Eszter Forvith

Jon Smith had just celebrated his 34th birthday a few months ago. He had been working at an office for a fairly good salary. He had a nice apartment and a car that he usually used for going to work, but not on this day.

Since his car was in service, he decided to walk to his workplace. Although there were a lot of people around him he didn’t really pay attention to anyone. He was not thinking of anything in particular, he knew the way to the office by instinct, since that was the place he had spent the last eight years of his life. He wasn’t upset or proud of all these years he had spent at the company, but sometimes at the end of the day it gave him an unsettling feeling. Something did not seem right.

As he was about to cross the road, a stranger bumped into him from behind. Not having the time to stop and properly apologize, the stranger could only shout back a “sorry” before he disappeared in the crowd again. “How impolite,” Jon thought to himself, before stepping into his workplace.

He sat down at his table and arranged his papers as usual, but as he was about to start working he heard someone knocking at the door. “Come in,” he said, not looking up. The door opened and a young man appeared at the doorstep. Although it was clear that he had tried to dress as elegantly as possible, the outcome was just not proper. They exchanged looks and both realized that they had already met. “My name is Tom Wilson and I apologize for my rude behavior earlier,” said the young man, breaking the awkward silence. “It’s alright,” answered Jon quickly. “Your table is right there.” Jon pointed at a table across the room, which was now Tom Wilson’s working desk. Although it seemed that Tom wanted to say other things as well, he decided to keep his thoughts to himself and quietly sat down at his desk. The day went by just like every other day before it. and the end of the working hours was closer every minute. Just as Jon was about to leave the building, a young man tapped him on the shoulder. It was Tom. He had a bright smile on his face. So bright in fact that it almost seemed genuine. “Are you free tonight?” he asked. “Since we will be working in the same office from now on, I thought I could invite you for a drink. I know a great pub nearby.” Jon thought for a moment. He was hesitant, since his everyday routine did not include going to a pub with a man he had just met, but he felt a strange sensation in his chest, so he agreed.

Jon was not the type to drink a lot, unlike Tom, who finished three servings of beer in the first half hour and got drunk. At first they didn’t have much to talk about, but after a while Jon figured out that Tom had a great passion for stamps, which had also been Jon’s biggest passion in high school. They chatted for a while, and then a pleasant silence fell on the table. Tom’s face suddenly turned a bit serious. “Are you happy?” he asked. Jon wasn’t expecting this question, so he was a little taken aback. Since he had had such a good conversation with Tom, he decided to think about the answer and not close the case with a plain yes. He thought to himself, “I have a house, a car, friends and family, a nice job. What else would I need?” As he considered this, he was confident that the answer would be yes, but the words just didn’t come out. He was surprised that his own body, which had been so obedient all these years, would now fail in answering a simple question like that. “Hard question, isn’t it? I have been thinking about it for a while now and I’m still not sure what the right answer would be. Let me ask you something else. Do you feel like you are free?” asked Tom. Jon was scared. He was scared of the truth. “Of course I’m free, what kind of a question is that?” Jon felt his frustration taking over him. “It’s your decision to say whatever you want,” said Tom in a calm tone. Jon felt like he really needed some fresh air. “I have to go home now,” he said quickly as he stood up and walked out of the building. His mind was a mess and he was confused. All the unsettling feelings that he had been having lately showered on him like a cold rain. He couldn’t sleep that night; he kept thinking about those two questions Tom had asked him.

The next day he felt different. Although he could have gone by car to the office, he decided to walk. The road seemed more crowded than usual. Jon looked around. He looked at the people around him but they didn’t look back. He stopped to look around for a moment and it was strange. Everyone had the same expression, everyone did the same thing. They were surviving but not living. He could not see smiling faces or individual expressions.

He could not focus on his work that day, and Tom was not in the office so he could not ask him about what had happened the previous day. On the way home he should have been tired, but he wasn’t. Over the previous two days he had thought a lot about his life. It felt like waking up from a long and suffocating dream. His life was monotonous. At that moment he found it meaningless, as if he had been trapped. He lived in a system that had forced the people to be like slaves, where it was hard to be an individual. Memories of his younger self flashed into his mind. How he planned his future as a kid, how full of life he was. At that moment he decided that this was not the life he wanted to live. And just by that little truth he confessed to himself,he felt like a rock had been lifted off his heart. Maybe he had always known that this had been no life for him, he just couldn’t admit it. That day he went home with a clear conscience.

The next day he went to the office and turned in his letter of resignation. He thanked his boss for the opportunity to work there and said goodbye to all his colleagues except one. He couldn’t find Tom anywhere. His desk was empty, so he asked his boss if something had happened to him. “Tom Wilson? We have never hired a man with that name,” was his boss’s answer.