Jimmy was a good friend, he was warm and unassuming and I got on well with him.
I bumped into him in the street, it was an overcast day and a bit dark.
He was going down to pay his rent he said. So we parted and I carried on until for some abstract reason I thought I should accompany him. I would have to catch him up. He was gone.
So I walked down to the rent office to find him. The rent office is a huge building. It is 16 stories high and covers a large area dominating an old high street of a long-forgotten town that had been absorbed into the asteroid belt of the big city.
I walked into the building from the rear. There in a glass foyer area was a reception desk with 3 desks but only one receptionist. A queue of people stood impatiently in line to see him. He was obviously irritable with everybody so I decided not to ask for directions.
I walked through a dirty old door and came to the loading bay area, there were no Lorries and no warehousemen so I carried on along the platform to the opposite side and went through the door flaps.
Now I was in a long corridor with a zigzag bend in the middle of it, locked doors all the way down the sides and a sense of disuse. I walked down, passed the zigzag, hoping the next half of the corridor would be different, it was not. I had a feeling of wasted time and energy and wanted to get out of there. At the end, through another door was a concrete stairwell that seemed to rise up into a vanishing point. I walked up the squared rising stairwell to the next level and opened a door.
A short passageway opened out into a huge high ceilinged waiting area. It was gloomy due to the weather. A few people sat in the rows of plastic chairs. A receptionist sat at a computer alone. I asked for the rent office. He didn’t look up, he was too preoccupied, he didn’t want to talk.
I crossed the large open hall and had to choose between two sets of doors leading into two corridors. I went to the right. It led to a lift with two lift doors and lights going on and off and strange crunching noises. I looked at the placarded list of floors. It was old with flaked paint. Nothing, no rent office. This was one of the older council rent offices where things were written on bits of paper and stuck on the wall, still no rent office.
I left the lift area and descended back down a stairwell to the floor beneath. A large grimy industrial area opened up full of crates and benches full of old tools and machinery covered over in filthy canvas sheets. A menacing man looked at me as if I wasn’t supposed to be there so I hurried on with the feeling I was being followed by a monstrous enemy until I came to a little door covered in grime and went through.
There was a big empty courtyard with walls all around it, I felt trapped, fearful. I searched for a way back into the building.
I came upon an old door that led to an old lift shaft, the sort that had cages all around it. I tried to call the lift, nothing happened. I walked up a narrowing unlit forgotten staircase like those in the towers of medieval castles to the next floor and saw a double set of doors onto a waiting room area. This was the council enquiry room. Two or three dozen worried people were crammed into the room. Sitting on plastic chairs or standing in a huddle by the door. It was a ticketed system and a red-backlit number said 665. My friend was nowhere to be found.
I left and found another stairwell and I made the bad choice of climbing all the way to the top. On the top floor was a large open plan office space with desks set up in rows. Women were engaged in making calculations on their computers. I had the feeling of walking into an off-limits part of the building and that I was unwelcome. I did a quick about-face and went down the stairs to the floor below.
Just as I was about to leave the stairwell I happened to look out of the window. Way down below I saw an ambulance and someone was being carried into it.