“You said the ship in port is the safer one
But it’s not the reason it was made.
But I have always stayed in place
Under that old illusion that it’s safe”
It was a morning like any other; waking up early on a Monday, putting on my suit and grabbing a quick coffee at the shop on the other side of the road. My usual routine. We, humans, love routine, don’t we? Feels safe. Like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. Unfortunately, routine only stays routine if it stays undisturbed. Nevertheless, that day, the universe had other plans for me.
I had just received my order and was about to head out of the door when my phone rang unexpectedly, I was distracted looking at the caller ID. In a matter of seconds, I opened the door and collided with a man with full force, crushing my cup into his body, pouring its contents all over his clothes. The phone was no longer my concern; my attention was now diverted to the huge coffee stain. I should have paid more attention, I said repeatedly. I felt bad, so I insisted that I should get the man’s shirt cleaned. He refused my offer several times until I made my case non-negotiable. My apartment was just across the street, I told him. That was the least I could do.
It wasn’t until we crossed the street that I noticed the man was carrying a travel bag. I led him through the lobby and into the elevator. I gave notice to the doorman to send up one of the maids to pick up something for dry cleaning. I pressed button no. 28 and broke the silence.
“My name is Stefan by the way,” I said as I reached out my hand. “Sorry again for the inconvenience. Don’t worry though I can get it cleaned for you in no time.”
“My name is Oliver, and it’s alright really. You didn’t have to do this at all. I could have just changed into a new shirt and went to the next launderette,” he answered in a heavy British accent.
“Launderette?” I asked. “Oh, you mean a Laundromat.”
“Yes, that one!” he smiled.
“Well, I insist,” I replied.
The elevator doors opened, which also happened to be the private entrance to my apartment, and we walked through the foyer. I noticed there was a sudden change in his expression as if he had just remembered something. “Never been in a penthouse before?” I asked.
“No, I’ve been in one before,” he said. “Used to have one very similar to this one.”
“Oh?” I said, hiding my astonishment.
“You sound surprised,” he joked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I laughed. “Just didn’t take you for a guy who did.”
“Yeah well, long story short,” he said, shrugging casually. “It didn’t make me happy, so I looked for one elsewhere.”
I nodded, intrigued by his words.
He then asked for a bathroom where he could change out of his stained clothes. I told him where it was and called the number I had ignored earlier; to postpone the meeting I was already late for. After he changed, the dry cleaning arrived perfectly in time. All that was left to do now was to wait.
“Couple of hours and your clothes should be ready,” I said, moving closer to the elevator. “I apologize, but I need to leave the apartment just for an hour or two, I have an important meeting that I can’t get out of. Feel free to make yourself at home.” He looked a little uncomfortable; being left alone in a stranger’s apartment, but I was in too much of a hurry to think about that.
When I came back, I found him sitting at the same place where I left him.
“I see you made yourself a drink,” I said, pointing to the glass of whiskey on the coffee table.
“Yeah. I hope that’s alright,” he said apologetically, raising the glass and taking a sip.
“So what do you do Oliver?” I asked, pouring myself a drink as well. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I’m a photographer. Freelancer. Just came back from a job in India. That’s why I look so worn out,” he said. I turned around to look at him and noticed that; yes, this man was jet-lagged. Do you ever hear how it is always easier to open up to a stranger than to your friends and family? Well, that was proven right today.
He talked about his aspiring travels throughout several countries. How he encounters so many unexpected things and gets to know many new people along the way. Especially I kept hearing about how this experience has changed his life completely, and that leaving his old life behind was the best decision he had ever made.
And then, all of a sudden he asked me, “So, weird question… Do you have a weird obsession with horses? Why do you have so many paintings of them hanging around your house?”
I laughed out loud at this.
“You could call it an obsession of a sort. I’m very fond of these creatures. The horse in these paintings is mine. I hired an artist to paint him for me,” I said, stroking the back of my head.
“Interesting,” he said. “So, you’re good with horses?”
“You sound surprised,” I said jokingly.
“Didn’t take you for a guy who likes riding horses,” he said, walking over to the minibar to pour himself another drink.
“Yeah, when I was young, my parents were traveling a lot, and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They loved investing in horses and training them. So I spent more time with horses than I ever did with anyone else,” I confessed.
“I can’t help but wonder…” he paused for several seconds, making me think I had to guess what he was about to say next.
“What?” I asked with an unsure smile.
“If you’re truly happy,” he said, immediately noticing that he might’ve crossed a line. He sat down, avoiding eye contact with me. “I mean, look! Out of all the fancy things in this house, your paintings are the only things that have sprung meaning,” he said. “I know. Because for me, it wasn’t painting; it was my camera.”
“You know I mostly answer that question with a yes because that’s what people always expect to hear. I can feel how they never want this illusion to fall apart. That life like this one, if it is ever achieved, has everything,” I answered, surprised at my honesty. At that moment, it felt like a veil was removed before my eyes. It was silly that all it took was a stranger in my living room to make me realize what I have is of no real value at all.
I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea what that meant for me. However, I always knew that this was never the path I would have chosen for myself. It was chosen for me; by my parents.
He must have noticed the inner battle raging inside me because he suddenly felt the need to excuse himself. He wanted to grab a bite, he said. He was hungry, jet-lagged, and needed to get some food into his system. He felt like an intruder; like he had just blurred all my lines and I couldn’t see my path any longer. However, he didn’t, all he did was remind me of what was important; like removing the foggy surface from a mirror to see the true reflection again. Who cares about another promotion?
He was almost about to step into the elevator when I stopped him and asked, “How did you do it?”
“Do what?” he said.
“Break free,” I said, standing up.
“I just packed my things one day and never looked back,” he said casually.
We stood there for several minutes without saying anything until I started laughing.
“Why don’t I come with you…I know a great pizza place around here,” I said.
“Good, because I’m starving!” he answered.
“Now that we know it’s that we always knew
Farewell to the chains we were born into”
(Inspired by the song The Ship in Port by Radical Face)