**: Walter?

Walter: Jenke? Is that you? The wind is so strong, where am I?

**: You are falling.

Walter: Am I?

**: Do you not know?

Walter: No, I…

**: You went back to the TU building.

Walter: I did?

**: You rushed to the fifth floor. You unlocked the window. Then you jumped.

Walter: And now I'm falling?

**: You are.

Walter: I'm sorry.

**: Tsk.

Walter: I didn't mean it, please believe me. I didn't want to die. I was just…

**: Hearing voices, again.

Walter: No!… Yes… but I had to… and I forgot… I'm sorry!

**: I heard you the first time.

Walter: But…

**: You chose this, you jumped.

Walter: Yes, but…

**: I know. You did not think about the consequences, again.

Walter: You're angry at me.

**: I am just cutting short. You have to decide before you hit the pavement: to be, or not to be?

Walter: Am I supposed to laugh?

**: Laugh once, if you have to, but answer.

Walter: But can I really decide?

**: You can, trust me. If you really want to live, you will.

Walter: How do you know?

**: From experience and observation. I can see you fall, and I have seen thousands.

Walter: Thousands…

**: Walter, you do not have the time.

Walter: And if I can't decide?

**: Then gravity and the pavement will.

Walter: Maybe they should, because I don't know what I want. I didn't jump because I didn't want to live. The world is so… But that wasn't the reason… I could have lived with climate change, war, injustice, as much as I'm ashamed of what we do… I couldn't live with myself anymore, couldn't make the voices in my head stop screaming at me, couldn't stop turning blind then seeing again, I needed peace, but those weren't the reasons either… I jumped out of no reason and I had forgotten all about death when I leaped, and when I remembered, I was already falling. I can't decide, my mind is full of shadows in the dark and voices in the clamor.

 **: Oh, the young… quickly: do you want to die? Just yes, or no.

Walter: No.


Walter: Jenke? Everything hurts, Gervais! Are you here? Am I at the hospital?

**: You are in the ambulance.

Walter: It hurts so much!

**: You deserve it.

Walter: Yes, but make it stop, please, tell them to give me something, anything, or do it yourself, please!

**: I can take your mind off the pain.

Walter: I don't care what you do, just make it stop!

**: Sshh, Walter, shush, focus on my voice. Listen. You are right. On and off, especially in times or places that tend to demonize the body, I work as a doctor. I owe it to myself…

Walter: I knew it, you do save people!

**: No. A twist of your body, your relaxed muscles, and your young, healthy complexion saved you. If a patient is doomed, there is nothing I can do. I am a companion to the living and the dying alike.

Walter: And you owe being that to yourself?

**: Yes. Humans may value the body only on conditions; I do not. Stop talking, now, just listen.

Once upon a time I was in a place struck by a pandemic. A patient of mine was a middle aged woman. She had lost her children and her husband, and she was very sick in her turn. I went to see her regularly.

The town's vice mayor came in during one of those visits. He was a close friend of the family. He told her he had arranged for her to be taken to the hospital. They would soon come to pick her up. I was feeling her pulse while he spoke. As soon as she understood what he was talking about, her heart raced, but she did not lose her composure, thanked him gently, and asked to be left last so she could have the house shut down properly. After he had left, she looked at me for a long moment then said that she would rather stay where she was. "You see, doctor", she said, "my husband and I were practical people. Our marriage was well arranged." I continued to examin her as if I had not guessed. She caught my hand and brought it to her chest. She said: "I have missed nothing in my life, except… And even if I survive… my children and my husband are dead…" I told her that it would be wise to go to the hospital. She might recover with a better care than I could provide. She let my hand go, averting her eyes: "Excuse me, doctor." She looked hurt, but I had to continue. "There is nothing to excuse, only please, understand: you will not have a future if you do not go." I felt her forehead. She was not running a healthy fever, but her body was struggling, weak but not altogether hopeless. She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly under my hand. "Thank you for your concern, doctor. But I have lived my life. I only have one wish…" She looked at me again, pleading and desperate at the same time.

I asked what I always ask when someone looks at me like that. "Are you sure? Do you not want to think about it?"

She answered plainly: "No. I am positive. All I want is one last moment of joy."

