Alex held the phone tightly in his right hand. He was nervous, his palms were sweaty and he was very alert although he had not slept all night.
Amy, his girlfriend, had protested at first, flung pillows at him, but eventually curled up like a baby. Amy looked gorgeous awake or asleep when she was silent, which was not often. She had thick, glossy hair that she continuously combed with her sleek fingers. She talked loudly and laughed louder still. Alex would have been very embarrassed of her had she not been so desired by other men.
Alex worked late into the night. He had to make his phone’s front camera work with the screen locked. He wanted it to work discreetly in the background, no matter if the phone rang or someone ran an app. He was so absorbed in his work he did not notice the passing hours nor stop for coffee. He did not move from his chair at all.
It worked. Alex smiled but didn’t believe he had done it. His pulse became very quick and he started tapping one heel on the floor rapidly. No, no, no, he whispered as his mind said yes, yes, yes. He restarted the phone and tried again. It worked. He turned the phone to silent, called himself from Amy’s phone and it still worked. It was as discreet a shooter as he wanted.
And then Alex leaned back in his chair, entwined his fingers behind his head and smiled. It was a moment he wanted to savour. He wanted to post about it on Facebook, but of course he did not do any such thing. It was his secret. Then he remembered he might not have enough memory remaining and he transferred photos, movies, songs and all his personal files to his laptop.
The blackness of the night was slipping. Alex had an urge to step outside and see the day dawning. He had not seen it since school. He stopped to look at Amy. She was sleeping on her side with her lips parted. A little streak of dribble shone on the lower side. Feeling heady, Alex leaned over and licked it away with his tongue. Amy’s mouth snapped shut reflexively and he suppressed a laugh. He wanted to slap her rump but she would not like it, and she would wake up the neighbours with her howls of protest.
Alex tip-toed out to the terrace. He stayed there till the sun floated up clear of the trees and the birds finished their chattering on the high-tension wires beyond the small terrace.
Amy was stirring. Alex got into bed and snuggled up. She was more sporting at this time. Later, she looked into his red eyes and remarked he had not slept, ha-ha-ha. Alex said he felt fresh as a daisy, and he proved it to her.
The night’s exhaustion hit him at work. He logged in and then fidgeted. His head felt heavy but a nervous energy coursing through his limbs did not let him sit still. He waited for Lisa. Demure, proper Lisa. He rehearsed a dozen moves in his mind. He could leave the phone on her table, or he could push it under her nose to read something. Maybe show her a cat video on it. Do demure girls like cat videos?
He ought to wait till the lunch break, he thought, but he couldn’t wait to get it over. What he would have liked most was to have a water cooler chat with her, amusing her with his wit and trying to arrest her shy eyes as they hunted for focus from her own shoes to the note behind his head on the wall, momentarily meeting his own eyes as they darted self-consciously. And he would have liked to capture the confusion in them. But since that could not be, he had to find another way to get her to look for some time at his phone’s screen. Oh, why couldn’t he just befriend her on Facebook and go through her albums! But that was a question all the men on the floor had already asked themselves many times.
A painting, yes. He could download a painting and show it to her. Nothing risque, just a colourful landscape. Even if she saw nothing to admire in it she would be bound to gaze at it and make small talk for a few moments. He surely couldn’t go wrong with a painting.
So, Alex stood before Lisa, nervous, hands cold, neck hot, afraid the camera would spill its secrets to her. He tried to speak but words failed him. Embarrassed, he motioned at the painting with his eyes. Lisa took the phone in her hand and studied the painting, unsure what she was supposed to say or do. What did it all mean? Was it a master’s work, or had he painted it himself? Why did he want her to appraise it? What would be an appropriate response? She didn’t want to overdo it. The colours were nice, but colours are nice. Yet, she couldn’t, shouldn’t send him away with a sterile “great”. He was obviously making a pass at her, but no thanks.
Alex watched fascinated as the thoughts passed over her face. The phone was behaving, but… Panic! What if it was not recording at all? “I think it’s very…” he heard her mind deliberate, “soothing.”
“Yes,” he agreed, ignoring the phone she had turned towards him. “Do you paint,” he asked, but Lisa kept the phone on the table and turned back to work. “No, I am no artist,” she said dryly, although she felt pleased with his attention.
Alex went away. He wanted to see the video but not in office. Somewhere private. He stepped outside and started walking fast towards a cafe, but when he got near it, it didn’t feel like such a private place after all. So, he turned and went inside a park. But before he could unlock the phone, someone snatched it from behind and ran towards a wall. Alex flew after him on wings of agony and fear and rage. He caught up with the man but the next moment felt a stab of pain in his side. He looked down and saw a bloodstain spreading on his shirt. He had been stabbed.
Alex gritted his teeth and lunged at the fleeing thief. Both crashed to the ground. The phone flew out of the thief’s hand into a bush. The thief leapt up and made a desperate dash for the wall. Alex dived into the bush and retrieved his phone. Then he reeled and fell.
He was surrounded by familiar faces when he regained consciousness in hospital. Amy was holding his right hand in hers and combing her hair rapidly with her left while talking hysterically to the others. Lisa was there too, at the back of the bunch. He had been very brave, they all said. Oh, it was just… my principles, Alex replied loftily, gazing straight into Lisa’s soft eyes.