“You know that for many years now I have had to publish poetry in order to make money…”
It was the day before yesterday. We had met, quite by chance, in a café. I bought him coffee. We sat down.
His early works were considered scandalous. He was known as an uncompromising iconoclast. His ‘black period’ shocked critics who still had faith in art. One well-known commentator published an article in a Sunday newspaper saying how my friend – so charming, quiet and unassuming – was the victim of a diseased mind; a pathological degenerate who should be locked away.
He smiled nostalgically, stirring his coffee as I reminded him of the good old days, when literature could still arouse such interest.
In his writings he had demolished everything.
He told his readers that they were living a deluded existence, how they were hiding from a world of limitless and intolerable absurdity.
“Listen,” he said, “I am the destroyer. I resurrected evil. I revealed the absurd. I harnessed the power of dreams and hallucinations. I praised crime. I confronted home-truths in the trappings of nightmare. I denounced our nullified culture as sterile, fit only for zombies, philistines and well-heeled poseurs…”
Looking out I saw the London fog kiss the window.
“And now,” he sighed, “someone has written my biography – the definitive account – compiled, without my permission, from private investigations and thousands of press-cuttings. There is even a laudatory preface and a critical commentary on my works by a famous psychologist.”
“Yes, I have a copy, “I was forced to admit. “You are made out to be a great philanthropist.”
“Ha! Well,” said my unfortunate friend, smiling like a man who has finished with thinking. “The best is yet to come. This morning I received a letter conferring an honorary degree from a new university…what can I do?”
By this time we were both laughing.
“You can’t possibly accept!” I exclaimed. I was genuinely shocked.
“But, if I refuse I become conspicuous,” he replied.
Then he stood up, shook me warmly by the hand and, looking slightly furtive, he gave me a plain brown envelope addressed to you.
On the pavement, in the swirling London fog he loved so much, we parted and he was soon lost in the opaque haze, never to reappear.
I hurried home, clutching the precious envelope – already I was trying to imagine the rare pleasures we were soon to derive from its contents.