Zero. He trudged back to his scooter, his office clothes a mess, his ears ringing from the insults that had been hurled at him like so many rotten tomatoes at a poor performer. It was pitch dark; the streetlights had stopped working a couple of months ago.
No hits today. Zero. He consoled himself: the insults weren't personal, were they? They weren't directed at him, only at his company, and at their marketing tactics perhaps. Only a few people had actually been rude, in any case. But the polite ones were worse: I'm sorry, I'm not interested. He knew that they, too, wanted to be rude, he just knew. Their courtesy was condescension, their sophistication mere sophistry. They mocked him, laughed at him; he heard their chuckles as they bragged to their associates and their families about how many telemarketers called them every day. He wanted people to be blunt, dismissive, offensive; he liked it when people shouted at him, abused him, because he could then claim vengeance by crossing their name out on the List. If they'd been especially nasty he would make the cross thick, grotesque, and disfigure the name beyond recognition, and efface their very identity, and sometimes press so hard on the pen that the paper would tear.
But the politest ones wouldn't say no at all: that meant he had to place their name back at the bottom of the List, and steel himself to suffer the same noncommittal, monosyllabic replies at some indeterminate point in the future. Yes, the politest ones were truly cruel - they kept that precious flicker of anticipation alive in his heart, and let it burn him from within, before extinguishing it with a 'sorry, not interested' a few months down the line.
It was difficult to leave with zero hits on his List – he had persevered well into the night. This Hope was a diabolical creature; it refused to die even when heart and nerve and sinew were long gone. Maybe, he'd been telling himself all day, maybe the next number would turn out lucky. People tend to be cheerful after dinner, he had reminded himself late in the evening. But some had started shouting at him for calling up so late, and he really didn’t want to disturb anyone's sleep or anything.
Almost as hopeless, and yet as hopeful, as asking someone if they love you.