The Considerate Killer(7)

By: Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis


Vincent jumped.

The heavy, dark door to the street had been opened and a young man stepped into the hall. His face was narrow and boyish, and his body had not yet found its mature proportions. Still, he did not look as if he was Vincent’s age. It was his posture, Vincent decided. He carried himself with the confidence and weight of a grown man who knew his own worth.

He looked directly at Vincent and raised his chin impatiently.

“How long have you been sitting here?”

Vincent looked at his watch and quickly did the math. Five sweaty hours had passed. According to the letter from the university, he had had an appointment at one, but apparently all the other candidates had as well.

“Crap,” said the newcomer explosively.

He let himself drop into the chair next to Vincent, fiddling restlessly with a cigarette. He was wearing two gold rings—one on the ring finger and an extra wide one on his thumb. While that in itself was not so unusual, still there was something unmistakably sleek, something of the dandy, about him. A kind of natural arrogance in the way he folded his slender arms behind his neck, his legs slightly apart, and in the restless boredom he exuded.

“I hate waiting,” he said. “Every minute we spend in these chairs is a goddamn waste of precious time. Waste of life. If you live to be eighty, you have about forty-two million minutes to use, and that may sound like a lot, my friend, but if you’ve been sitting here for five hours, that’s three hundred of them just gone out the window. Poof. Time swallowed by nothing. As if it weren’t bad enough that we have to spend five years of our lives in this place afterward. Insult to injury, I tell you.”

He jerked his jeweled thumb toward the glass door to the auditorium on the other side of the lobby and smiled. And it was a smile that lit up his features irresistibly, warm and wide in the narrow face. Vincent could feel his usual defenses melting away. The guy would have been a shoo-in for a Philippine remake of Dead Poets Society. His sparkle, his energy, his upper-class confidence. Carpe diem, seize the day and all of that. Vincent knew his Latin from church.

“I’ve been reading,” Vincent said, holding out his book, a primer on pediatrics, borrowed from the library back home in San Marcelino. Despite his secret uncertainties about getting in, he had attacked the first year’s curriculum with his usual diligence; the required reading ran to a daunting number of pages, even for him.

The guy grinned even more broadly, though Vincent would have sworn that wasn’t possible.

“You’re the type who worries too much,” he said. “We’re not even in yet. Are you nervous?”

Vincent shrugged. “A little,” he said and carefully dried his palms on his pants. His cheap shirt felt glued to his back.

Actually nervous wasn’t the right word. Waiting for the interview, or rather, for the letter that would arrive in a few days, was like standing at the top of the tower on Mount Samat, gazing across forested slopes and luminous green rice fields out to sea, where the container ships floated under a sky grey as dust, far out in Manila Bay.

If he got in, this whole world would still exist, and look the same.

If he was rejected, it would disappear in the blink of an eye. He was to become a doctor. He had always been going to become a doctor. Any other future was literally unimaginable.

The carpe-diem guy ran a hand through his longish black hair. There was a bit of European or perhaps American in him, Vincent guessed. His nose was big and had a slight hook like the beak of a bird of prey, but his skin was dusky and his eyes dark, narrow and sparkling with hidden, friendly laughter. He didn’t seem nervous. Just a bit restless. To judge by the knife-sharp pleats in his pants and the bright white, newly ironed shirt, he hadn’t been waiting for five hours.

Vincent smiled politely, leaned forward and returned his attention to the part of his book that he was studying—a chart showing normal blood pressures for children ages zero to fifteen. There were a lot of numbers, but he could memorize them if he read the chart a few times, wrote the numbers in his notebook and practiced by closing the book and repeating them to himself.

It didn’t come easy, that kind of thing. Learning things by heart took several passes; he had to work at it.

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