‘The air smelled hot and dusty; another scorcher in an end- less line of scorchers. Guys sold sliced fruit and canned soft drinks from barrels full of ice. Trams slid by on gleaming rails.’
By Daniel Shand
Published by Corsair
It was the junior’s first birthday. That day, he became one year old. Nobody at work recognised the date, but the junior knew, and back in the home they shared, so did his senior. To the junior, ‘one’ seemed like a nice round number. If anyone asked how long he’d been going, he could now say, ‘About a year.’ He smiled to himself as he went about his working day, then left at clocking-out time. A whole year in the world with no issues and no complaints. It felt good, to be one.
The air smelled hot and dusty; another scorcher in an end- less line of scorchers. Guys sold sliced fruit and canned soft drinks from barrels full of ice. Trams slid by on gleaming rails. The street was full of bodies, full of other juniors and seniors crammed onto the pavement. He recognised a few folk from his shift, but he didn’t go with them. Today, he had plans. Moving through the crowds on the Dalkeith Road, going against the grain, he requested help from his system. It asked him: What do you need? He replied: I want a lift. He stood on the kerb for a moment, feeling his system access the field around him. A few moments later, a speeding bike crested the hill.
The courier’s shirt was dark with sweat. ‘Buchanan?’ he asked. ‘That’s right.’
The junior climbed up for a backie and the courier set off, weaving into traffic and coasting beside a passing tram. There were others going by bike too, most of them heading in the junior’s direction: towards the north of the capital. He stood firm on the stunt pegs, holding the courier’s shoulders, watching Edinburgh as it went by. On corners, he leaned into the curve. He eased back when the courier braked.
‘Busy day?’ the junior asked.
‘You wouldn’t believe it,’ the courier replied, shaking his head.
His system informed him of the time: 18:30. He needed to reach the pub by quarter to, because his senior expected him by then. Alastair, his senior, needed him, so he couldn’t be late. The evening in question had been in their shared calendar for a few days now: drinks with Caitlin, his senior’s girlfriend. That morning they conversed quietly with each other over breakfast, after she left for work. What might she want? Why all the secrecy? Alastair told the junior Caitlin probably wanted to get married. They were at that stage in their relationship.
On North Bridge, the traffic looked likely to block itself. A tram sat in the middle of a busy intersection, preventing movement, and the courier was forced to bump up onto the pavement. People there stepped aside. The junior hissed through his teeth but didn’t complain; they were now running late. His system told him: 18:38, and the pavements and roads across the bridges were rammed.
‘Is a diversion alright?’ asked the courier through heavy breaths.
‘Just get me there,’ he answered. ‘Five minutes.’
He closed his eyes as the courier veered sharply to the right, swooping round a Step-Stone van to head downhill towards the parliament building.
‘Come on,’ he whispered. ‘Hurry up.’
He wasn’t sure if he felt quite as optimistic as his senior did. As far as he could tell, Caitlin was not happy, and certainly didn’t appear to be in a proposing frame of mind. As long as he’d known her – one year already – she’d been off. Partly, the junior was to blame, but mostly the fault lay with Alastair.
Time pressed on. The courier brought them past Holyrood and up into Leith. He stood for the sharp incline, rocking the bike from side to side, but it seemed likely they’d be late. The junior tried not to get pissed off; the guy was doing his best. He started to feel a little queasy, a by-product of letting his senior down. The area where a stomach ought to be felt empty and unsettled. His head hurt. The desire to do right by your senior got baked into every part of you, and when things went wrong, you paid a physical price.
He started to say something to the courier, but before he could speak, they rounded the hill and were flying.
‘Hold tight,’ said the courier. ‘I am,’ he replied.
They were going faster than the vehicles, than the trams, speeding downhill, warmth rushing across the junior’s face. In among the air, he could sense the field too, its power and data flowing through his body like water through a sieve.
Model Citizens by Daniel Shand is published by Corsair, priced £16.99.
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