I started to unbutton my coat. I said: "I could use some rest before I go see the next patient." She whispered: "I am in a very bad shape. Do you really not mind?" I stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. "How would I not know in what shape you are? But do you not want to see a priest?" She smiled at me as she must have smiled in her best days − a sensitive, proud, and intelligent woman, graceful and strong, the pillar of a harmonious household. When she answered, the look in her eyes made me feel like a special guest at a reception. "A strange question from you, doctor… I appreciate it very much, but no, thank you. Leave the priest. He has done quite enough for me… however…" The effort was too much, the lights went out in her eyes and she seemed to sink deeper into her bed. I waited.

When she came to her senses, she looked embarrassed. She scrutinized my face. I started to take my shirt off. She called: "Wait!… Please… There are clean bed sheet in the case. Would you mind very much?…" I answered: "Of course not. Allow me."

Walter: I was right. You are compassionate.

**: You may call that compassion, but fact is, she might have survived, if she had gone to the hospital.

Walter: She didn't want to.

**: What she wanted hastened her death.

Walter: You sound almost as if you fell in love with her.

**: I liked her, I did my best to give her what she wanted, and she was so weak that although I am not a person, let alone someone she loved, that moment with me was nice enough for her. It was nice for me, too. Her husband had been a very lucky man. But we did not love each other, Walter. I could understand that she wanted what she wanted, I was there, and life is awesome to me in all its forms.

Let me tell you another little memory.

I knew a historian once, his name was Jules Michelet. He was a remarkable man… so good at what he did that his colleagues decided to call him a poet so they would not have to call him crazy. He was firmly convinced that he could feel the presence of the dead and that they spoke to him from their graves.

Jules was a tremendous disputant, a passionate thinker, and an idealistic dreamer. I liked him a lot and he enjoyed my company in spite of – or rather: because of my neutral stance towards religion, which he called impenitent obstinacy. He said that debating with me reaffirmed his certitudes. He asked me if I would stay with him during his last days. We became friends."

Walter: Like Giorgio and you.

**: Even closer. I sat by his bedside talking about time, history, and above all about justice. "Just one day! One day of justice!", he called, "You lack passion and faith, my friend! But hope, I say! Freedom! Fraternity! Humanity!" One of his favorite sentences was "there is only one moment for each thing".

Walter: So, he was the one! But you never took him to the cave, did you?"

**: No. He had his own subterranean spaces. He was blind and voyant at the same time. Once he caught my hand and said "This is no hand, but you have to use it as such. That is the point, my friend! That is the point!" He was remarkable.

Tell me, Walter, do you want to have children?

Walter: I don't know.

**: Perhaps you should think about it.

**: Maybe I will… I feel so much better, the pain is gone and you tell such wonderful stories. Everything becomes so easy with you. Why can't I be with you always?

**: You know that already. You could, even for the rest of your life, but it would not be a life anymore.

Walter: Yes, I do know… but you do know a lot about life… you do… and you know a lot about physical love, although you don't have a body. How did you learn?

**: Oh, I had exquisite teachers in ancient times, men and women of old… and wonderful sparring partners later… Boccaccio, for one…

Walter: The famous Boccaccio? The one?

**: Yes.

Walter: Wow. But it doesn't feel weird anymore to hear you say something like that.

**: I guess you are past your superhero delusions and devil imaginations. You have been brought down to earth, at least for a while, pun intended.

Walter: I guess so. Well, what about Boccaccio?

**: In his company, I felt young and fresh again. While he was writing his novels, I bothered him so much with my hunger for details, descriptions, and comparisons, that he eventually told me to please go plague Petrarch and let him work in peace… but then he waited anxiously for me, once the book was finished, and I punished him all right.

Walter: You did? How?

**: I made him read it aloud and comment it to me, of course… do not give me that look, you know how I like to tease you. It took ten days and it was glorious fun, oh, yes. He drank, paced reading and kept adding details, saying "it would have spoiled the economy of the plot, so I left it out, but what I pictured them doing at this point was…" We laughed a lot and I learned a great deal from him… theory is really not grey…

Walter: Nor are you. And body or not, I would really want to be with you, if it were possible. To share intimity with you, you know what I mean? I don't love you as I would love a person, I know that now. But I have wanted you from the very first moment I saw you… when I first met you, it was so like the Romeo and Juliet thing for me… you came into my life and wham, that was that. That's why I thought that I was falling in love with you, when we met again. I didn't remember, but the feeling was still there, some place inside of me.

