It had come to this: a life lived in thirds. Eight hours of sleep was broken by the shrill of his alarm clock. Eight hours of work ensued, no more interesting than the day-time TV it allowed him to avoid. And eight listless hours in a single room, containing a mattress, a table a stove and a torn photograph of a woman he didn't know. He's found the photograph one Monday morning in a Winter too mild to truthfully bare the name. She had stared up at him from a puddle at the bus stop, eyes that drew him in to the extent that he missed his ride. As he lifted the sodden paper it tore under the weight of absorbed water and to save the rest of her, he placed her between two sheets of draft report he'd taken home to read the Friday before. She had dried off and now lived on the grey wall, the only colour in his grey life.
He categorised his day by the popularity of the thirds. He preferred the sleeping third, when the ennui of the evening dissolved to blissful unawareness punctured only by her eyes. Work, on the other hand was a distraction and prelude. It took very little from him, no concentration or loss of dignity and gave him much less in return. There was money involved, enough to pay the rent on his modest bed-sitter, top up an Oyster card and replace his clothes when colleagues began whispering by the coffee machine. Sleep and Work. And between the two lay eight hours of nothing, a nothing so profound and complete that he ached in contemplation of it all day and slept deeply for its experience. He worked weekends just to avoid forty-hours consecutive hours of it.
The Japanese have a word for this kind of emptiness, they called it 無. At art school he had seen a film that changed his life, directed by a man modest enough to request it carved into his tombstone, not so much as comment on his work, but as profound understanding of the universe we inhabit. Or not. It was revelation. From the film he took two items: A red kettle that sat upon the stove and a pseudonym, Ozu.
His room was modestly cold and the small window that looked out onto the fire escape was shrouded in condensation. The mattress squeaked as Ozu rolled over and checked the time on his mobile phone: ten to seven. He took a deep drag of clammy air and threw off the duvet, revealing his still fully clothed body. The empty evening left him spent, unable even to prepare for the night. He rolled onto his knees and stood in one fluid motion, something he copied from the film, and lit the gas ring on the stove, absorbing the sudden heat and mellow blue light before obscuring it with the kettle. Upstairs the foreign couple, Romanian; Bulgarian; Polish, he didn't care, were arguing again but their harsh words and intermittent sobs were obscured by the whistle of the kettle. Ozu threw a teabag in a stained mug, poured the water and looked into her eyes again. She stared back disdainfully, objecting to his day-old beard. He swigged his tea and rubbed his chin.
"Whatever." He said.
He tipped the dregs down the hand basin, scooped his tie off the door latch and let emerged into the hallway. The smell of mould was over-powering as he passed three other rooms and down one flight of stairs. By front door he scanned the pile of white and manilla envelopes, none of which bore his real name, or indeed any alias. For one brief moment outside on the step he toyed with painting 無 on the door, to announce to world that he existed, fleetingly, here. That conceit gave him a smile that lingered all the way to the bus stop and long after he had alighted at the office.