who’s collecting what?
They never closed the door when they had these late-at-night discussions at the office. Sometimes I would sit and listen, curious who this other man might be, visiting my boss every so often. He was talking about a woman he’d met, in her 40’s, quite short. The three of us were the only people on the floor since we didn’t have security then. My boss who was usually the one asking for advice, called me to bring two clean glasses, then leave and close the door. I am not a very important person–it’s written all over my face–so unimportant that nobody would feel threatened by me. I am like an ant, a good ant. I even have the face of a good ant. But, of course, I am not that good. I like eavesdropping. That night, however, I would not have stayed to eavesdrop, even though my boss telling me to close the door almost invited it. I was looking forward to a blind date, hadn’t this stranger mentioned the word “unimportant” in reference to Her, I would perhaps now be married to my twin flame.
«She is completely unimportant,» he said, «she is pretty but her beauty is unimportant, she lives in the same tenement in the most unimportant flat, her clothes are so pathetic and out of fashion you think unimportant people made them on the most unimportant day of their lives.» I simply had to stay and find a way to hear everything he was saying that night. I used my “unimportance” and told my boss after I brought the glasses and the whisky that I had not yet finished my work. Just as I thought, he didn’t insist on my leaving and he had already forgotten about any misgiving concerning the half-open door. ‘The good ant will be out there working his ass off and I may have to send him for cigarettes later,’ I am positive this is what he thought. I am always positive about my boss.
I went back to my desk looking tired and underpaid. My boss loves seeing me like that. I am an accountant now, I was an assistant when all this happened. The only difference is that I am more tired, so yes, still underpaid. I know many people have very weird habits. I have only one, eavesdropping as I mentioned; it’s the easiest thing in the world so long as you are not a bit deaf. And it is not too immoral either, if you don’t gossip or reveal personal information to third parties for money. I collect conversations, I remember them all, you can’t imagine the things I have heard almost everywhere. I use these conversations for my own pleasure. I don’t care what happens next, I never wonder what the outcome of the stories was, but what really impresses me is how often people lie. And this conversation is one of my top five. You might be wondering why I wanted to hear him out. One day he said to my boss who is a publisher that he would never trust him with his novels. I was shocked, I mean he was a real writer! Never heard him mention the titles of his books, and nobody in the company recognized his face. We were calling him Mr. Mysterious. After this conversation he visited my boss a couple of times and then he disappeared. He never came back; I never learned his name, although one day I almost asked my boss who he was. Anyway, they started talking again, sipping whisky, and smoking.
He said it’s the way she does things, the way she makes hand signs to get a taxi, the way she places her shopping bags in the elevator, she is moving the universe. My boss told him that he is in love. He didn’t reply immediately, there was a long pause. He must have been looking at that horrible vase my boss has on the floor right beside his desk as he finally said: “No, I am not. I wish it was that. I wish she was the one, but she is not. I managed to learn a few things about her and don’t ask me how, I break into her flat sometimes.” “Are you mad?” my boss said. “I need more whisky,” he replied. “Well my middle name is not Sanity,” he continued, “and you know that. It’s not Insanity either, but I am beginning to wonder. Maybe it is Confusion.”
Yep, that man was a writer, and probably a good one. I was 100% sure after his last remark. I got very curious and listened carefully as he started whispering: “I found out she has bought something the other day. She used to sing or paint or both. She takes anti-depressants. I have checked her drawers, the other day she burned letters, it has become extremely exciting. The more she does such things her Way becomes my inspiration. I can see the universe in the way she slowly destroys her life, I began to understand how she could change her Way a little without disturbing the universe she creates for me, if she hadn’t moved her right arm but the left, if she had only just bent her right knee a bit more when picking up her letters the other day, she would be able to stop now before it is too late for her, for me.” “For Heaven’s sake,” my boss said, “stop that you maniac!”
“She has bought rope,” he replied angrily, “rope!”
I wore my Walkman in an instant and started nodding my head to the music as soon as I heard my boss tiptoeing towards the open door. He was about to check on me. I had files spread on my desk, grabbed a pencil and started taking notes on some of the papers. He called me twice and I acted as if I hadn’t heard anything. The third time he called I turned and gave him a guilty look, of course not for eavesdropping but because I was using my Walkman again at work. Pleased that he “scared the shit out of me” he went back to his office without saying anything, but unfortunately this time he closed the door himself.
Now I had two choices. I could knock on his door and ask if he wanted something or stand behind the door and risk being caught in the act. I have already done both many times, this time I really wanted to know at least what this man would say next as discretely as possible, so before my boss had sat down I knocked on the door ‘timidly’ and he said “Come in” with a stern voice. Things took their natural course; he scolded me, told me to bring some pistachios and leave, and of course I left the door half closed in a proud underpaid manner. Now, back to eavesdropping:
“No,” Mr. Mysterious replied.
“So, what do you have in mind, she has bought rope, and you are thinking she may commit suicide I suppose and I really have to go home early tonight so cut to the chase.”
“I have nothing in mind,” he said, “or perhaps I have the same thing I had from the beginning.”
“Which is?” my boss asked.
“Her way to the end,” he responded.
“Now I am really starting to worry mate,” — well it was about time I thought – “what do you mean Her way to the end?”
“I hope I will be there to watch,” he said and his voice wasn’t sad or worried about this remarkably unimportant woman whose way was remarkably moving the universe or his universe, and to my surprise I thought his voice was anxious in a sinister way.
He got up and spoke quite hastily and passionately. “I must leave,” he said, “she gave somebody her vinyl records earlier today. I think it’s going to happen soon. Maybe it has already happened, and I missed …”
“The chance of saving her?”
“Look,” he replied, “my mother hanged herself as you know when I was thirteen, I was the one who found her I was always wondering what a person looks like when he puts the rope around his neck, what if my mother regretted it when she kicked the chair from under her feet and more importantly what if there was no regret at all, what if there was only determination and agony or even serene pleasure?”
“So, let’s say you go back and you manage to sneak in her flat and she is about to hang herself, what will you do? Will you stop her?”
He was now in front of me and I looked at him, my boss had followed him, I thought for a minute that Mr. Mysterious had understood I was eavesdropping, without turning he said as if it was the most natural thing in the world: “Of course, goodnight!”
“I want you to call me first thing in the morning! Okay? And you! What are you looking at you lazy moron?”
– Well that’s my story Victor. How much?
– Wait, I have something to add.
– Tell me.
“Those pistachios were mine.”
-Cool story man, good, 50 bucks.