**: When did you see me the first time? I do not recall, I am sorry.

Walter: How would you… You didn't notice me at all. I was four or five years old… Dad wasn't working for the president yet, he was only a professor of contemporary history at Harvard. Mom sent me to fetch him in the library, our house was around the corner and she couldn't go… Dinner was ready, we had guests, as usual. You were standing outside the building with a student. He was the one who caught my eye at first, because he looked so intense, almost crazy. Then I heard your voice, stopped, and listened. You were telling him a story about ancient times, or so I thought at the time. I didn't understand what you were talking about, but suddenly all these pictures started popping up in my mind, music I could see, words I could taste, I saw things, people, actions so incomprehensible, but at the same time so vivid, and so spellbinding… I wanted more, instantly. And at the same time I was afraid… no, not afraid… anxious, maybe? I don't know how to describe it. I sat down with my back against the wall and listened, oblivious to everything but the strange music of your voice and the even stranger pictures in my head, until my father's hand shook me and he asked "What are you doing here all by yourself?!", and I stammered "Dinner. Dinner is ready". It was dark, the library was closing, and you were walking away. I pointed at you, asking father if he knew you. He shrugged, "A colleague from the old world, mighty haughty. Unspeakable name. We call him sewowerefinawosankofaayenkyi because he's so into prehistoric traditions." I didn't understand the words at the time, of course. I echoed "Yenkee…", and father laughed, "Right you are, der heilige Jenke der Schlachthöfe… I'm not keen on getting together with him. Why are you asking about him?"  – "He's got a strange voice." – "Yes, creepy, isn't it? Like straight from the underworld, brrrr!… Did he talk to you?" – "No." – "Good. Stay away from him, I don't trust him." – "But he looked very nice."  – "People who look nice can be pretty bad people, sometimes, you know? Come on, now, hurry up, mom's going to kill us for being so late!"

The student had called you "Girvahas Acharya". I remembered after a short while and told father who startet making fun of that. At dinner, he repeated his Heilige Jenke joke a couple of times for our guests, telling everybody what an inspiration children can be. Then they all started talking names and saints, and I liked the sound of Gervais particularly. That must have been why I came up with it in Berlin. But it has really nothing at all to do with you and Gervais is not your real name at all, is it? Nor is Jenke. Why did you take those names up?

**: I always do. My names are always the ones I am given.

Walter: Hm. But you must have a real name, I mean an original one. What did the old woman call you? You know, the one who first found you?

**: She did not give me a name. She told me to choose one for myself, but I did not want to. She respected that, just called me "young one", "darling" and the like.

Walter: And you don't have a name.

**: No.

Walter: Too bad. But well, I've gotten so used to Gervais Jenke that it would be strange to call you different, anyway… Whatever. In spite of what dad had said, or maybe also because of it, I sneaked out three or four times, while mom was resting, to look for you on the campus. But I couldn't find you. When I asked about you again, father told me that you had left. For months, I daydreamed about the pictures, music, and words in my head, putting them together in stories that I could understand, trying to draw, to write, to play the piano, all to no avail  – what had taken possession of my mind was much too complicated for my poor skills. I grew more and more restless, didn't listen when people talked to me, kept chasing after what was inside of me, but it always eluded me… My teacher asked my mom what was wrong with me – I was already in first grade, because I could read and write fluently, savant syndrome child, special needs child, blablabla, when you are quote challenged unquote the way I am, you get more than your fair share of labels. Whatever. Anyway, eventually I sat down and wrote a childish poem that was praised to the heavens by my parents and their friends. One of my dad's colleagues asked me if I knew Milton, which I didn't, of course, and later, knowing Milton, I wondered why he had asked. My little poem had absolutely nothing to do with Milton… he must have been reading something he had on his mind, rather than what I had written… but whatever, my fame as a literary wonder child spread, and by the time I was seven, I was convinced that I would become a great poet, too… tsss… but then, as I grew older, I started having problems in school… fluctuating grades, lack of concentration… I stopped reading, got into punk, hip hop, gangsta rap… by the time I decided to drop out of high school  – to take a year off, as my father said – I had locked all my poems in a drawer and forgotten everything about you… but as soon as I heard your voice again, in Berlin, I had this "yes" in me… and now it's really like that… much different, but in a way the same… yes.

**: I did not notice you at all.

Walter: Yeah.

