I was looking out of the window, listening to the rattle of the wheels. The sun was shining through the compartment window as the landscape of the Province was passing by. I closed my eyes and remembered the reason of my journey. I wanted to take a look at the place where I had fallen in love. Just one last look.
"Isn’t this a wonderful day?" I heard a voice next to me. I turned towards the voice and saw an elderly lady, who looked at me reassuringly. I didn’t have the heart not to smile back at her.
"Yes, you are right, it is a very lovely day," I answered.
"I am especially glad about it, for it will be my last day," she mused.
"Your last day in the Province?" I asked politely.
"No, the last day of my life," she answered with a mild smile, which showed neither mourning nor fear.
"You must be jesting, this will certainly not be the last day of your life!"
"Oh, but I hope so! If I will be still alive after a fall like the one I am planning to perform, it would not be funny." I was astonished hearing a laughter in her voice.
"And you are sure that you are not fooling me?" I cocked my head to one side and studied her. She was a woman in her late seventies, I guessed. Her lively eyes were surrounded by tiny wrinkles showing that she had laughed a lot in her life. I couldn’t imagine that a woman as full of life as she was would think about dying.
"You seem to be enjoying life so much, you shouldn’t think about dying. Look at me. Within me there is less life than within you. I am doing this journey for a similar reason. I want to see the place where I fell in love and then finish as well."
Her voice was deep and warm when she replied: "Now you must be jesting! A lover’s grief is no reason to die. You must hope and not lose heart. Fight for your happiness and, believe me, I know what I am talking about. There will always be a reason to go on. You haven’t seen all there is to see, have you?"
"But if you think so, how can you think about suicide?!"
"It’s not about what I have lost, it is about what I have had," she replied. "I have loved, lost, loved again and won, but lost again. I have a wonderful son, who wasn’t planned, but therefore so much more wonderful. God sent him, because I never thought that I would be ready for a child. But I was. I raised him more or less alone, but I had great people around me, who were and still are worthy of my love. I was blessed to meet many wonderful men and women in my life." Her voice had become lower and sounded satisfied and full of tenderness.
"Was there a special one?" I asked. I had become curious.
"There was one indeed. He was from tip to toe special and the most complicated man I have ever met, but I loved every facet, every edge, and when I was suffering of it, I knew that it was exactly what I loved. He never hit me, but hurt me just the more. I cannot count the times I cried because of him, but this is a part of it all."
"But if he has hurt you so many times why haven’t you left him?"
"Oh, we went different ways a lot of times, but we were neither meant to be together nor were we meant to be apart. I think that was what hurt us most. And still, if I had to live it all again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Every time I cried, I knew that the only reason I suffered so much was the fact that I loved him so much. He often hurt me deliberately in order to protect me from greater pain or because he was too afraid himself. Life often scares you and you do things that are completely irrational, even though they seem so logical in the spur of the moment."
"Have you never thought about setting an end to it? Just to leave all the pain behind?"
"I have, but I have always found a reason to hope, be hope for him or for life itself. I became an artist and created things. I wrote books and painted. But the greatest piece of art was my son, to whom I dedicated most of my time. He grew up to be a wonderful man and raised his children to be wonderful people. I am very proud of him." She smiled.
"And now you just want to leave all those wonderful people behind? They will mourn for you a lot I think. Do you really want to hurt them that much?" I was wondering a lot about this woman. She seemed to love her family so much and still she wanted to kill herself. It just didn’t make sense.
"They will understand," she sighed, "they will certainly understand. But tell me, what makes you so sad that you cannot bear life anymore?"
"He doesn’t want to talk to me anymore, he said he wants to be free." This explanation seeme d to be sufficient, since I didn’t feel the necessity to explain to her how it felt to love and to get hurt that badly. The irrationality of pain.
"Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, says Janis Joplin," the old lady mused. "Moreover it reminds me of a book. It is called ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand, and one of the characters, a young woman, Dominique, who is convinced that she can only be free for as long as she has nothing and noone she loves."
"I know the book. But in the end Dominique marries Roark as an ultimate celebration of her freedom," I replied.
"Yes, that was a long journey of a several hundred pages, wasn’t it?" she chuckled good-humouredly. "Sometimes the path is as important as the end, for one needs all this in order to understand. It is the same in mathematics, one has to look at the mathematical process in order to fully understand the result. It’s the same in life: one has to make mistakes and gather experiences. It’s just silly if you don’t look around and analyse, if you don’t learn of it and think about it. Just let it happen and become the wonderful woman I know you will become, if you just let it happen."
"Thank you," I looked at her for a long time. "I am very happy I met you. Do I have a chance to make you change your plans as well?"
"No, child, you cannot." Her smile had an odd quality, deep and full of tenderness and a trace of sadness that I hadn’t noticed before.
"Would you please tell me why you want to kill yourself?" I asked her.
"Killing is such an ugly word. I want to slide into my death. Indeed I plan to jump from one of the highest cliffs and set an end to my life," she explained slowly and very politely as if she were talking about a planned journey. "My life is going to end here. I have lived it all, I have experienced everything I wanted to experience, I have seen everything I wanted to see, there’s nothing left to do."
