It’s a drizzly October morning and I’m walking to work from the Bedford Street bus stop. In my right hand I’m carrying a sweet milky tea from the kiosk. Crossing the busy street at Wellington Place to get onto Donegall Square North I half-run the last yard, and the tea slops through the hole in the plastic lid and down my woollen overcoat. Under my breath I curse the mess, and rub it away with my sleeve. No damage done. I continue on my way, weaving through the rush-hour mob on the slick grey pavement, trying to avoid another spill.
At the top of Donegall Place the crowd has thinned out, and I am crossing at the lights when a cyclist nearly runs into me. He is engrossed — muttering to himself through small mean lips, which are pursed into a tight fishy pout — but he sees me in the nick of time and stops. He is thin, hatchet-faced, with lank grey-blonde hair, and is wearing a well-used tracksuit. I get the sense that soon he will greet the doorman with a platitude, enter the panelled lift, and disappear into a top-floor executive suite. He will emerge after a short time, showered, scented and groomed, wearing a bespoke suit, for Sumatran coffee and his first meeting of the day. He’s riding an expensive-looking mountain bike, but I don’t pay it much attention because now his cold blue eyes are surgically inquisitioning me. He doesn’t need to say anything: the red light at which he should have stopped is of no consequence, and I am plainly at fault. I stand transfixed for a moment, warm tea dripping from my hand. Then it’s over. I am only an inconvenience, not the real target of his mission.