Marriage of Convenience

The quiet man in the boy’s room kept himself apart. He was often dozing, and Bobby nicknamed him Zzz or Zed. When he wasn’t dozing he was connected to his computer, watching TV, or on his cell phone.

Bobby often said hello to Zed and received a similar response. Questions were a different matter though.

“Where are you from?” got a mumble back.

“What kind of work are you looking for?” There was an unintelligible answer.

“How’s the cell phone signal in your room?” Just a thumbs up.

Zed seemed to enjoy isolation, but curiously, came into the halfway house’s kitchen when he knew others were there. If a woman appeared, he left the room immediately. Maybe he wanted company but was really shy.

Everybody was in the same position here; they were unprofessional people seeking opportunities in Lucerne. There seemed to be great demand for professional people, but little demand for their less well trained brothers.

Zed left the house every day at six for his evening stroll. He went for hours and usually returned with groceries. Other than this he never left the house, and he received no visitors. It was almost like the world around him didn’t exist; he behaved as if in alien territory.

Other members of the household took turns at cooking. French, Italian, English, Swedish, and Greek food was regularly available. Zed couldn’t stomach it. “Too little taste,” was all he said. He stayed in his room during communal meals, and instead cooked alone at midnight.

Zed cooked the same food every night. He dissolved two vegetable stock cubes in a pint of water, added two potatoes and two chillies, which he boiled for an hour. This was his only dish.

Bobby was short of cash one week and so was everybody else. Denied bank accounts for having poor credit scores, the halfway house’s residents stored their earnings beneath their mattresses. The code of the poor dictated that they could borrow each other’s money when needed, as long as they returned it.

While Zed was out, Bobby took the opportunity to look under his mattress. There were piles of Indian rupees there. They looked quite strange. He examined them closely, and saw they featured complex holograms, and futuristic structures in places he’d never heard about. Other than the rupee notes, a toy telescope, and a few items of clothing, Zed seemed to own nothing.

Later that week, Bobby picked up three days of casual work, and with his earnings, bought a bottle of whisky. He was drinking it alone when Zed walked into the lounge, and sat down beside him. He asked for a measure. Bobby poured him a double. Whether or not Zed wanted to get drunk was hard to say. The fact is, he did, and it loosened his tongue.

“I am from the Orion system,” he said. “I was sent here to test the possibility of intergalactic marriage. But I hated everything in that place; the weather, people, pollution, rush, noise, cost.”

He must mean the new City, thought Bobby.

“So I came to Lucerne, but everything is still wrong here. I have come one hundred years too early. India is not a superpower yet. I learned Hindi but it is not spoken here; I can’t eat the bland food; the weather is too cold, and I cannot mate with unenhanced humans. What’s a guy to do?”

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