One minute you’re embedded in chirping and buzzing modern-day consumer society, oblivious and running on autopilot just like everyone else, and the next, you find yourself mysteriously and utterly alone in a ghost city. Lui does just what perhaps many of us would, taking shelter to wait for answers or any other sign in modern man’s Eden: the shopping centre. As he slowly comes to grips with the new reality and rides the roller-coaster emotions of complete freedom, of truly owning everything, Lui begins to comprehend what it means to be, most likely, the last human and marketing director on Earth.
I’m alone! Damn it, that’s a fact. I finally grasped that this morning when I woke up in a king-size waterbed. I’m alone. There’s no one. Only me. I opened my eyes, and the only things my ears could pick up were the soft drone of escalators, my own breathing, and that gentle lapping of waves rocking me so luxuriously in the rubber bed. Like a sailor lost at sea. That’s it. Okay, the steady hum of refrigerators sounded faintly from downstairs, too, but that was truly it. The music that had incessantly set the atmosphere here for the last few days had ceased.
I pushed myself up and off the waterbed (which isn’t all that easy, by the way), and tripped on a whisky bottle and bags of chips. I barely kept my balance. My head felt so heavy that it was tugging me right towards the ground. Then I accidentally stepped on a skateboard, and fell. The loud thud that rang out sounded strange, somehow. My head? I felt it. A helmet, thank God. I’d slept in it the whole night, the price tag painfully scratching my ear. What do you know – it paid off.
I went to the men’s bathroom and had already pulled it out when I stopped and thought for a moment. I put it back in my pants and entered the women’s restroom. It was cleaner there. I urinated in the first stall, then rinsed my face and stared at myself in the mirror. I sniffed the shirt that I’d taken from the Calvin Klein store a day earlier. Not good. I tore it off and tossed it in the trash bin. I splashed water over my armpits, patted down my hair, and left. I took the escalator down. I opened a new Burberry deodorant in the Ideal Cosmetics store and applied it where necessary. I fetched a fresh t-shirt from Esprit. I went into Skechers and sat down in front of the shelves. I took off my sneakers and smelled one. Nasty. I’ll get new ones here every day now. Every god-damned day. Fact.
And now, breakfast. I walked past McDonald’s. No, can’t take any more of that. How many days in a row had it been already? I should tally them up. I walked into the Rimi for groceries. I downed an entire bottle of Danon strawberry yoghurt, ate half of a banana, tossing the rest of it over my shoulder, picked up a shiny red apple, took the biggest bite in the world, marvelled at how sweet it tasted, and, imitating a baseball player, chucked the fruit somewhere towards the check-out lanes with all my might. Something collapsed with a crash. I cocked my ears. Nothing. I took a running start and kicked a display of oatmeal packages as hard as I could. The result was something akin to a snowstorm. And then silence once again.
By Armin Kõomägi
Translated by Adam Cullen
Armin Kõomägi was born in Moldova in 1969 of an Armenian mother and an Estonian father, and thinks of Estonia as a very extraordinary and valuable borderland. ‘Logisticians Anonymous’, a story from his 2005 collection Amateur, was awarded the Friedebert Tuglas Short Story Award and made into a film.
Adam Cullen is a poet and translator of Estonian literature and poetry into English. He has translated works by a wide range of Estonian authors including Tõnu Õnnepalu, Mihkel Mutt, Kai Aareleid and Rein Raud, and has twice been nominated for the Cultural Endowment of Estonia’s annual award for translated literature. Originally from Minnesota, Cullen has lived in Estonia for ten years.