The setting is London. I have come to the city on a whim, via the train that crosses the Atlantic. The travel time is half an hour. Sitting in a courtyard with some children, I try to figure out the true purpose behind the quadratic formula and fail.
I traverse the staircase of an elaborate multicoloured Victorian building. On the first floor, a man is giving lectures on legal ethics, and there is a restaurant called The Crab Egg.
On the second floor, some men are figuring out how to play vertical cricket, in which one player stands at the top of the stairs and the other stands at the bottom. The object of vertical cricket is to get the ball into a cup of water without getting it wet. It is also known as “wet cricket.”
The third floor contains another cricket team, the only difference being that these ones are more intoxicated than those on the second floor, and they wear orange instead of blue.
On the fourth floor, my friends notice the lifeguard has not yet emerged from the bottom of the pool. One by one, my friends dive into the pool, and do not come up either. Finally I dive in and collect the first friend, who collects the second, who collects the third, who collects the lifeguard. When the lifeguard regains consciousness, he explains that he has been searching for his drowning mother. I enter the pool to look for the mother, and soon find her attached to the drain. I bring her to the surface, and realize she is perfectly dry, and also an octopus.
Apprehensive about telling the lifeguard his mother has dried out, I ask my personal assistant to go and fetch me a small box that can serve as a coffin. She returns with something that resembles a purple steamer trunk, and is made of plastic. I tell her it will do. But when I hand it to the lifeguard and explain that his mother is dead, he becomes offended at the coffin’s gaudiness.
The fifth floor is a private apartment, decorated with elegant furnishings. I realize this must be where my assistant obtained the coffin. I tell my assistant (who has changed from a white female teenager to a young Indian man) that we ought to leave, that it is not right to stand in the middle of a private apartment. But he makes a convincing case that this is a museum of a private apartment rather than the apartment itself, and we decide to stay a minute longer before ascending.
There is nothing to see on the roof deck.
Returning to the first floor, I realize that the lecture on legal ethics is just a scheme to exonerate the landlord of The Crab Egg. The quadratic formula finally makes sense.