The wind ruffles what is left of Bill Hobson’s hair as he falls. He had begun to lose his hair early, of course, baldness was hereditary - that’s what they say, whoever they are. Bill’s daddy had started sprouting greys at 34, his daddy at 38. Bill was lucky he was still buying shampoo.
He takes inventory as skyscraper windows zip past him like oncoming cars on the other side of the highway. One head, mostly bald and slightly sunburnt. One pair of eyes, stinging from the wind but otherwise in perfect working order. One scrawny torso – he had been strong once, yes, in the good old days when his hair was thick and dark and he could climb a flight of stairs without having a coughing fit at the top. Two arms. Two hands, balled up into half-fists as they had been for the majority of the new millennium; broken by age and re-set in a cast of pure arthritis. Two legs, aching. Two feet, also aching, and suspended almost two metres above his shoulders as he plummets head-first.
Bill passes the fiftieth-floor window – taking him a little under a tenth of a second to do so – and he smiles. Every day for the last ten years he had slaved away behind that window. Nameless and faceless. But this always bothered him less than the trip down: a chronic phobia of elevators and the alternative – fifty flights of stairs on a pair of arthritic legs – always made the journey hell. Still, he thought, he was going to make the descent in record time.
Bill’s arms begin to flail uncontrollably with the force of the wind as he picks up speed. On one lashing hand, a tiny band of pink can be seen in sharp contrast to the rest of his tanned skin. Of course it was pink; that tiny band of skin hadn’t seen the light of day since the 11th May, 1961. Bill knew the date off by heart, as most husbands do.
Fortieth floor, thirtieth, twentieth. Bill had expected more. They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die, whoeverthey are – kind of like a Greatest Hits album. In retrospect, he saw it was foolish. How could a man’s life – seventy years of life and love and lust and loss – be crammed down into the twenty seconds it had taken him to fall? He didn’t even have time to think if it was maybe a-