So long and thanks for all the fish


Today, as I was taking my son to the Kung Fu lesson, I saw an old woman getting closer to the open window of a creperie and I heard her asking the young man who was working there:
“How is it going?”
“Not so good, so-so…”
“Are you alive?” the old woman asked him.
“Are you alive?”
“I am, don’t you see me, I’m alive” he answered ironically.
“Then you are fine”, the old woman told him and she left the scene.

I was lingering to listen to the conversation. Telemachus nudged me to keep going.


Our life is a matter of focus. We come into this world with gigantic magnifying glasses. When we are babies, we only see what exists right here – now.

As we grow up the world expanses, space- and time-wise.

First, the mother’s breast appears and then her face. Then it is the turn of the face of the rest of the relatives, the house, the toys, the day and the night.

The space expands and time follows suit. The neighborhood, school, friends, the week, the feasts, the seasons and the summer, the carefree endless school-less summer.

And the horizon keeps expanding. We figure out where we live, in which city, country and time, we realize that the world is very big indeed, we believe that we have the strength to knock about it all, to rebuild it from the ground up.

New experiences, new acquaintances, travels, dreams, knowledge, promises, revolutions, the horizon gets wider and wider, but not for long.

You are immortal until youth begins. Then you make your first acquaintances with samples of death.

It may be some failures, the realization that Coelho’s fucking universe, the one you think that conspires for you to achieve what you long for, doesn’t give a shit about you or your desires.

The years go by and some days look identical to the previous ones, not exactly “seize the fucking day” as you thought your life would be.

You may also have children, or maybe you didn’t want to or it just didn’t happen, but, one way or another, time is running out, your horizons expand no more, presbyopia kicks in around your forties.

Grey hair and cellulite, aching joints and cholesterol, menopause and it-happens-to-every-man-my-love, a general fatigue and chamomile with legumes in the evening and you have failed to be as rich or famous as you thought you’d be, let alone that unpaid bills lie on the table.

But you keep going. You turn 60-70-80 and you zero in on your daily grind. You become increasingly indifferent about what will happen in ten, five or two years. What will come to pass in a year is none of your business. Your concerns are limited to the pavement in front of you and how to take the next step with the Zimmer frame.


An hour later, as I was waiting to pick Telemachus up, I saw an old man coming out from the café that is next to kung-fu. He resembled Bilbo Baggins a bit, after he passed the ring to Frodo and he got old. He was taking with the Zimmer frame one step at a minute, that fast.

I watched him passing by (slowly, desperately slowly) and I was thinking that once he was a ten-year-old boy that was reading perhaps sci-fi stories, for instance The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (it really exists, it is not a figment of my imagination).

I stood and watched him go by, somewhat indiscreetly I guess. He might wear nappies again. What dreams could you have for the future, if you live like that?

No one wants for sure to leave this life behind, but when old age gets the better of you, when it becomes ruthless, then it looks a shade better than nothingness, death (and the hope of you-never-know-what-there-is-next).


The children came out and started running, talking about on-line games. I shouted at them to be careful as they zipped by old-Bilbo. He seemed to be unaware of the things going on in his vicinity, as if he were one of the pathetic (artistically speaking) androids of the first Star Wars trilogy.

But suddenly and unexpectedly his eyes shone! A girl with a very short skirt and stockings that resembled garters stormed past us.

He stopped dragging the Zipper frame and fixed his eyes on her until she turned the corner. He was obviously thinking: “If I was sixty years younger…”


Man is a paradox. At one moment the world doesn’t exist. The only thing you care about is to get home on your feet, where you live alone, lie down, get some sleep and get up the next day. There is no more time, you are here. Now.

As the end is drawing near, if you are lucky, lucky enough to reach the final stage by avoiding all car accidents and untimely heart attacks, bathroom accidents and bombings from NATO and jihadists, lucky enough not to get cancer at your thirties because of all the shit you eat, breathe and apply to your skin, because of all these stressful times that engulf your being, if you don’t choke by eating butter candies, if you are not hit by electric current one morning before you go to your boring job, if you beat all probabilities of an untimely death, which are surely not small, and you age as much as Bilbo and Yoda did, then you understand how temporary and insignificant were all these things you held for ever-lasting and important.

Everything strikes you as non-important. Then the girl with the short skirt zips past you.

In this moment something explodes in your mind. It is the last signal that traverses your weary backbone down to the withered patch of your balls. It raises a false alarm (the soldiers are retired for many years now) and returns to the last resort, the amygdala, the primary processor of memories.

You smile bitterly and you remember: “Smaro wore such socks…Johnny was crying his eyes out when he was born…what was the name of my dog?…I fared poorly in the maths test….The sea that engulfed the island…sardines over the coals…”

Ninety years are crammed within a minute in your mind. Then you close your eyes, you say thank you for the fish and you slump down.

You can feel a lot of commotion, you hear people, as if from afar, shouting:”he fell, call an ambulance”, but you are unconcerned with all this.

And as the sun is going down, another picture is spotlighted, a beach where friends grill fish over coals, girls have omitted to wear the top of their bikini, someone is strumming the guitar, beers and cigarettes are all over the place, a blue-eyed gal is giving you the eye and it is summer.


Brain activity, some scientists said recently, can continue for up to ten minutes after death. These ten minutes can be an eternal summer.


PS to the reader:
You think, dear, that the end is far off. Forgive me for not filling your heart with optimism, but the end is always closer than you think.

Even if you live to be ninety or a hundred years old, it will happen quicker than you think.

If you take it from start to end, it looks like a George Lucas movie where something new can always take place.

If you take it from the end, it is like a trailer of the life you lived.

This is your life: A trailer that ends before you realize that you are (were) the protagonist.

May you awake safe and sound, and be thankful for the daily fish.


The photo is by Alex Webb
Alex Webb, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, 1996, © Alex Webb / Magnum Photos

The title is taken by the novel of the same name by Douglas Adams.


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Translated by Alexandros Mantas