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Vita Nova

Vitam impendere vero


There is no love of life without despair of life


Her apartment was on the twenty-third floor of a luxurious suite the kind in which top executives stay. She was a foreign executive, to be sure, and the chauffeur waiting outside by the car made sure that there was no confusion. I was a bit anxious on my way to her door. I'm never used to going to people's, even friends' houses and so I didn't know how to play the guest as I am usually the host. I heard something playing inside so I knew it was the right door. It was an upbeat song. The door reeked with happiness. She is only twenty-six.

She was putting something in the toaster when she opened the door for her guest. She did not show the weary signs of going through a long day of work and a three-hour flight. The cold rushed from inside to greet me. We gave each other a hug and the usual pleasantries. She quickly returned to what she was heating as I wandered around her apartment gushing. I walked into the dining area where there was a round table already set for two. I was relieved that there were wine glasses. The brown sofas right across it were plump and seemed rarely used. Sliding doors revealed the bedroom which had a bed good for at least three people. Scattered on desks and shelves were pictures of family and friends and trips to distant lands I didn't imagine existed. So much has happened after four years. They were there to remind her of the home she has temporarily left and the people she will rarely see in the next two years. We need such assurances as foreign places rob you of who you are. I felt colder but I thought it was only polite to take my jacket off and so I hung it on the chair by the unassuming desk. This was were her brilliance shone, her thoughts written down, her projects planned. She kept her sweater on, taking food out of the take-out plastic containers and onto black plates. She was in a hurry and nervous. I also didn't know what to say after I had praised the view which revealed Bangkok and the humid caress of its nights.

Before I even sat down she was already preparing herself a salmon bagel with cream cheese. The duck, ribs, pasta and potatoes all came from the French cafe she would usually go to downstairs. She said she has tried everything on the menu. I poured the white wine though because of her headache she said she was only going to take one glass. Bottles were kept in case a guest looks for one even if she doesn't usually drink it. She has changed, according to her. And that always comes when you have gotten used to a new life, like good wine settling before you can drink it. No more parents to ask you when you are coming home on a Monday night. She's tried the different bars and has been approached by men a couple of times. But she refuses; she says she's not that kind of girl. It's true. I barely touched the food though I said the duck was tasty. I had some more wine. She told me about her boss, about how brilliant he is and how she tries to work harder for him. I told her it's only now that she has really been challenged. All the rest, including how she got to the top, were all play and timing. She was secretive about her present projects but I
also didn't want to know about it. I wouldn't be able to understand anyway. There were a lot more that I couldn't understand. So I imagined and pretended. I asked all the questions I thought would engage her. I sounded dumb. But she answered them politely and kept on talking. The wine was getting warmer but I was getting used to it.

She asked about my last exacerbation and how it happened. And so I told her it basically happened four months ago around the time she left. She said she didn't notice it. It was no use. There's no point in a crazy man trying to prove he's crazy. What seemed clear in your head and a burden for your heart sounds funny when you hear yourself speak about it. So she imagined and pretended as well. It was a game between two people who once saw love in each other but now are worlds apart. Time divides. It is that distance that changes you. So she told me that I should take my life seriously. And I agreed. How could I not? But I told her that nothing is taken more seriously than life. She said that I've had an easy life. I know. So she asked me that fatal question, what makes me get up in bed from the morning. The wine was getting to my head. I poured another glass and skipped dinner altogether to try the cake she also got from the cafe. She has replaced the food in the plastic containers and put them inside the refrigerator. How to answer? But I felt I had to say something. I told her that my work gets me out of bed. It was true. But I have no work. That is also true. So I invented a story that I really want to go back to work, to teach once again. Now I know why we make up lies. I knew that all I wanted was to do philosophy. But put up against a friend whose crazy achievement has given her all of what I was seeing, that truth sounds absurd. She now said that I should't take myself too seriously. I didn't know what to do anymore. I heard myself sound like a student unaware of the world. And that truth slapped me. I really did not know about the world and its wide-eyed mornings and its shameless days. It's not the truth which matters. The certainty that the heart feels, the gentle calm that the mind aspires and the absurd longing of the soul is what counts. But she knew that too.

And so she told me to never run away because you'd be running the rest of your life. She said she went through that hell as well and she came back alive and ready for more. It was a rather long story and I had difficulty following it. But I said I agreed with her totally. I said that it was because she was a fighter, and that she was smart. It was not about that. She had retained that honesty throughout the years. What was not returned to her she has sought and found in a world which rewarded her for her clarity and honesty. They get their share after waiting. And even if she tells these stories as if it was only about money, you know that she took it to heart and she speaks a truth that she had to fight for and learn with a difficulty that also bears a weight I could finally imagine and feel. It cannot be too different. But I finally saw that it was me who was living in what had happened and its injustices. I haven't slept the sleep of the just. How could have I done such a thing? But she has found herself already after losing herself. Now it was me coming for a visit in a foreign land where she gambles anew what she had carefully built up by hand piece by piece after all these years. The world can never be too cruel. It takes away so as to give anew. That is why I couldn't speak about anything else much more have a plan in hand. How to answer the question what makes you get up from bed in the morning? She had hers though I could only imagine it. I had none -- imagined or real.

Before her driver took me back to my hotel, she told me one thing: you are faster than you think. I left her alone in the apartment of her dreams. It can't be so bad. The difficulty is in the beginning and you get through the sleepless nights. I saw the blurring streets given a new light. I must change my life.


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