Mr. Theodor has been, to this day, one of the most delightfully eccentric men I have met. His name, though not Theodor, was equally eccentric that I found myself wondering whether his parents had truly known him that well since birth or whether he was trying to live up to his name. He was deliciously outré with his abandoned cigarettes and his wondering eyes as well as his four orders of aged brandy which, as he informed me, should never be taken with ice. He looked wonderfully out of place; he was the sort of person you would expect to find roaming along the Seine, probably spending his evenings drinking Absinthe or French 95. We often exchanged glances from our tables as people often do with wild animals at the zoo; we looked at each other with prolonged curiosity, persistently, trying to figure out unspoken clues that would direct us in forming a perception of one another.
I would look at his coal black fingers, his rolled up sleeves, his jacket carelessly hanging from the chair. He would glance at my disarranged notes which occupied a table for four. I thought that perhaps I would have felt more like talking to him, had I not already finished a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Ah,” he said as one would have said Eureka, “I can tell a writer when I see one,” added the stranger after a while, while looking at his glass. He pronounced his words carefully, delicately, which easily gave away an English southern upbringing. At that point, I was thinking that I could perhaps go for a walk along the promenade, grab a book, watch the sunset or something of the kind, but instead I looked up.
I looked – or more like stared at him — partly disappointed, thinking that if he had intended to talk, he must have surely been capable of making a more intelligent observation than pointing out what was already quite obvious. I particularly focused at his thick eyebrows, his expressive blue eyes, his distant glance. Altogether, I was looking for things that could potentially contribute to my already established image of him which at that point consisted of a sense of loneliness as well as contentment in that loneliness.
“Hardly a writer. I am more of a reader,” I told him stolidly, smiling absently. It was a phrase I used too often for my own good that now whenever I repeated it, it sounded as a well-practised catchphrase.
“Well, I am a writer,” he told me and I, once again, felt compelled to smile, but smile broadly, red cheeks on full show, skin gathering inwards towards the nose. This time, I took a better, more deliberate look at him, pondering whether he was published, trying to match the face with all the random faces I had seen at Waterstones. If he were, what was he doing in Aberystwyth? There were two options: I could either tell him Oh, I have totally heard of you! when, in fact, up until that moment I had not known that man existed or face the full consequences of admitting I had never heard of him in my life.
“Oh, well, you do live in the present, so there are few chances of me actually knowing you or your work,” I blurted out in earnest.
Thankfully, my stranger was amused and not at all put off by my remark. “You would not have heard of me at all – I am not nor do I intend to be published. It would kill my creativity. I sketch, too, you see,” looking down at his hands, “but I haven’t sold anything nor do I intend to,” he remarked with such certainty and resolution, while cleaning his nails with a toothpick and simultaneously — I assume unknowingly — unburdening me of the awkward troubles of talking to an actual published writer that I actually did not know of.
All the same, I raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of my wine. I had already noted that he had used nor do I intend to twice; I hardly know whether it was just a careless rhetoric error or whether he was using any techniques of repetition to familiarise himself. “If you are, as you say, a writer,” I said, hoping I did not sound as mocking as I sounded to myself, “how come you are not even carrying a notebook with you?” I asked eagerly, childishly even. I knew rather well that all my friends who indulged in the activity of writing would often carry small notebooks with them. It was an unwritten rule that we all shared. Small notebooks that can even fit in pockets.
“That is what people do when they cannot separate different kinds of pleasure,” he informed me, looking at my pile of notes. “If I have anything of importance, it will come back to me. It always does. There are always napkins about, anyway. Besides, right now I am dedicating myself to this,” he told me, pointing at his brandy, “I dedicate myself to alcohol, to the food and to the people. I am in Wales and I have only heard a couple so far speaking in Welsh which I found so strange.”
“So, you are a flâneur, so to speak,” I told him triumphantly, as if I had figured him out.
He laughed coarsely, nodding, “you could say that, yes. Travelling through Wales and all, idly observing.”
We talked of his observations, of the different kinds of welsh cheeses he had and the different kinds of coal he preferred to sketch with. The particulars I have forgotten, perhaps I was not even listening to all the lists of different things he had done in Wales. I had been more interested in his plans, which I listened to attentively, taking mental notes as he spoke. He ended up giving me a thorough account of his future arrangements which were mostly based on spontaneity, saying that he could not possibly feel the pressure of time, even though he was in his late 20’s. He then did what I dreaded he would do. He asked me of my plans. I laughed at him, told him I envied him and that I very much felt the pressure of time, but instead of straying the conversation towards another direction, he persisted. I told him, rather dramatically, how I was in the middle of the greatest dilemma of my life. I told him how I longed for Paris but also longed for Oxford. It was a double-edged knife but definitely not a grand tragedy, though I tried to depict it that way, playfully so. “Woe is me!” I said, laughing.
He laughed and muttered that of course, it had to be Oxford, followed by the usual you would fit in wonderfully there. “I did my undergraduate at Oxford – Politics and Philosophy. Have you chosen your college yet?” he asked me as other students from Oxford had asked me before, including me in that intimate fraternity of belonging, sharing one universal secret code language. Knowing there were certain correlations with each college, I likewise abstained from answering, telling him I hardly knew whether I would go to Oxford at all. He smiled. “I was at the University College, the oldest in Oxford.” He admitted, indifferently, as if he had shared that story one too many times.
As the time passed, the more eagerly he spoke. He spoke of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard with certain enthusiasm that is often lacking in textbooks. Being well versed in existentialism, he quoted Camus and Sartre fluently, told me the first time he went to Café de Flore when he was eighteen. He told me how much he had hated the food at that forsaken place; it made perfect sense to him how all the philosophers would indulge in anything but eating there. He told me of his greatest love which, surprisingly enough, had been his second relationship, a woman from New Zealand that he was still talking to, often dreaming about, too. He even told me of his writing, of his fascination with the period of Enlightenment, and of his seven muses, which were all women that he had met throughout his life, the first one being at the age of twelve.
After three hours of idle talking and a shared bottle of wine, I realised how easily he could have been fabricating half of the things he was telling me. What was his reality could have easily been my fiction. I remained silent for a while, withdrawing further into my thoughts, losing my appetite for talking. Well, little did it matter. What if he had never been an Oxford man? He had pretended to be one exceedingly well, so convincingly, with his eccentric mannerisms, his extensive knowledge on all things concerning alcohol and philosophy. He had even gone as far as to say that he went to one of his exams somewhat drunk, as it had been the only way he could have tolerated moral philosophy. It was wonderfully sad to see him, to watch him and observe him, bursting with an orgiastic enthusiasm and flaring sharpness, which was more likely to remain unknown to the rest of the world. He was so gloriously magnificent in his determination not to be known. He said he had enough money to live comfortably without needing to worry about work and his only worry was not living well enough. I was even a little upset with that kind of silly resolve.
“Elena,” he said my name slowly, lovingly, as if we had been long acquainted friends, “I am not going to be the first not the last artist who is going to remain unknown.”
How admirable, I thought. We ordered yet another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. “I drink to that then – I drink to all the unknown artists who may well remain unknown and to all your muses, all seven of them.”
He laughed and roared, “hear! Hear!”