10 Apr Who are you?
One day, Sinclair got up, as he always did, at seven o’clock in the morning. Like he did each day, he shuffled to the bathroom in his slippers and, after his shower, shaved and put on cologne. He dressed in fashionable clothes, as was his custom, and walked downstairs to check his mail. And that was when he got his first shock of the day: there were no letters for him!
Over the course of recent years, the amount of mail he received had increased quite a bit and was an important part of his contact with the world. Slightly irked by the news that there was no news, he rushed through his breakfast of milk and cereal— recommended by doctors!—and left his house. Everything was just like always: the same old cars drove up and down the same old streets and made the same sounds in the city, which grumbled as it always did. As he crossed the square, he nearly ran into Professor Exer, an old acquaintance with whom he often spent long hours conversing about useless metaphysical concepts. He waved at him in greeting, but the professor seemed not to recognize him. So he called him by name, but the man had already walked off, and Sinclair assumed that he hadn’t heard him. The day had started off badly and seemed to be going downhill, with the impending likelihood of tedium plaguing his soul. He decided to return home, do some reading and research, and to await the letters that would surely arrive in increased number to make up for those that had not arrived already. That night the man slept poorly and woke up very early. He went downstairs, and as he was having breakfast he began to peer out the window, awaiting the postman’s arrival. Finally he saw the man turn thecorner and his heart skipped a beat. But the postman passed right by his house without stopping.
Sinclair went out to call him back—in order to make sure there were no letters for him—and the postman assured him that he had nothing in his bag for that address, and also confirmed that there was no postal strike nor any problem with mail distribution in the city. Far from calming him down, this worried him all the more. Something was going on and he had to find out what it was. So he put on a jacket and headed over to his friend Mario’s house. The moment he arrived he asked the butler to announce his presence and waited in the sitting room for his friend, who appeared without delay. Sinclair walked over to meet the man of the house with his arms spread wide, but the man simply said, “I’m sorry, sir, but do we know each other?” Sinclair assumed it was a joke and gave a fake laugh, then pressured his friend to bring him a drink. The effect of that, however, was terrible: the owner of the house called his butler and ordered him to kick the stranger out, and faced with this situation, the “stranger” lost all control and began to shout and hurl insults, giving the well-built servant all the more reason to shove him violently out onto the street. On his way back home, he bumped into several other neighbors who ignored him or acted as if he were a stranger.
By this point a conviction had planted itself in his mind: there was some sort of plot against him; he must have committed some offense against society, given that suddenly society was rejecting him as intensely as it had valued him a few hours earlier. Nevertheless, no matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn’t recall anything he might have done to cause offense, and certainly not anything that might involve the whole city! For two more days, he stayed home awaiting the mail that never arrived, or hoping for a visit by one of his friends who—perplexed at his absence—might knock on the door to find out what was going on. But no one stopped in, not a single person came to his house. The cleaning lady failed to turn up, without having notified him of her absence, and the telephone stopped working. So on the fifth night, tipsy after one too many drinks, Sinclair decided to go to the bar where he always met up with his friends to chat about this and that. As soon as he walked in, he saw them sitting, as ever, at the corner table they always chose. Fat Hans was telling the same old joke he always did, and everyone was laughing at it, as they always did. Sinclair pulled up a chair and took a seat.
Immediately there was a deathly silence that made clear how unwelcome his presence was to everyone else. Sinclair could take it no more. “Would you kindly tell me what problem you have with me? If I did something to annoy you, tell me now and let’s be finished with this, but don’t treat me like this, because it’s driving me crazy.” The others glanced at each other in a mixture of amusement and irritation. One of them put his index finger to his temple and spun it around, diagnosing the newcomer’s mental health. Sinclair asked for an explanation yet again, and then begged for it, and finally threw himself to the floor imploring them to explain why they were behaving that way. Only one man was willing to address him. “Sir, none of us has ever met you, so of course you didn’t do anything to us.
In fact, we don’t even know who you are.” Tears began to stream down his face and he left the bar, his spirits lower than low as he dragged himself back home. His feet seemed to weigh a ton each. Once back in his bedroom, he threw himself down onto the bed. Without knowing how or why, he’d become a stranger, an absence. He was no longer in his correspondents’ address books or the minds of his acquaintances, and he certainly had no place in his friends’ affection. A thought popped into his mind and began to hammer away at him. It was the same question that the others had asked him and that he was now starting to wonder himself: Who are you? Did he really know the answer to that question? He knew his name, his address, his shirt size, his national ID number and a few other personal details that “defined” him to other people. But aside from that, who was he really, truly, deeply, inside? Were his preferences and attitudes, inclinations and ideas truly his? Or were they, like so many other things, an attempt not to disappoint those who expected him to be the man he had once been? He began to see one thing clearly: being anonymous freed him from having to act in any predetermined way. No matter what he did, nothing would change in the way others reacted to him. For the first time in several days, he realized something that made him feel calmer: this new status allowed him to act however he wanted to without seeking the world’s approval. He took a deep breath and felt the air entering his lungs as if for the first time. He realized that blood was coursing through his veins, felt the beating of his heart, and was surprised to note that, for the first time,
HE WASN’T SCARED.
Now that he’d realized that he was alone, that he had always been alone, that all he had was himself, he could laugh or he could cry. But he’d do it for himself, not for others’ sake. Now he finally realized:
HIS OWN EXISTENCE WAS NOT DEPENDENT UPON OTHERS.
He’d realized that it took being alone for him to be able to find himself. He fell into a deep and peaceful slumber and had beautiful dreams. He awoke at ten o’clock in the morning to a ray of sun shining through the window and into his bedroom at that hour, casting a marvelous light on the entire room. Without taking a bath, he went downstairs humming a song he’d never heard before and discovered something under his door: a huge number of letters addressed to him. The cleaning lady was in the kitchen and greeted him as if nothing had happened. And that night at the bar, it seemed no one remembered the bizarre evening of folly that had so recently occurred. Or at least no one deigned to comment on it. Everything had gone back to normal, except for him,luckily.
He, who would never again have to beg anyone to see him in order to know he was alive; he, who would never again have to ask the outside world to define him; he, who would never again feel afraid of rejection. Everything was the same, except for that man who would never forget who he was.
LET ME TELL YOU A STORY