There was something about that building. Nobody could explain what it was, but the facts were irrefutable: If you wanted to recover mentally or physically, going in there made the whole process quicker.
Jacob’s bag felt too heavy for him, especially in his condition. He made a stop, and spotted a homeless guy. “Hey, do you need anything?” Jacob asked him.
“Like what, sir,” the homeless man asked, reluctant.
“I need to lighten my bag a little. Here, take this, I don’t need it.” Jacob started taking out things, an engraved pen, his watch, his laptop, a coat, a nice pair of winter pants, shiny shoes to match, a tie, he certainly didn’t need that anymore.
“W-Why thank you, sir,” the homeless man stuttered. “This is too much.”
“I have no use for it. You do. Oh, one more thing.” Jacob took out his phone and handed it to him.
The homeless man was speechless. “How can I repay you, sir?”
“Just take it,” Jacob nodded. “Try and get a job, that’s how you repay me. Recover whatever you had.”
From across the street, it didn’t look like much. Just a condominium of cheap apartments from a few decades ago, square bricks of concrete, set in a somewhat designed way that looked old-fashioned even the year it came out.
Even worse, there were lots of plants growing all over the place, in cracks, in ledges, under the windows in broken off aluminium frames. It was as if everything that could possibly grow, found life and water and fertile ground to sprout and seek the sun. Just like people. There were many squatters, especially in the southern apartments that were windy and not rented out.
“Why do you let them squat there,” Jacob asked the old building manager.
“Well,” he wheezed, “I don’t want to deny entry to anyone. You’ve heard the rumours.” He looked him up and down. “That’s why you’re here.”
“Yeah…” Jacob chuckled. “I’m terminal, it’s okay. It’s not like I can pretend to be healthy when looking like this.”
“You mean like a walking corpse?” the old said.
Jacob snorted. “Yes! Exactly that. Thank you for not tiptoeing around the issue. I hate it when people do that.”
“Well, I’m closer to the exit than you are,” the old man said.
“The exit?” Jacob frowned.
“The last exit,” the old man said meaningfully.
“Oh… Right. So, can you set me up with a place?” Jacob rubbed his hands together, he was always cold these days.
“Of course,” the building manager said and started to walk.
Jacob took it as a cue to follow him, so he did. The old man took him to a creaky elevator, up to the sixth floor, and then the elevator shook and stopped. Jacob held himself upright. “What happened?”
“This is as high as it goes. We’ll have to climb one flight of stairs. Can you manage it?”
Jacob grunted. “Yeah. I can do one flight.”
He and the old man raced each other on who could outwheeze the other at the top of the stairs. “Seventh…” Jacob panted, “floor… right?” He breathed hard, gasping for air.
The old man fared better than him, but held the railing for a long time until he gathered his strength. “We’re here.”
“You could have given me an apartment at the lower levels.”
“Those are all occupied, obviously,” the old man said and took out an enormous chain of keys. It jingled so much it might as well been a defi, a small tambourine used to keep the pace in these Eastern parts. He found the proper key with some arcane sorting system he had, since all the keys seemed different and had no stickers or numbers on them, and then pushed it into the keyhole.
Jacob held his breath until the door opened.
He peeked inside. Well, it wasn’t much. He didn’t know what he expected. The apartment was small, designed in the same practical way as the rest of the condominium. A redhead came jogging down the corridor and shouted, “Outta my way!” She was wearing workout tights and had a headband, and a water canister, the one you suckled on like a tit.
“Rude!” Jacob said but she was long gone. “Who’s that?”
“That’s a pain in my ass, that’s who!” the old man said, cursing after the girl. “She’s your neighbour, so you gotta deal with her.”
Jacob shrugged. “I don’t mind.” He walked inside his new apartment.
The old man coughed.
Then he coughed again.
“Oh, right.” Jacob went into his pockets and paid him in cash. “That should cover three rents. They say I won’t be around for a fourth.”
“We’ll see,” the old man said and pocketed the euro bills.
“Can you show me where everything is?”
The old man snorted. “You can find where everything is yourself, it’s a flat. Say for example, you need to find somewhere to pee. Where would you look, in the kitchen? Bah!” he waved him away and started walking slowly towards the stairs.
“Thanks,” Jacob said, holding the key in his hands.
Jacob set his tiny bag with his stuff on the bed. He took everything out, it wasn’t much. A few changes of clothes, it was spring, and he wasn’t gonna make it till winter, so all he had was a light jacket. Some socks, toothbrush, half-used tube of toothpaste, that would certainly outlast him. No personal items, no computers, no phone.
Just his sick carcass that had an expiration date.
There was a rapping on the door.
“Hello?” Jacob asked, opening it.
The redhead was standing there. She was sweaty, her skin glistening, but still gorgeous. “Does your shower work?”
“What?” Jacob said, confused.
“Does your shower work? It’s a simple question,” she said, annoyed.
“I… Uh, don’t know. Haven’t tried out the plumbing yet,” Jacob said, blinking.
The redhead tsked and walked inside, uninvited. “You never accept a flat without checking out the plumbing, what are you, a sucker?” She got into his bathroom and turned on the faucet. She put her hands under the running water. “Mmm,” she moaned, “you even have hot water? What are you, royalty?”
Then she started to undress.
