumed, of a private delivery service, rang Sam’s doorbell and rattled his letterbox. When he opened the door to them they handed over a large buff-coloured envelope and asked him to sign for receipt. Sam took possession of the envelope and signed their electronic device without so much as a word. One of the men, the black one, moved on to the next apartment leaving the other, the white one, behind. Sam smiled as if to say ‘thanks for dropping by’, but as he moved to close the door the deliveryman said:
“Just in case you don’t open it, can I stress that opening the envelope is mandatory?”
The deliveryman smiled; bright, shiny teeth – that was a rare thing.
“Yes, these forms are from the corporation, they need completing, signing, dating and returning. We like to get them back as soon as possible. Like the next day. But if you think you can finish them today that would be great.”
Sam inspected the envelope and checked the weight, “The corporation?” – At last. “How many pages are there?”
“Six. Think you can do it today?”
“We’ll just deliver to the rest of the block, have a short break and come back if that would be all right?”
“I can’t promise.”
“It’ll be worth it.” The deliveryman smiled, turned and moved on.
Sam heard a letterbox rattling further along the deck. He closed the door – closed the door on his old life.
The only address on the envelope was his name and flat number – Samuel Denke 7. He put the kettle on for tea, dragged the papers from the envelope and spread them on the cheap kitchen table. ‘It’ll be worth it’. That had been a strange thing to say.
The first page was normal, just personal details – name, date of birth and all the rest. He finished making the tea, grabbed a pen and got started … Number of occupants in the flat: One; Employed: No; Dependents: None; Education … ID number …
He finished within half an hour so he moved over to the second-hand couch he and Anje had bought in a charity shop. He stretched out and waited as the sun tracked across the grimy kitchen window.
Sam lost his job nine months earlier and it had been about eight months since the less traumatic loss of Anje and the kids. At the time of his redundancy he was informed, like everyone else, that he could expect, sometime in the future, to receive notification of the corporation’s plans for the workforce. “Hold tight,” the managing director of his company had said. “The corporation will not forget you.”
Now the days were kind of long and empty.
He had spent his entire thirty plus years in this industrial valley where heavy clouds of pollution billowing out from the factories had been his only climate. Nine months ago the factories closed and the skies cleared leaving him squinting on sunny days and marveling at blue skies and fluffy white clouds. He did not miss the factories.
Anje deserted him around the time of his redundancy; that was a bit rich, like it was his fault, like he was bone-idle and didn’t want to work. Maybe he’d become cranky, but didn’t everyone when they lost their jobs?
If completing these papers would be worth his while then they had arrived just in time. Sam’s only adventure these days was a trip to the one shop still standing in what had been the small industrial park. It had boarded up windows. It was where he bought his regular supply of beer and whiskey to blur the boredom when he wasn’t marveling at the fluffy white clouds. He poured himself a small one. “The future,” he said to himself and downed it in one.