**: I often have casual encounters like that with little children. Most of my interactions with them are brief moments without consequences. Small children may ask me for a piece of paper to make an airplane and leave at once, as soon as they have it, or pass me by at a bus stop, ice cream in one hand, bump against me because they are not paying attention, drop the cone, and see something in me they forget immediately, while they get scolded by their parent – be careful! What are you doing! – Sorry! – moments that leave no trace, or only very small traces…

Walter: But there are little children who seriously want to have something to do with you?

**: Very rarely, but there are such children… some of them are difficult little people, others are not really difficult, just special. I can tell you about one of them, if you want.

Walter: I do. I'm already jealous.

**: Silly. I met a little boy, once, in the Alps. He was to become a monk. Even though he was much too young, a servant had brought him to a monastery whose abbot, an old acquaintance of mine, had accepted him, no one knew why.

The monastery had a renowned, very well assorted pharmacy, and one of the boy's chores was herborizing, because he was too young even to become an oblate and the brother apothecary was too old to climb about in the mountains. The other brothers had showed no talent for the task. I had business in the monastery's library for a few months. But I cannot stand being locked up, let alone in such a place, and the abbot, who knew me well, allowed me to leave every day after noon. So, I would wander through the woods down to a nearby lake. It was a beautiful mountain lake. There I would swim, rest, walk around and be back in the evening…

Walter: You were a monk?

**: I wore a habit, of course, to blend in… my tailor is rich, as you so rightly remarked.

Walter: Yeah, I guess so. And nobody wondered about a monk getting out of the monastery every day to go swimming?

**: The abbot backed me up and I was careful not to be seen by the lake. But indeed, we come closer to the point. One day I ran into the boy in the woods. He was holding a root that you hardly need in a monastery's pharmacy, frowning, obviously wondering what that was. I stopped, pointed at the root and said: "That can be useful, but bring it to the abbot before you show it to the apothecary." He looked a little puzzled but nodded obediently. Then he held a flower up. I shook my head: "That is useless." Instantly, the corners of his mouth pointed downward. I had to smile: "But it is beautiful, you are right. Why do you not pluck a few and bring them to the abbot, too, for the altar?" He flashed a bright smile at me and ran off. On the next day, I met him again, but he just greeted silently and scurried on. Yet, he looked so curious and self-conscious that I was not surprised when I ran into him again on the third day, and on the fourth day I was quite sure that he was following me. But he always kept a distance and I ignored him. The days passed without a change. I would see him in the woods, but only once, and we would greet each other from the distance, nothing more. Since I roamed the woods at random, far from paths and routes, I was sure that he kept following me. He seemed to have a gift for making himself invisible.

Until one day, coming out of the lake, I saw him sitting by my clothes.

When he saw me, he turned scarlet red and hurried to hide behind a tree. I got dressed and called him. He did not answer, but I could see him. I called: "Come out. You are waiting for me, are you not?" He came out from behind the tree and held two plants up. "Oh, I see." I pointed. "Valeriana… and Achillea. Well done." He put them in his basket and left in a hurry. In the evening, the abbot wanted a word with me. He said that, unfortunately, the brother apothecary was too old to take his apprentice out in the woods and teach him how to recognize the right plants and the good spots around the monastery. The books and samples that he showed to the boy were not enough. Would I maybe…? I said that I would, if the boy wanted. The abbot frowned: "The boy must do as he is told". I answered: "Then I am sorry". He sighed. "All right, my friend. I will ask him – just ask. He will be free to choose, I promise." He knew me well, the abbot. On the next day, the boy was sitting by the gate of the monastery, waiting for me. When he saw me, he got up, cleared his throat, and stammered: "May I ask you to teach me, brother?" I said: "I almost thought the cat had got your tongue". He blushed then whispered: "I don't like to speak". I said: "We will not have to talk, if you do not want to. I will just show you. But I do not want to renounce swimming." He looked down, whispering: "I'll wait while you swim."

And so it was. But after a few days he took his sandals off and walked down to the water's edge. He paced back and forth, dipped his foot in the water, withdrew swiftly, then came forward again. I pretended to ignore it. After a few more days, he looked at me pleading, lifting the brim of his habit and taking two steps into the water, while I was coming out of the lake. I told him that he would have to ask properly, if he wanted something from me. When I was dressed, he looked up – he was such a small kid – and said: "Please brother, can you teach me how to swim?"

