His room was dank and bare. It stunk unbearably. I imagined there was rotting waste somewhere, but, it was so dim, I couldn’t find it.
He closed the door behind us and offered me a seat.
I looked around. The curtains were closed. As I settled in the chair, so too did the cloud of gnats that gathered before my face. I swept the air to scatter swarm, but they quickly returned to explore the moisture of my lips and eyes.
He took a seat in front of me and examined me sternly.
His walls were stained, cracked, peeling and bare, except for a single portrait. Through the darkness and the cluster of buzzing bugs I still recognized the man in the photograph as Schopenhauer – framed and looking as confident, stern and noble as ever.
I pointed to the portrait, asking, “Are you an admirer?”
“Yes,” he said. “I believe Schopenhauer was one of our greatest thinkers.”
“Why?” I asked.
“May I offer you a quote from the great man?” he asked. “I believe it will help explain.”
“Please, do,” I said. “Please help me to understand.”
He straightened himself to offer me the words of the great philosopher.
He closed his eyes and recited, “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
“Profound words,” I said.
He opened his eyes.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you by chance know the day of the week?” I asked the philosopher’s disciple.
“You came here to ask me such trivialities? You knocked on my door and entered my room and disrupted my freedom and solitude for this nonsense?”
“Yes,” I said.
“No,” he said. “I do not know nor care about the day of the week.”
“Nor the month nor the year? Do you know or care?”
“No,” he confessed.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It’s inconsequential,” he said.
“Then, do you even know your age? Whether or not your life is nearest its beginning, middle or end?”
“No,” he said. “That too is inconsequential.”
“How can you not know your age?”
“Nobody tells me,” he said.
“Because of your solitude?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “My solitude has freed me from the need to know or concern myself with such things.”
I leaned closer to get a better look at this man. Inching forward, I realized the odor from the room was him. And the closer I got, even through the cloud of gnats, the gaunt, jaundiced and scabbed face and the milky eyes of a very ill man became clearer.
“You look sick,” I told him. “How is your health?”
“Fine,” he said. “‘Very fine. I feel no different today than I did yesterday, so I must be fine.”
I stared at this man and his appearance, and, combined with the murk and the stench of his room, it made sense that his idol carried on so much about suicide.
“And what have you experienced of late?” I asked him.
“Nothing,” he said. “Except for the absolute freedom my abject solitude affords me.”
“What about these gnats?” I asked. “And what of this oppressive odor? Surely you have experienced them.”
“I know nothing of the gnats of which you speak,” he said. “Nor any odor. Perhaps you have come here to play me for a fool.”
“No,” I said. “My intentions are honest. But I must know, you wish to continue experiencing nothing more than this? There is nothing or nobody you care for more than this?”
“Why would I need anything other than this?” he asked. “For there is everything and nothing more or less than I require in here. Nothing more than the freedom of my self in this room. This is purity. Purity of self which can only percolate from the pure freedom that arises from absolute solitude.”
“In this lonely, filthy room,” I said.
“What you experience as filth, I experience as freedom,” he defended. “You see, inside this room, there is purity. The purity of my freedom. The purity of my self. Outside, there is no purity in anything. Outside, everything is corrupt.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “But I sense some corruption in here as well.”
“What you experience as freedom, I am experiencing now as squalor,” I said.
“That is because you are not free like I am,” he said.
“Okay,” I pretended to concede.
“You don’t agree?”
“No,” I said.
“Then let me offer you some more of Schopenhauer’s profound words. You will come around soon enough.”
“No thank you,” I said.
I rose from the chair and exited his room for the world outside. Stepping into the sunlight, I took a deep breath of the city’s air. It was far from pure, but far less putrid than what had filled my lungs inside the room.