Farewell email


Translated by Maria Pankhurst

This morning, a little before 8.00 am, as was his habit but for the last time, a man descended at great speed the staircase of the block of flats where he lived, shoelaces undone, and set off in the direction of his workplace. Closing the door of the block of flats, he glanced at the animal hospital above which he lived, hoping for the last time to see an elephant, a giraffe or a lion go in. Alas, once more all he caught sight of was a cat with a bandaged paw and a dog with a broken ear. He had nothing against these animals, certainly, but he would have been so proud to amaze his colleagues by telling them that each morning, before having technical conversations with the employees of Shell Netherlands and Belgian Shell he enjoyed intelligent conversations with tigers, gazelles and rhinoceroses.

On the other hand, in the narrow road he then took to go to the bus stop it was usual to exchange one or two words with some squirrels. In fact the latter had tried time and time again to sell him a few pounds of hazelnuts. This was without result as the man did not have the slightest desire to have the wool pulled over his eyes by these little rodents, as grey as they were, until the day when these same squirrels insisted that some nuts would give him all the energy required to accomplish the harsh task awaiting him. Faced with this argument, the man ended up succumbing to the squirrels’ commercial pressures. It is true that although harder tasks than his own existed, there was despite everything, good reason to be daunted by customers having a loud voice and a guttural accent and assailing him thirty times a day with “Hello Vincent, I’ve a question for you”, especially when one is Belgian and one hails from the other side of the linguistic border. A few energy-giving nuts would therefore be more than welcome. The voice he would use to reply to his customers was not as guttural nor, not having ever considered it a good thing, as loud.

But before answering them he would first have to get the bus. In his adopted town this was not just a matter of course, he had often thought. For example one day, when his regular mode of transport arrived twenty minutes later than timetabled, the driver let him on the bus and asked him politely and in all innocence if he had a watch. Since then, in anticipation, the man had got into the habit of tying his shoelaces whilst waiting for him. But he had at least always daydreamed of Africa when he took the bus because he was sure that over there in the very South, on the continent of gazelles and large-eared elephants, the buses must be better, perhaps even truly magic. However, let us be honest. Today, the man arrived at work not a second late and in a spanking new bus hot off the factory floor. For the last time he saw the bus station with its red and orange metallic bars where he alighted and went in the direction of the grey, concrete building where he had worked for two and a half years.

With the caution of a Sioux Indian, he placed his id badge meticulously over the detector because he did not want to be delayed from working by a strident noise, just as unpleasant as a telephone call at five to five in the afternoon heralding a customer’s despair at his unsuccessful attempts to use his laptop in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur – you know where I mean, over there in the East on the other continent of gazelles and small-eared elephants. For some obscure reason he was, however, less irritated when an unpleasant noise delayed his entrance into the main building than his exit. But on this Friday, July 12th in the year 2002, it was without any incident that he went to work at this place for the last time and even if, as usual, he sighed a lot, scratched his head more than once, asked the customers over and over again to hold the line, he told himself that despite everything he had been happy to work here with all those who had accompanied him and assisted him in his task.