Regularly, the relative quiet of the city streets would be broken by a herd of cyclists, sometimes as many as 30, mostly middle-aged men, pedalling their expensive equipment in skin-tight compression suits. These outfits were so tight that the cyclists needed to spend half an hour in a decompression chamber when they disrobed. For the cyclists, the lycra tights did the dual-job of maximising aerodynamics whilst reducing the likelihood of conceiving children, an outcome that would have a devastating impact on their training schedules. After an hour or so of training they would be sitting outside cafes, sipping cappuccinos and showcasing their equipment, so to speak. Some of the heavier men would don the gear, but avoid the training, and head straight to the cafe for a bacon and egg sandwich.
And moving slowly through the streets, early on this warm April morning, was an even older man, dressed in oil-stained corduroy trousers, on a very old bike, with a squeaky wheel — or perhaps he had a squeaky knee joint, it was difficult to tell which. On his back was a bag filled with the day's mail. His tiny legs, as thin as his bicycle tyres, were shaking under the strain. His skin was weathered and baggy, as though the flesh around his gonads had taken over the entire body. As to his age, that was anyone's guess, but most would agree, whatever it was, it was a miracle he was still alive.
The old man was kept alive by a sense of commitment to his job. He had the old-fashioned duty of ensuring the mail always got through, whatever the weather. Over his shoulder he carried the same bag he had used for decades, delivering post at first light to a largely unappreciative audience. Most people never gave a thought to him and his dedication to the Australian postal service. He could slip away from this life largely unnoticed, perhaps discovered in his bed, suffocated by his own excess skin. People wouldn't miss him because there was so little mail these days. Instead, people relied on the internet, the great new high-tech invention that made it easier for people to exchange jokes and to masturbate more regularly.
Fortunately for this aged postman, for now at least, letters were still needed to deliver phone and internet bills, interspersed with those 24-page supermarket catalogues filled with the lowest prices for bananas, German sausages and plasma televisions. Then there were the letters threatening blackmail and extortion — mainly from banks. Before the morning was over, the postman would have notified four people that they had defaulted on their home loan, caused the breakdown of two marriages from unexplained hotel bookings on credit card statements, and encouraged 14 pensioners to forgo food in favour of a complete video box set of Upstairs, Downstairs, spread across 24 easy payments.
The postman was feeling the strain this morning. In his bag he carried the largest phone bill ever to arrive at the home of Mr Sydney Musson. It was a significant event that would quickly lead to the recipient's mental breakdown and soon after, a murder. It was to be a surprising response from a man who, after a 22-year career in door-to-door insurance sales, had grown used to being treated with the respect you'd offer, say, a tadpole.
Musson lived on his own in a bedsit above a Chinese takeaway, the Happy Fu King, whose menu he systematically worked through on a two-week rotation. On this particular morning he was up early, clearing away the foil dish from last night's Sweet and Sour Pork (number 36), when the post arrived.
Musson steered his clinically obese body to the front door, clad in striped flannelette pyjamas, stained with a personal history of takeaway food. It had been some time since they'd been cleaned and it was a constant mystery to the owner of the Happy Fu King why the area smelt of Chinese takeaway even before they started cooking.
Normally, Musson would leave the mail unopened until the end of the day. It gave him something to do after work. With 22 years in door-to-door insurance sales behind him — a career, quite rightly, shunned by polite society — he had abandoned any hope of a social life, a family or sex involving another person. In fact, on the sex front, his obesity had reached the point where his arm no longer reached far enough for self-satisfaction and his life had become one long continuous period of sexual tension. The frustration made him a time bomb waiting to explode, although it was eased every few years, usually during a televised ladies tennis final, when Musson would achieve a hands-free instantaneous orgasm, nearly choking to death on his Chow Mein (number 28) in the process.
Devoid of any social interaction, Musson's evenings were free for him to do what he wanted, and opening the mail was a highlight. And tonight, being the second Wednesday in the month, which would be followed by Cantonese Chicken and Prawn Crackers (number 37).
But on this particular morning the mail couldn't wait. The phone bill landed through his door with unusual gravity. It hit the carpet with such a large thud that Musson instantly knew something was amiss. At first he suspected a bomb. The government had been repeatedly advertising the threat of terrorism, encouraging people to be on the lookout for anyone behaving suspiciously, such as, not being of Anglo-Saxon heritage. If it was a bomb, Musson had thought, opening it would kill him and he'd rather die now and not have to put in another day at work.