Jacob turned around. “Listen, lady, this is very forward of you. I’d love to hang out but I’m very tired, exhausted really…”
Her top fell on his shoulders. “Are you kicking me out?” she pouted behind his back.
“No, you can take a shower here, it’s all right. Since you’ve started it already. But next time, please ask.”
“What’s the fun in that?” the redhead said and her running shorts landed on his shoulder again.
He fumbled them but managed to grab them. “It’s not supposed to be fun.”
“Why not? You came here to recover, right? Which means basically, to live longer. What’s the point of living longer if you’re not gonna have fun with it?” she toyed. “Where’s your shampoo?”
Her sports bra landed on his head. “I don’t have any, my hair has fallen off,” he said, his back still turned.
“Hm. I can do with just the soap bar, for now.” He could hear her going under the shower, the pitch of the falling water changing as her body came between it and the floor.
Some splashes of water sprayed him as well. He decided he was too close and stepped away, ready to shut the door.
“Hey, next time, have some shampoo for me. I’ll let it slide this time,” the redhead said.
Jacob shut the door to let her shower in peace. Not that she seemed to demand her space. What a weird woman. He placed her sweaty clothes to dry on a the back of his single chair, and then practically crawled to his bed. He tried to kick the back off the bed but he couldn’t muster the strength.
He felt so… tired… So… sleepy…
He woke up when the world shook. Nope, it was just him.
The redhead was next to him, shaking him violently. “What? Stop it, let me sleep.”
“Enough sleep, sleepyhead. Let’s go running.”
He blinked like ten times and tried to focus on her. Her hair looked dry and she was in her running shorts again. “How long was I asleep?”
“An entire day, I guess. I took my shower and shut the door behind me, then came back this morning.”
“You said you shut the door. How did you get in again?”
She winced, making her freckles dance on her face. “Okay, I might have left the door slightly ajar.” She looked around. “It’s not like you have anything worth stealing. I mean, really, did you donate your stuff to charity or something?” She chuckled.
Jacob stood up with a groan. Everything hurt. He felt dead. It was a shame his mind hadn’t caught up with that sensation. “Do I have coffee?”
“Nope,” she said. “I checked, tried to make some for me.”
“Do you have coffee in your apartment?”
“No, silly, that’s why I was checking your cupboards. You aren’t very good with leaps of logic, are you?” she shook her head.
“Why are you here?” Jacob said, now feeling annoyed. “And what the hell is your name?”
“I’m Vera, nice to meet you. And I came here to get you to jog with me.”
Jacob chuckled and then coughed, and coughed again. “Jog? I almost didn’t make that one flight of stairs from the sixth.”
“I know, I saw you,” she said, raising her nose. She went to the window and opened it. She took in a breath of the fresh air, closing her eyes.
Jacob took in her figure. She was cute, pretty. Her body was all there for him to admire, the running shorts didn’t leave anything to the imagination. After a while, he finally asked, “How long have you lived here, Vera?”
“It doesn’t matter. Come on, lets jog together. We’ll run around the floor, ring the doorbells and run away, piss off the neighbours.”
He laughed out loud this time, letting it all out. All the worry, all the frustration, the hospital visits, the chemo, the frowns on people’s faces… It all lifted at that single minute of uncontrolled laughter. He wheezed after it, but it was worth it. “Okay,” he said finally. “What the hell, I might drop dead, but I’ll do so pranking neighbours. Sure.” He went to put on shorts. “Can you turn around?”
She smirked and clicked her tongue. “Nope.”
“Not much to see anyway,” he said, and took off his pants. His legs were like twigs, his dick was nothing more than a blackish olive. He put on shorts and a t-shirt that said, ‘Is there WiFi in Heaven?’
Vera stared without any shame all the time he was changing clothes. “Ready? Come on, I’ll match your pace, don’t worry.”
He followed her out the corridor, and started to jog, slowly. He wheezed but managed to maintain a very slow pace. “This is rather invigorating, actually!” he panted. “Wakes me up, like a cup of coffee.”
“See? Told ya it would be nice?” she said, gifting him a wonderful smile.
They ran around the floor, it went all the way around in a square shape.
Jacob thought he’d have given up by now, that he’d be gasping for air on the floor, but he found he could keep going. That surprised him. Panting, he said, “You didn’t tell me. How long have you lived here?”
She rolled her eyes, still jogging slowly alongside him.
“Hey, I’ve done what you wanted. I’m here jogging, even though I’m pretty sure I should have keeled over and died by now.”
She smirked at him. “Okay, since you came out with me, I’ll tell you. You’ve earned it. I’ve been here plus two years.”
“What does that mean? Plus two years?”
“It means, I’ve been here two years more than the time they gave me.”
“Who?” Jacob asked, but he knew the answer.
“The doctors, Jacob.”
He remained silent for a few footfalls. “You’re sick?”
“Terminal,” she said, smiling wide like the epitome of health.
“But you look great! More than great, actually. You look young and healthy.”
“Why, thank you, Jacob!” she squealed at the compliment.
He felt nice for a moment. Then his face darkened. “You… you never leave the building, do you?”
“Nope,” she said with a mixed expression.
“I see…” he said, simply. He turned his focus forward and simply thought about the next step.
“Will you stay here with me, Jacob?” Her voice was tiny, almost pleading.
Jacob didn’t respond. Instead, he rang a doorbell.
She was stunned for a second. Then they both giggled and ran out of there.