Wearily, Compliance Officer Bromley trudged into the hallway of his apartment block. He was drained in both body and mind, but still had the wherewithal to muse over the dimly-lit, dank surroundings; centuries ago this would have been considered quite refined decor. Not exactly plush or well-to-do, but nonetheless pretty kempt…relatively speaking. This, of course, was always the defence used by the more socially-conscious members of the Dais’ inhabitants – ‘Don’t you see? Those at the bottom of the ladder are more wealthy than they have EVER been! Our system works for the benefit of all! The rising tide lifts all boats!’ Yeah, assuming you can afford a boat.
Bromley barely had the energy to scoff at the thought of such self-justifying bullshit, but he made a decent fist of it. This was a mistake. The door to apartment 17 swung open, and a familiar face appeared. Alerted by the noise he had made, the dreadlocked figure came barrelling out and made a bee-line straight for him, her ebony face a mixture of enthused amiability and insistent curiosity.
“Heeeeey, ya back guv’nor – any trouble roundin’ up the crims an’ bandidos today?! Whatcha doin’ now, whatareya plans, whatsa storrrry, budster Brom? Huff any of the glorious air, it is beee-yooo-tee-ful. Come on Bromster, why don’t ya have a-”
“Sorry Abby, I really would love nothing more than to engage you in mind-numbing discussions about fuck all but I am brown bread right now.”
Abyssinia Common – yes, everyone immediately pointed out the ironic juxtaposition of her name once they learnt it, which would have got on the wick of less benign souls – did not flinch at Bromley’s exasperated retort. This was simply how they always spoke to eachother; Abby all exuberant affability and concerted interest, Bromley all bloody-minded irascibility on the verge of profanity. You would never think from such exchanges that the two were extremely fond of one another.
“Ah gwan man, just need to stick ya head out the window for a few minutes, sort that fuzzy mess of a brainbox right out – right as acid rain, sure!”
At this Abby shrieked with archetypal adolescent glee, and Bromley seized the opportunity to dart past her in the narrow corridor. Moments later, having ascended the stairs at full pelt, he had reached the sanctuary of his flat. He needn’t have added to his exhaustion, for even if Abby had attempted to pursue him it was unlikely that a smog-huffing fourteen year old could overhaul a physically-fit twenty-nine year old man whose lungs were in full working order. Nonetheless, Bromley breathed a melodramatic sigh of relief. He loved the kid, but fucking hell was she a trial and a half.
Could’ve gone worse though, he had to admit. At least she hadn’t managed to lock him into a lecture about the debilitating horrors of KolliK. He shook his head and smirked a little. She was a sweet girl, but she loved her batshit conspiracy theories. Every cold, every upset stomach, every toothache, headache and earache… ‘Bromley, my brother from another mother. I have the KolliK! Them dirty demons finally got the Common woman!’ Bromley invariably snorted in derision and mirth, helplessly amused by her furrowed brow and grave tone whenever this notion took hold. Such was the hilarity, he never minded the impressively-strong punch he inevitably received for his blasé response.
In all seriousness, he expected better from her. Fuck knows why – she was just an addict like those mugs he had witnessed on the corner earlier that day…but Bromley knew her well enough to see how bright she was, how sharp, how quick, how cunning. If it weren’t for her deadbeat – and now, simply dead – parents, she might have had a rich future within the administrative apparatus of the City. Her wit was one reason why he held affection for her. The other, of course, was that she represented a freedom and fecklessness he had always aspired to but was always too afraid and encumbered to embrace. Already considered a failure by his family’s unrelenting standards, he just couldn’t take the leap necessary to totally cut himself loose. Being the let-down of the family was no picnic, but to Bromley it remained more bearable than having no family at all. So he stayed within his chains. Thinking about it, he realised that his teen friend was freer and happier at her tender age than he had been his entire life.
Shaking himself free of both the depressing rumination and the Rebreathable™, Bromley collapsed into the red armchair in the living room/kitchen. Frayed and worn, this chair was nonetheless his most precious item of furniture. He could afford better, less tatty furniture of course, but the red armchair had sentimental value – his departed friend had left it to him, and so he endeavoured to sit in it at least once a day. Bromley knew this to be a silly, little gesture…but a small part of him believed that it was the silly little gestures that could mean everything in the end.
He eased back into the cushion and let the tension flow from his muscles. Closing his eyes, he found his mind wandering towards the nebulous, mysterious affliction known as KolliK. The images of the graffiti plastered all over the Sticks came to mind; ‘KolliK Kills!’, ‘KolliK; Speak Out!’, ‘CA = KolliK – CA = Killers!’, and his favourite, purely for the grotesque stupidity of it, ‘KolliK is SiK’.
A lightly bemused smile crept across Bromley’s features, and in the next instant he was sound asleep.
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…★