Three times that damned alarm had gone off. Everyone in the hostel was either awake or pretending they weren’t. It was eight in the morning, and the alarm had started at six. It wasn’t clear what was causing the disruption. It didn’t really matter, Stephen reflected, as long as it stopped. Nevertheless, as bleary eyed nocturnal adventurers emerged from their rooms, they offered the same question in a variety of accents. ‘What’s making that noise?’ As if knowing would somehow diminish the pain and allow everyone to return to slumber.
It wasn’t a fire alarm, it was more like a bell from a school that would blast away for ten seconds and then stop, only to return an hour or so later.
Perhaps, Stephen continued to ponder, it was merely a natural response to the human endevour of control. If we can’t stop the sound, then we can at least own the knowledge of what the bloody thing is.
He made his way down the stairs and exited the building. On the street outside the hostel, an old gray bricked building (a common sight in most former communist states), the smell of the morning commute mixed with shit invaded his nostrils. Locals moved about on their way to work; the purposeful way in which they moved gave it away.
The area was in contrast to the cheap hostel. It contained middle class to wealthy Moscovites who were well dressed, plump, yet stony faced (as is typical of the territory). The alarm sounded up again and reverberated across the street. Stephen hadn’t realised how far it projected. The well to do office and retail workers, administrators and government representatives all looked around in confusion, their beat suddenly interrupted.
There was just enough adaptability in their stride to allow them to continue, but only after the alarm ceased. A woman in designer boots kicked a wild cat that had strayed too close to the human traffic.
Yep, back to normal.
The backpackers who emerged to place their snuff under their noses and stretch in the cold air contained little momentum; nothing to interrupt. There were no signs of the archaic cigarettes that once dominated the morning routine. They were long extinct. Gone the way of the dodo, non-hydroponic open air farming and honest politicians. Nevertheless, while the snuff of today’s bad habbits inflicted no passive ill health, it was a well-practised routine that one would go outside of a building to partake in it. Once derided as a toxic drug only used in areas of poverty, it was legitimised the only way that matters. Legalisation (and subsequent taxes). Since then, it was the go-to drug. Not as damaging as anything illegal, did nothing to impact the lungs and hampered the consciousness less (although with automated vehicular transport now commonplace, no one had to worry about losing their licence).
One New Zealander exited the building after Stephen and walked up and down the footpath pumping her legs and rubbing her arms. Her breath was visible from the other side of the street.
‘Fark,’ she crowed, ‘how cold is it?’
‘Will knowing make you warmer?’ Stephen asked, not realising that his voice carried to her.
‘Kicking your bum will smart arse,’ she frowned.
‘Fair enough,’ Stephen’s cheeks flushed. He did feel a tad warmer suddenly.