I haven’t paid my apartment rent on time for a while now. When I first started renting here I was always on time, the first of the month, no questions asked. This went on for 10 years. It was written in the contract—I pay and the rental company will deal with any problems that may occur in my dwelling. And I believed it! A lot of good it did me. The contract didn’t exist except as a clause on an unenforceable piece of paper and as a sort of safety net in my imagination. I no longer feel any obligation because they take so much time to make repairs. The plumbing in the bathroom was messed up since last November; it was finally fixed a couple of weeks ago. Same with the shower, it took months. And now there’s a problem in the kitchen sink.
Now I pay around the 10th which is as much resisting that I can do before fines are imposed. It gets more complicated. Paying my rent involves going to the bank and transferring money. As a response to money laundering the banking laws have changed in France and this has made many financial transactions into mini-nightmares. The process is irritating, but I have no choice if I’m to keep a roof over my head. On the ninth of this month I walked up the street to the bank where I have my account to pay my rent. It was a sunny day. As I got to the first traffic light I turned my head slightly to the right to be sure that no cars were coming.
Then, about 20 yard to the left, I noticed a man lying in the bicycle lane wearing only a pair of white shorts and tennis shoes. There was something about the way he was laying there that told me he was dead. His body looked completely normal, but his face was bright red. A policeman stood about a yard or so away from him and was holding a walkie-talkie. People gathered and stared.
At critical moments one’s mind can take in so much information with a short glance. I looked for no longer than four seconds, but the effect it made upon me I can hardly describe. The body was flat to the earth, like an inflatable mattress with no air in it. There was the impression that on that street, at that moment, time didn’t exist. The man had become the representative of eternity. I was shaken, and then continued towards the bank.
As I walked I tried to imagine what had happened. I ran though the available scenarios in my mind. Was it an accident? A shooting? A beating? A suicide? Did the policeman do it? I tried to cope with it emotionally, to reestablish my mental equilibrium. The best I could come up with was that whatever the man’s problems had been, whatever pain he had was now over. I kept walking. Suddenly, a man coming from the opposite direction screamed obscenities and gave me a menacing look. I got to the bank, but it was closed for Assumption. All these events converged as if in a bizarre dream.
I went back the next day and asked in the sandwich shop what had happened to the man. A customer said it was a suicide. He’d jumped from the sixth floor. The bright red on his face was a scarf that he’d tied over his face. This personal detail seemed tragic to me. She was the only one to call the police. She said after he hit the ground he was still breathing but instead of trying to help him, people started taking photos with their phones. I thanked her for the information, went to the bank and finally paid the rent.