Did death approach the salesman – but joy and love result?
As usual, we spent the summer at our vacation apartment in Provence, close to the beach. We went swimming in the mornings, read books in the shade of the garden during the days, and had dinner at one of the picturesque little villages up in the hills—Mougins, Valbonne, Cabris. Life was pleasant and light, almost elegant.
Then something unusual happened. I woke up one morning with the last vision of a bad dream still clear in my mind. Somehow, I had run into a stone wall and remembered only the moment that my head was going to hit the wall. I could then feel the unforgiving hardness of the granite stone as I expected to die.
When I came fully awake, I had the certain foreboding that my life would come to an end during the approaching fall. It took me all day to collect myself enough to speak to my family about this dream and the feeling of approaching death. When I finally told them, they all laughed, telling me to cheer up and not to be superstitious.
Over the next few weeks, however, the following story developed in my mind and gave me peace. Now, many years later—still alive—I write the story down.
Jacques lived in an insignificant suburb of a town—I don’t know which—in Provence. Those suburbs all look alike: streets lined with four-story, gray or brick apartment buildings, all close together, with small shops at street level.
Jacques made deliveries. He drove a small old van and brought the merchandise—I forgot what it was—in small, prepared packages to various stores, all in proper sequence, through all the streets in his quarter of town. He had figured out how he had to drive, beginning with the closest street going from right to left, then the street behind that, going from left to right, and so on; in a serpentine pattern to the end of the last street. Then he would return home.
One morning, Jacques woke up from a dream with a jolt, sweating and confused. In his dream, he had been driving along on his daily round, when he ran into a stone wall. He distinctly remembered the moment when his head was going to hit the wall. He still sensed the unforgiving hardness of the granite stone as he expected to die. The wall was made of those midsize boulders you find in riverbeds. Jacques remembered every detail of the dream, even the big gray stone his head was going to hit. That was the end.
Jacques got up, pale and distraught, and left for his daily round without talking to his wife or daughter. His wife watched him drive off with a sad, questioning expression on her face.
He traveled back and forth through all those streets on the day of the dream and the next day.
On the third day, however, something even more unusual occurred. Jacques saw exactly the same wall that had appeared in his dream. There it was just across the street as he made a right turn on his way home. He believed he recognized every stone on the gray surface constructed of granite river boulders. There was the large stone his head was supposed to hit.
He did not talk to his wife or daughter at home. He ate little, then left home again “to take care of some business.” He paced for hours through the streets in the dark of the night. What sense was there in having lived his life? What sense did it make to keep on living? What was it all about? He was always working—for a sparse apartment, a simple wife, and his thin little daughter? To get drunk was meaningless. To kill himself—what that stone would do anyway—was equally meaningless. Too bleak, too bottomless was everything for him to enjoy life any longer. Just pass the time, until the unavoidable would happen. He felt cut off from the world, separated as though by a glass wall, on his way to a far horizon—a feeling that some newly afflicted cancer patients experience.
Returning home, Jacques found everything dark. His wife and daughter had gone to bed. He touched his wife lightly, not knowing why. Did he subconsciously hope that she could break the spell or give him warmth? His wife did not react. He went to bed and slept abysmally deep. The next morning, he woke up before the others and left for his last trip—so he thought.
Jacques wanted to follow his usual course once more in his old van. He had calculated precisely at what time he would arrive at that wall. But today he moved faster, at first without even calling out his usual “Bonjour. Ça va?” to the shopkeepers.
But then his mood changed inexplicably. He drove more slowly, saluting his customers again. He answered their questions and, finally, began the usual small talk.
An unbelievable inner freedom began to release all his stress. He began to feel like he was floating above real life. Now he saw the light in the sunny streets of Provence again that is so much appreciated by the famous painters. He perceived all the people in the streets: the women and the playing children.
Jacques made his delivery to the last store. Then he started on his way home—toward that wall, toward the end of all pain in life, toward a new, free world—where his wife and daughter might one day join him.
He stopped at a flower shop to buy a bunch of spring flowers for his wife and a gift for his child. How useless! How free he actually already felt!
As Jacques approached the corner around which the wall expected him, he heard an approaching ambulance from the distance. Was the siren sounding for him? New stress caught him, stronger than before. Sweat came to his forehead. Then he felt cool again. There he was, separated from all the others, alone with his destiny on a predetermined path. For the last few seconds, he kept his head high, even with a smile—as ancient Greek statues show on dying warriors.
The ambulance reached him just as he turned the corner heading toward the wall with full abandon.
A large crowd of people stood around a tall piece of construction equipment. The wall was nowhere to be seen. Only moments before, it had been demolished, and that had caused an accident. Nothing serious, though.
Jacques drove on, as if dreaming. Was he still in the real world? Was he still alive in this sunlight with all those people? Was he on his way home to his wife and daughter?
Jacques laughed out loud. He overflowed with life, maybe even with joy. He drove up to his home with panache and honked so his wife and daughter would know he was there. He saluted the windows, waving the flowers and the gift.
When his wife and daughter came out, he took them into his arms and held them for a long, long time.