Humbly Dedicated to:

  • Georg Simmel

  • Jean-Paul Sartre


When Max first came to the city of Nordenland he was a complete stranger; he knew nobody and nobody knew him. Max came to this great city in North because; well, because he, like everybody else who comes to a new city was looking for something. Some people move because they trust their brain, some move because they trust their heart, and some move because they simply trust their guts.

As for Max, Max moved because he trusted nobody. His hometown, Klein, was a small town where everybody knew everyone. If you’re from one of those towns or villages, you know how annoying it can be. You can’t even make a single step without somebody asking: “Hey, how is it today?! How’s your old mama doing?!” Then you start with the usual conversation how she’s still alive and well, she’s still working at the local store (the same local store where she’s been working for the last 20 years), and it looks like it might be a hot day today; because every random conversation must end with both parties giving their professional meteorological opinion. And then, a few hours later it rains and nobody knows why.

Slowly but surely it drew Max crazy. He would go out to buy groceries and someone yelled:“Hey Max, how is it today?”

He went out to meet with a friend and someone yelled: “Hey Max, how is it today?”

Or maybe he simply went out because he felt like going out and someone still yelled: “Hey Max, how is it today? Oh, and have you heard, it looks like a storm might hit us tonight.”

“I’ll hit you if you don’t shut up.” – this thought would often come to Max’s mind, although he would never have actually done it. He was a peaceful guy; a peaceful angry guy. Probably the worst combination if I’m being completely honest.

But Max simply couldn’t wrap his mind around how can people constantly lead these same, boring conversations that have no point. More so to the fact Max didn’t even actually know these people. Sure, he knew their names and who they were, but he never actually got to know who they are. Ironically, although Max and these people must have talked hundred times, they never asked each other questions like: “What do you like?”, “What do you hate?” or as Max would put it: “Who the fuck are you?”

This monotony of events was eating Max from the inside out.

So, he moved out to a city that was big enough for nobody to know him. He became what he always wanted to be, a stranger. And god did it feel good. Although villages are usually quieter than cities, for Max, this city that had around 4 million citizens felt like the deepest black hole you could possibly imagine. There were cars rumbling, people yelling, dogs barking, machines screaming, but Max didn’t hear anything of that. This, in Max’s opinion, was the closest he’ll ever get to Nirvana.

But of course, Max had to get a job. And I know what you’re thinking. This is the part of the story where the twist happens: the guy gets a job, he meets people and then after a year or so passes the guy learns the lesson that “there’s no place like home” or something and he returns home happier than ever. Nope dear reader, you’re mistaking. (which by the way is good for you, because it means this story won’t be boring).

Ironically, Max’s first job was at a local store. It was a local store, but it was around 10 miles away from Max’s apartment, so to him it didn’t feel very “local”. One day as he was driving home he sat beside a man on the bus. The man was looking out the window and Max was randomly going through his phone. “Perfect” – Max thought.

About 10 minutes into the drive the man hesitantly turned to Max and said: “Looks like no rain today.”

You can imagine what went through Max’s head at that moment. Flashbacks of neighbors, all those Stevens, Andrews, Mollys, and everyone else whom he did, but at the same time didn’t know, came rushing like a violent tide.  Max felt like a huge hammer was randomly thrown out of an airplane and it landed exactly on his head, turning his brain into a mush. But this was even worse. Usually, if a huge hammer hits you on the head, 99 of 100 times you can be sure you won’t feel anything after. But for Max it was as if the hammer dropped, the brain became mush, and he was still feeling the consequences of it.

“Yeah, I didn’t bring my umbrella so I guess I got lucky.” – Max answered as politely as he could; which can be pretty hard when a hammer turns your brain into a porridge, so you got to give credit to the guy.

“Haha, I guess I wasn’t as lucky.” – the man answered while lifting his umbrella in the air.

Max smiled and boy was it an uncomfortable smile.

“Listen, can I ask you something?” – the man asked if he could ask.

“Hmm, sure.”

“Look, I know this might sound a bit weird, coming from a complete stranger and all, but I was wondering if you could advise me on something.”

“I guess I can try, but I don’t know how much use you’ll have from my opinion.” – Max said as he was turning off his phone.

“It doesn’t matter. You see, I’ve been living in this city my entire life; the same street, same job and unfortunately, the same woman. Honestly, I believe she doesn’t like it either. Every Monday to Friday I go to work, then on weekends we visit her parents and talk about the same boring things; how the times are hard and how every boss you have is destined to be a dick. