Life is good on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Sandra and her husband Leo had decided to have lunch outside on the terrace to enjoy the last summer day of the year. He had prepared the couscous, she had set the table and opened the wine. The sun felt warm and the parrots were chirping in nearby trees.
The only problem was the bees.
-‘Don’t laugh’, Leo told his wife as he got up from his chair and started walking, calmly, towards the door and the safety of being on the right side of it.
-‘I’m not laughing’, Sandra grinned while snatching a piece of chorizo from one of the plates.
-‘You know I’m allergic’, Leo continued, standing behind the door to the terrace with only his nose peaked out. It was a larger than average nose, so Sandra could see it well even from a few metres away.
-‘You know he can’t actually do this!’ Leo hissed and then quickly closed the door as a bee was approaching his nose.
Sandra snatched another piece of chorizo and chew it slowly, watching another bee fall into her husband’s wineglass. Then she picked up her plate and her glass and walked inside.
-‘Shall we have lunch indoors, dear?’ She asked her husband.
Leo was sitting on the sofa, staring into the chimney like it was a TV, and eating crisps.
-‘You know he can’t do this!’ He claimed again and stuffed another handful of crisps into his mouth.
‘You can’t do bee-keeping in the city! What a wanker!’
-‘Leo, watch it! You’re getting crumbs all over the carpet.’
-‘The carpet! That’s all you care about, you. While we should be calling the police for our crazy neighbour!’
-‘You know he’s actually doing a good deed, helping the bees. When the bees die out, we have about 50 years.’
-‘You’re impossible.’ Leo turned the bag of crisps upside down above his mouth, in order to catch the remaining crumbs. Most of them fell on the pink fluffy carpet.
-‘Leo!’ Sandra yelled again and chased him off the sofa. Whatever you do, do not ruin my pink carpet, the landlady had told them when they moved in. Do not remove it or take it to be washed – just brush it with some soap and clean it on the spot. But leave it in its place! It’s the soul of the house and must stay. OK?
OK, Sandra had promised her because she loved the kitchen and she loved the bathroom and she loved the terrace even more. Taking care of this fluffy carpet was a small price to pay.
But now it was full of crumbs, so Sandra went to get the hand-held vacuum cleaner to remove Leo’s ad-hoc lunch. Some crumbs were also on the floor around the carpet.
-‘What a pig’, Sandra sighed as she flipped over one of the corners of the carpet. The floor was much darker underneath, and Sandra wondered how long this carpet had been in one and the same place. And there was a strange something, like a handle built into the floor.
-‘What’s this?’ Sandra asked out loud and the vacuum cleaner answered with a dismissive sigh.
She grabbed hold of the handle and realised it was actually the opening into a basement she didn’t know existed under their house.
A secret entrance! Sandra opened it (because what else should you do with secret entrances), and walked down a set of stone stairs. It smelled like her grandmother’s pickles and potato cellar and a bit of mold A dim light came from the basement and she imagined what kind of treasures could be hiding down there. When she came to the bottom of the steps she heard a dripping sound in the distance, like that damn leak from above the spare toilet.
When Sandra’s eyes got used to the dim light of the basement, she saw that there were several benches around, lumps of something resting on them. The ceiling was just high enough for Sandra to remain standing straight. In the middle of the room there were ashes in a circle, like the remains of a bonfire.
What am I doing here? Sandra asked herself while pulling her cardigan tighter around herself. It was humid and smelled of old people breathing. And why didn’t I ask Leo to join?
-‘What are you doing here’ a familiar voice asked behind Sandra and she turned around to find the neighbour in an astronaut suit. What are you doing here in this murky cellar in an astronaut suit, she wanted to ask him but reminded herself that he’s a weirdo and even the landlady had warned them about him. So instead she told him the truth.
-‘We were having lunch, on the terrace. But Leo doesn’t like bees, you see. So we moved inside, to the living room. With the pink carpet, you know?’
The neighbour nodded and grabbed something that was flying around in the room into his big white palm. He made a buzzing sound and Sandra looked at him, as if checking whether she heard right. The neighbour laughed out loud – a hearty laugh.
-‘Bzzzz’ he repeated and smiled, opening his palm to let the now disoriented bee fly off again. His teeth were as white as chalk.
-‘Afraid of bees, your man, eh?’
Sandra didn’t know what to say so she just nodded. Another bee came by and started circling around her head. She waived it off a bit less gently than usual.
-‘My bees are not into you, dear! The neighbour exclaimed. They’re only interested in honey. Honey!’ He laughed his loud laugh once again, which sounded hollow in his sparsely furnished under-ground flat.
Then in a split of a second his face went serious.
-‘You know you are in my living room here, young lady’, he said without moving a muscle.
Sandra understood this was her chance to get out of this freakish man’s flat and away from his bees.
-‘Sorry sir, I will leave at once’.
-‘Not so fast! You must have come for a reason’.
-‘No no, just a coincidence, but I am going now!’ Sandra turned around and took two steps towards the stairs before she felt the neighbour’s astronaut paw grab her shoulder. With those gloves he didn’t have much of a grip, but somehow he managed to bring her back in front of him.
-‘I don’t believe in coincidences’, he said, sounding like a rock shower.
-‘Do you want to know when you will die? He continued, now with a soft and linear voice. ‘Welcome to the future, dear. It’s normal – we will all die you know.’ Several bees were now circling around his head, as if cheering on their master.
-‘Don’t you want to meet your dead self? The neighbour asked Sandra. ‘I like her – she’s less nervous than you… Or your dead husband? He’s OK with bees now…’
Sandra didn’t hear anything else because now she was running up the stone stairs, praying to Gods she didn’t believe in that she would be back in her living room, on the right side of their pink carpet.
She stumbled up the stairs, falling over, hurting her knee, getting up, sobbing, gasping for air and landing on the wooden floor of their living room. She crawled into a ball on the pink carpet that smelled of feet and garlic, but she didn’t mind. One of Leo’s crisps gazed at Sandra from its view-post on top of one of the pink carpet worms (the carpet was made of two million of those). Sandra screamed. She closed her eyes, covered her ears but could still hear voices. Two familiar voices, fighting.
-‘You know this is illegal!’ Leo shouted.
-‘Show me the law’ the neighbour said in a morgue-calm voice.
-‘There are kids around, you know!’ Leo spat and Sandra imagined the red spots on his neck from his agitation.
-‘And some people are allergic!’ Leo continued.
-‘Yes, I know’ the neighbour said. ‘Like you’. Then he broke into his machine gun laughter.
Sandra pressed her hands tighter around her ears. Don’t want to don’t want to don’t want to see my dead husband!
-‘They’re just making their honey. You stay out of their business and they’ll stay out of yours’, the neighbour chuckled. ‘Here, this one has come to sniff you. Sniff sniff – he is checking if you are food’.
Sandra heard a familiar scream that shook her back from her trance. She jumped up from the carpet and ran towards the terrace. Outside she found Leo seated, reading a newspaper.
-‘All right, hon?’ she whispered, thanking the Gods she didn’t believe in for finding her husband still alive, the same age as yesterday. His throat bore no signs of red spots. Relaxed, he looked up at his wife.
-‘All right dear!’ he called out, bright as a bird. Then he waved off a bee that had come over to sniff him. ‘The neighbour’s taught me something: his bees are not really into me – only into honey and flowers. They come to sniff me – look, sniff sniff he goes.’ The bee was still circling around Leo, a bit too close to his throat for Sandra’s comfort.
-‘The neighbour is crazy!’ she exclaimed.
-‘Sniff, sniff – are you food? He goes.’
-‘Leo, get inside for heaven’s sake – one of those can kill you!’
-‘Sniff, sniff – nope, no food. Look at him, he’s going away to find the flowers.’
Leo was right. The bee was flying off to find something more lucrative for his honey business – a daisy, or maybe a flowering bed of rocket. Just an innocent bee, looking for his catch of the day before his master summons him back home.
Life is good on a sunny Sunday afternoon.