He looked so determined. I said: "I can show you, but only if the abbot allows it. Ask him and tell him exactly this: if he allows it and if you still want it, I will begin to teach you in a fortnight from today. I will tie a rope to a tree branch to secure you and you will learn by watching and imitating what I do."

He learned very quickly. By the time I had to leave, he was a good swimmer and knew more about the local plants than the brother apothecary. He was an astonishing apprentice. I mentioned it to the abbot a couple of times; but he did not react, or talked about the boy with me until the evening before my departure.

I had gone to see him in his study, I always did before I left. It was already dark outside and cold, the day had been foggy, slow and unpleasant. When I walked in, the abbot was sitting in front of an unfinished letter, rubbing his eyes, murmuring a laud to the Virgin. I became aware that he was getting old.

As always, I sat down in the visitor's chair and waited until he looked at me. Then I smiled: "You look tired, father." He smiled back. "The words won't flow, but you traveling to Rome is such a chance…" – "You can tell me your message." He shook his head pushing the letter towards me. "This is what I want… and the bibliothecarian will not send such a manuscript without a formal, well written request. We are but half savages in his eyes.", he chuckled, but his voice had a sharp edge when he continued, "and maybe he is right… ah… and after all, one book more or less… I am tired… and diplomacy…" I interrupted politely: "A few months longer will not make such a difference for your library, and you have already read the book. Take your time. You can send a brother, later." – "Yes… yes, that is true." He sighed, pushing the letter to the side. "Thank you, brother – thank you, friend. For everything…" I wanted to speak, but he raised his hand. "The boy… you have taught him much… some would say that he knows more than a monk should… but I have learned to trust you." I looked him straight in the eye. "Allow him to swim in the lake, if possible. He needs it, I think." He smiled briefly. "I can't specifically allow that… But he's allowed to herborize and I can't follow him, nor appoint a brother to watch him, can I?… But… my friend…" I knew that slight frown, I waited until he resumed. "Is a life outside of these walls really better?… The boy will have a good life, here… that is: as good as earthly life can and may be, as ephemeral as it is…" – "Ephemeral… yes. A blink of the eye, no more." – "We are all in God's hands, and God's ways are inscrutable." I could not repress a sigh. We paused for a long moment. Then he asked: "You are taking your leave?" I nodded: "I have to go. Farewell, abbot  – friend." – "Fare thee well."  – "Give me your blessing." – "My blessing… oh, you… but God's ways are inscrutable… yes… yes, they are…" he gave me his blessing and saw me to the door. But on the threshold he held me back. He said: "Men rely on us and I like to think that we are of some use… if you happen to pass through the northern parts of the world anytime soon, then you might consider visiting brother John in Exeter. He came to study in Chartres the year before I left. I didn't like him at the time, I admit. He was peculiar, and we thought… I thought that he was conceited… arrogant. I still think that he is too proud to be a good monk, but…" I waited until he continued. "Let us say that I have come to appreciate how he thinks and writes, and if he hasn't changed a lot, I think that might like him, too, and that it would be good for him to spend some time with you."

I left early in the morning. The boy was waiting by the gate. When I passed him by, he said: "Farewell, brother, thank you." I just nodded briefly and walked on. But when I was far enough from the monastery and sure to be alone, I had to stop and sit down. I was not walking on solid ground anymore. I was lost.

I sat for a long time, watching leaves fall, listening to rain, feeling the snow that covered me then slowly melting with the tree trunk, dissolving into the lymph, flowing down into dark ground and upward into new branches in spring, until the forest breathed me out and the wind took me, dispersing me to all corners of creation.

Walter: Dispersing… and then?

**: I regathered and made my way back into human society.

Walter: But you could have stayed… dispersed?

**: I suppose that I could have. But I did not want to.

Walter: You always know what you want.

**: So do you, in the end.

Walter: Yeah, that's true… When I jumped, I didn't want to die, I only wanted to be heard. Gravity was my explosive.

**: And oh, the mental picture of mom and dad standing rueful at the poor kid's grave.

Walter: Yeah… Well, not only mom and dad. But that was childish, indeed, and I'm not a child anymore, I should have known better.

**: You have a second chance.

Walter: Yes. Will you help me use it?

**: Of course. If you seek help in me, you will always find it.