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The waiting room was almost full. Raymond sighed to himself as he looked around for an empty seat. There was one on the row nearest to him, but it was next to a scruffy old man who looked like a tramp and probably stank like the gutter. He looked further on.

There was only one other free seat. The man sitting next to it had ridiculously long hair and wore a dirty t-shirt with some idiotic environmental message plastered across it. Ray clenched his fists slightly. What a choice. Sit next to a stinking tramp or an equally stinking hippy. The other people weren’t any better- they looked like the worst vermin of the world. Tramps, hippies, lowlife dole scum.

He moved towards the tramp.

“Excuse me,” a woman said, looking up as he passed, “Do you have the time?”

Raymond looked at his expensive Rolex watch. “It’s four thirt- hang on. Dammit, my watch must have stopped. Sorry.”

The woman frowned and sighed. “Weirdest thing,” she muttered, “So’s mine.”

Raymond didn’t hear her. He was busy tapping the back of the his watch.

“Damn thing’s supposed to be under guarantee,” he muttered as he shuffled on towards the empty seat next to the tramp. Sure enough, the man stank of piss, sweat and old booze. He glanced over at the hippy, just in time to see a short woman take the other empty seat. Resigned, he sat down carefully, trying not to touch the tramp in any way.

“Aasigone, ma’. Pu’upa pew, tekkaweigh’ff yuffeet.”

Raymond blinked. The old man’s breath was worse than his body odour, and Ray didn’t understand a word he said. He smiled thinly, then looked away, concentrating on his shoes as the tramp muttered on and on.

“…’nI sed, I sed, thassaway issposetabe!”

The tramp elbowed Raymond in the ribs and laughed in his face.

Raymond got up, choking back bile, and squeezed back along the row of seats towards the closed receptionist’s window. He knocked and waited.

And waited.

He knocked again and again, and was about to prise the window open to find out if there was in fact anybody behind it, when it slid open. A sharp-faced old woman glared at him through narrow eyes.

“What?”

“How long do I have to wait here?”

She laughed. “How long? That depends! Why are you here?”

Raymond opened his mouth to reply, then paused. He frowned.

“I… I don’t know. Why am I here? Where is ‘here’ anyway?”

She grinned. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?”

He turned slowly to look around the room. Realisation gradually dawned upon him; a faint echo of pain flashed down his left arm. He remembered an old quote from somewhere and whispered it to himself.

“Hell is other people.”

© Kari Fay

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