The great thing about going on a trip is the return. Coming home, physically or figuratively, is the theme of six short stories by Dutch writers. This week: Marja Pruis.
Everyone wants to go home. You would almost forget, until you end up in line in the departure hall. There is movement in it, but it is barely visible to the naked eye. That naked eye wanders to the fellow man – it sucks itself to it. If you look at the human body long enough, you will get leniency.
Boss above boss. Elias Canetti saw every wretch as a survivor, he is the product of the sperm cell that left 200 million of its peers behind. Another great thinker told me not to be able to look at groups of people, cyclists, commuters, without thinking: they all have to die too. I myself am a little closer to the sperm cell: all those people were also born at some point. Been his baby, smiled at by a mother.
The man with three suitcases and a New Zealand-shaped wine stain on his cheek (or is it Japan?).
The woman in tight panther print who sovereignly ignores her three rambunctious children (her nails, I want that color).
The girl with the plastic folder in which she put her passport and ticket. She holds it like a squirrel on her stomach, with two hands. I think she eats very neatly, with two nibbling legs (at night she draws wild animals, her attic window clatters softly).
‘Man is more afraid of nothing than of being touched by something unknown,’ wrote Canetti. ‘Only in the crowd can people be released from this fear of touch. To this end, a dense mass is needed, in which body is pressed against body.’
The woman right behind me dragging something elongated and heavy – it’s big and bulky, it just rolled into a carpet (her husband, she brainwashed him the night before).
She’s saying something, I suddenly realize. The husband slayer says something to me.
It is a lesson that shocks me every day: that my body is also seen. At a shooting game, my son explained, “If you can see something, you can hit it.” “But isn’t she you too?” I said. In virtual reality, too, the mother lies awake with her babies.
“Excuse me?” I say. I don’t understand her, it’s our punishment. The Tower of Babel was child’s play compared to the pride with which we have usurped the skies. Thinking we can cross two oceans in less than seven hours. It’s a human right, said one hot holiday traveler on the news.
Of course everyone on the news has seen the images of airports. The rows, the masses. But they thought: those are the others. We got dressed this morning, brushed our hair, packed our suitcase, let us say goodbye. Have a nice trip and stay home!
What could possibly happen now? Fixated on the closing time of the gate, even death has shrunk to an abstraction. (Be glad that you have a passport, that you have a house that is still standing, with cats in it. I do the whole prayer, serenity now.)
So that woman, behind me in line. I look at her uncomprehendingly.
“What time is your flight?” she asks.
I hear her. I know what she’s asking me with that crazy package from her. She wants me to let her go ahead. She has a flight to catch. And how about me, I want to say, big wretch that I am.
Next week: Pieter Waterdrinker.