The article goes on to mention his protuberant ears, which I found highly unnecessary. But I chose not to linger on this point (no pun intended), and soon I was trying to visualise the 200 page manuscript sitting on his lap, a work in progress titled The First Man. With it was a marked-over paperback. The Genealogy of Morals. I skipped over to Google again, to read about this newly discovered work by Neitzsche.
When I came back I wasn’t quite prepared for the explosion. The car wrenched first to one side and then the other. It lost control, got off the road, grazed one tree and crashed into the next. Fatally. Three of the passengers were thrown free. But Camus… ah Camus. He was killed instantly. A fireman who cut his body free from the wreckage noticed “an expression of dazed terror and surprise” on the writer’s face.
I’m trying not to sigh. I’m also trying not to cry. It’s 1960. It’s Paris. And yet, my heart aches as though it’s now and here. I felt the strength leave me when I read about his instant death. I had to sit down and press my temples with my wrists. And take quick, measured breaths. That’s the power of literature I suppose. The connection you feel with a writer you love, the one who has opened up to you, bared his soul, shown vulnerability in a time where others have just passed you by.
I know what you are thinking. But I assure you, this loss is real, however delayed. I understand that you might want to grab me by the shoulders now and shake some sense into me. Ask me why I have to be so dramatic about life, and make everything about me. After all, it’s not like I knew him. In fact, he was dead for 31 years before I was even born. How is that for perspective, huh? You resist the urge to chide. I’m so close to tears, it feels unfair to even try. But I wish you could understand.
Because who is a favourite writer if not a lover from your past? Tender, understanding, accommodating. Fierce, demanding, extremely charming. Passionately indifferent to all the emotions that have wrenched your heart. And yet you stay, unable to close the book, fighting sleep, hunger and reason, to finish another chapter, pick another book. It’s a shared intimacy, something I could never replicate with the people in my life. Or maybe I just didn’t know how to.
I mourn his death because he means something to me. And always will. He spoke to me about things that others before him never revealed to me. And he assured me that it’s not true that he never loved. When I leaned forward, he whispered, “there was surely one great love in my life, and that was myself”. That was the moment he taught me to accept myself, with all my flaws, faults and quirks. Because there is a good chance that no one else will. And is there a more important lesson he could give an adrift teenager?
That was years ago. I had just finished his book and stayed curled up on the sofa, my head on the armrest, my extended family bustling around me in preparation for Eid. Or maybe it was a wedding. The details of the day are blurred, except for his words. The world spun on, and I remained. Still. Intent. A different person from the one I was a few moments ago. Unraveled yet intact. And I just stayed there. Till an aunt gently pulled me up, looked at my bare arms, feigned shock and marched me straight out to the patio where the women were getting their hands painted in henna.