"But you said there’s always hope!"
"Yes, but I have spoken of my past and your future. It is not my future, I don’t have a future anymore, or I should rather say, I don’t want any."
"Why not?" I asked her in disbelief.
"Because it has nothing good in store." She said it matter-of-factly, as if it were the utmost irrefutable fact in the world.
"May I ask, what makes you so sure about it?" I asked carefully.
"I have thousands of beautiful remembrances, I have people who I know so well and love even more. I want to keep them and if I go on living now I will lose them unavoidably," I looked up and I saw the deep pain in her face, a tear was slipping down her cheek. I handed her a tissue, which she refused.
"I enjoy the feeling of tears on my face, child. The people who I leave behind have all the time in the world to mourn, to remember, but I, I just have a couple of hours left for mourning for those who I have to lose. I want those tears, they are important and necessary, they show me I am still alive. Still... Don’t go thinking I wouldn’t like to go on living. I would love to be with the people I love, to enjoy them, to watch my great-grand-children grow up.... But this will just not be possible. For this very reason I have to cry now as long as I still can, I have to cry over all those things which I would have so much loved to see and never will. I miss them already. It was such a wonderful life and I am sad that it will be over."
"But why? Why don’t you just do all those things you wish to do?"
"Well, my doctor has diagnosed that I suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It is still in the initial stage, I have problems with recalling numbers, forgetting small things, nothing serious, but this is just the start. Soon I won’t be able to recognise my best friends and my grand-children and I will lose all those wonderful memories that are so dear to me. I don’t want that. And what I dread even more are the few moments when I do remember and I see what’s happening to me and realise the loss. This makes me afraid. And therefore I want to end my life now, as long as there’s nothing to regret. I want to take all the memories with me and when I fall and my life goes flashing before my eyes I want to look at beautiful pictures. As I said I had a wonderful life with everything worth living for and I refuse to forget it!" Her voice drained off.
"But don’t you think that suicide is a sin?" I asked.
"Oh I guess you think that only because I am old I must be a fan of the bible. I am not. I believe in God, but I also believe in free will. It would have been a sin to give up too early, as long as there were still things that I had to do, but now that I have done all there was to do I have earned it to leave with dignity. No God could bear me a grudge for that, could he?"
She grinned and I couldn’t help but laugh.
"You are right. You have had a good life and decided to leave it with that. I admire your courage."
"Now, I just think how bad it will be when I cannot feed myself, if I mix up my grand-son with my son and start nagging about the author of the books which I had written myself. To see that through would be courageous. But I prefer to leave this world before I have to do something that really demands courage." She smiled half-heartedly and I wondered with how much humour she took all that. She was really admirable.
"I want you to promise me that you will be courageous. Take all your courage and face life. It is so much worth living, if you just have the heart to take it." She placed her wrinkly hand on mine and pressed lightly. "If you promise me that it would make me very happy."
"I promise. Thank you, you gave me a lot of courage," I replied and returned the pressure of her hand.
I am glad that I met you. Encouraging you was the last meaningful thing I could do on this Earth. You don’t know how much this means to me." She smiled warm-heartedly.
"I know that you won’t try to keep me from jumping and therefore I will tell you the location of that particular cliff from which I would like to slide into my death. I allow you to follow me, if you like, but it shouldn’t be too soon. It is a cliff south of Cassis, it is the highest cliff in the region."
"I know it I have been there with my parents a couple of years ago," I interrupted.
"Yes, I have seen it with my parents as well for the first time. At that time I decided that this should be the place where I would like to die." She smiled mysteriously.
"I had similar thoughts when I stood there," I mused.
"I would like you to keep this thought."
"Well, there are a lot of situations in life, in which you doubt the sense of living and would rather give up. When it comes to that point I would like you to get on a train and come here. If you have spent hours in a train and watched the beautiful landscape and you still think that life is not worth living then you may jump for Christ’s sake. But what I see here is a girl with fighting spirit and energy of life, who will get somewhere. You will cherish the value of life, I know that much. I know that you just have to see something beautiful to be remembered of the beauty life holds." She smiled at me and I knew she was right. Life was wonderful.
"Don’t thank me, girl. Live your life and do your best. Make it worth living. I know you can." She pressed my hand. "It is time for me to go. The next station is Cassis."
As she got up, without any piece of luggage, I became aware that all this was real. I would never see her again, that wonderful woman, who had given me so much courage. And I didn’t even know her name.
"Wait a minute, I haven’t introduced myself!" I shouted.
"That is not necessary," she smiled.
"Oh yes, it is! My name is Angela-Bianca. My friends call me Angel or Bianca."
"Fine Bianca, live and be happy, even when you are not. Enjoy every facet of your life, for it is your life." She turned around.
"What’s your name?" I shouted after her. She turned to me for the last time and smiled as she said," My name is Angela-Bianca. My friends call me Angel or Bianca."