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Apples & Ripov/2
by Albert Russo

There was a constant flow of people in and out of the lobby so that Ripov's presence there remained unnoticed (or, I should say, perfectly warranted). Finally, he grabbed a Golden Delicious, rolled it against his trousers and let it slip into the pocket of his jacket, covering the bulge by drumming his fingers over it in an impatient, business-like fashion. Between a call and an announcement, the receptionist addressed Ripov. “Whom did you wish to see, sir?” Instead of answering, the would-be client stretched out his arm and pensively glanced at his watch, signifying that he was late, thereafter gesturing that he'd come back some other time. As he swung the door behind him, Ripov heard the receptionist's last words: “Your name. sir?”

Two days later at about the same hour, Ripov was sitting in the I.O.U. lobby, this time next to the basket of Granny Smiths. After a moment's hesitation, he selected an apple, felt its firmness, then munched at it as naturally as he could, feigning not to mind the bustle around him. When his turn came to be announced (by then he'd eaten half of his Granny Smith) Ripov stood up, gallantly let a lady client go to the desk before him and, nodding his head towards the lobby's futuristic clock, left the premises.

This went on for a couple of weeks. And though by now the receptionist recognized Ripov, smiling at him upon his arrival, she was obviously too busy to run after the now familiar stranger as the latter inevitably pointed at his watch. Or thus thought Ripov. Until it happened that, suddenly, and though by magic, the lobby emptied itself, leaving him alone with the receptionist. The sweet taste of the Golden Delicious soured in his palate.

With a sigh of relief the girl said, “At long last! How many months has it been now? I was afraid you'd lose patience. You wouldn't imagine the nights I spent thinking you'd give up on me. The subtle pretext of having to leave when it came to your turn. Oh, darling, we don't even know each other's name.” Tears of laughter filled the girl's eyes as she added: “And the way you kept munching at those silly apples!”

'Silly apples ... silly apples...' The phrase bounced up and down Ripov's throat like a puppet's hiccough as he scampered away through the streets of his neighborhood.