It was two days after he'd moved in that he first noticed the package. He was trying to fit all his stuff into the tiny kitchen of his new apartment, and he peered into the space beneath the sink and there it was. A package the size and shape of a man's head, tightly wrapped in black polythene.
What could it be? he wondered. Obviously it was something the previous occupant had left behind. But what? Probably just some detergent or cleaner or something. It was the most logical thing to find, tucked away under the sink that way. But in that case, why wrap it so tightly? What was the black polythene trying to conceal? Could it be a bomb? No, no, that was ridiculous. Or was it? It would be a pretty smart way to trigger an explosion - just plant the bomb in an empty house, and when the new occupant comes and opens it - BOOM!
No, no, he was being paranoid now. Why would someone want to blow up this non-descript little apartment building. It was all these security announcements, everywhere he went. All right, so it wasn't a bomb. But what then? Something disgusting or macabre, no doubt. Could it be some sort of poison? Or a dead animal perhaps, its decaying carcass. Or something bloody and loathsome left over from a secret midnight mass. Could it be something human? Some body part, perhaps, or even (the thought made him sick) a foetus? No, not that, not that. But perhaps a murder weapon of some sort - a knife, with flakes of blood along its edge, a gun. Something that would incriminate him if he touched it, left his fingerprints on it. How he wished he'd noticed this package earlier.
He touched it gingerly, prepared to withdraw his hand at the slightest threat. Nothing happened. The surface felt hard - metal perhaps, or glass. Nothing soft or decaying, thankfully. Though, of course, whatever it was could be inside a jar. Very cautiously, he lifted the package up, holding it between thumb and forefinger, prepared to drop it at the first hint of danger. There was a slight tinkling sound from the package, but otherwise there seemed no reason for alarm.
He decided to open it. For a moment he considered calling the super and asking him to be present, just in case. Then he thought - what if it is just a jar of detergent or something? I'll look like a complete idiot then. Carefully he pulled apart the knots that the package was tied with. Two purplish oblongs fell out. He started back. What were these things? Insect wings, perhaps? Maybe whatever it was in there was being eaten by dozens of cockroaches. Maybe the whole thing was just swarming with bugs and the minute he opened the package they would come pouring out and climb all over him, seethe up his arms and onto his face, climb into his nostrils and eyes. He would try to brush them off, but there would be too many of them. Stung and bitten by their tiny jaws he would fall to the floor, blinded, and the insects would slowly feast on him and no one would hear his cries.
Or what if some of the insects in there were poisonous? What if this package he was opening was full of live scorpions? What then?
He stared at his hands, so white against the black of the package. He had long, delicate fingers, the fingers of a pianist. Could the package those fingers were unwrapping be Death? Was this how the unsuspecting died? Oh, come on, this was Manhattan, for god's sake, people didn't just leave live scorpions sitting under their kitchen sink. But what if someone had?
He took a deep breath and continued to open the package. The knots were tight, and came apart very slowly. He realised he was holding his breath, afraid of what might burst from the package. Afraid of how it might smell, or what the fumes might contain. Finally the top of the package was open. Trembling with fear, he peered inside.
The package contained two clear vases. One squat and round, like a goldfish bowl, the other tall and narrow. Two plain, harmless little vases, spotlessly clean, with no insects in sight (the oblong pieces, he now realised, were petals). He pulled them out of the package, placed them on the kitchen sill, stared at them. Someone had kept flowers in this house. Someone had left these vases behind because he or she knew how difficult it was when someone gave you flowers and you had nothing to put them in. Someone had wished him flowers too.
He slipped the round vase into the polythene, put it back under the sink. Then he filled the other vase with water and took it into the living room and placed it next to the window. It danced with sunlight. He looked around the room at all the boxes he was still in the process of unpacking, all the clutter of the things he had brought with him, and a great sadness overwhelmed him. There was something missing from his life, something he had forgotten to pack when he moved. He stood by the window, staring down at the empty vase for a while. Then he put on his coat and went out to buy himself some flowers.