24. Consideration

A SWISS ARCHITECT IN his early forties, widowed for some years to a woman he described as his soulmate and long having despaired of the likelihood of remarrying, went to Australia for a holiday and, while riding a ferry between Sydney’s Circular Quay and Manly Beach, fell to talking to a woman who was leaning on the railing beside him. They spent the rest of his stay in Sydney together – that is, four days – and she even took time off from her job as marketing manager of a music company to spend as much time with him as possible. When they parted, each knew full well that their holiday affair had come to an end, but they kept up a correspondence upon his return and gradually their friendship became pregnant with more hopeful possibilities. Ever so slowly, they each began to be seduced by an idea that seemed so fanciful that they hardly dared to admit it even to one another – and yet when they discovered, tentatively, through letters, emails, phone calls and online chatting, that the other felt the same way, they began to allow themselves to surrender to the idea. The architect determined to return to Australia, this time for a longer period. She received this news with a mixture of tenderness and enthusiasm that he had learned to recognize as being characteristic of her. Whenever they corresponded on the phone or on the computer he was surprised to feel himself being overtaken by a strong physical desire for her. He gathered together all the memories he had of her and entertained them in his mind throughout the day. Twice she appeared in his dreams, a fact he accorded great importance. He packed his belongings, terminated the lease of his apartment and closed his architectural practice, advising his clients that he would resume business in about three months. Some days before his departure, he left his home to collect his ticket from the travel agent. Seated on the train on the way to the travel agent, he picked a copy of one of the free newspapers that bedevils the public transport system of Bern as much as those of many other cities, including Sydney, and by chance he read his astrological forecast. He happened to be a Capricorn and was normally suspicious of astrology but felt that he needed reassurance as he neared the threshold of what he considered to be a new life. The prediction for that day advised him to ‘be careful about making any major decisions today. Make sure you consider fully the consequences of your actions before you decide upon anything you may regret’. He cast the newspaper aside in disgust, but it was too late: what he’d read had already planted a seed of doubt in his mind. He told himself several times that the prediction was – as is always the case – vague and neutral, but to no avail. On the way to the travel agent, he passed another travel agent and saw advertised in the window an airfare to Sydney some hundreds of francs cheaper than the one he’d bought. He mentioned this to his travel agent. She fixed him with a cool stare and reminded him that his ticket was paid for, that he was there merely to pick it up, and that to cancel it would incur a fee that added up to exactly the amount he would have saved if he’d bought the ticket at the other travel agent. Now he began to have more serious doubts, and over the following days everything became an omen to him. Most confusingly, the omens pointed in both directions. There were good omens – a garbage-collectors’ strike began the following day, and the weather was especially windy, so that in subsequent days refuse spilled out of rubbish bins onto the footpaths and litter tumbled through streets already grey with spring rain, making him grateful to be leaving – but the good omens, he thought, were unmistakably outweighed by the bad: he twisted his ankle and spent three days on crutches, his passport had just run out and needed to be renewed (he had to pay an additional fee for rapid delivery), and above all, on the day prior to his departure, a previous lover whom he hadn’t seen or spoken to in more than a year called him, and he spent the eve of his departure in her bed, and if he didn’t make love to her it was reluctantly. Thankfully, she did not ask him why. All in all, by the time he buckled his seatbelt on the plane, it became clear to him that he was making the wrong decision, but that now that fate had intervened he felt he had no choice but to follow through on his ill-advised plan. The Australian woman was waiting nervously at the airport for him when his plane arrived. He hadn’t told her about any of his doubts but of course she had developed some of her own. When he arrived they kissed for a long time. He normally kissed with his eyes closed, but during this kiss he opened his eyes and saw that her eyes were already open and that she was looking back at him, very intensely, in a way that unexpectedly and inexplicably shamed him. They had a cup of coffee at the airport and each of them felt that they were exchanging customary phrases of politeness. As they were about to leave the airport, he told her he needed to find a toilet. She was about to suggest that he should wait until they arrived at her place, but out of consideration she merely nodded and waited for him, minding his luggage, which he left with her to mind, taking only the small backpack carrying his essentials he had taken with him in the plane. She waited 15 minutes patiently before she began to worry; she decided to wait another five minutes. Every five minutes she decided to wait another five minutes, and it was only after an hour that she was forced to act, asking a security guard for directions to the airport police station, although of course by then he was long gone.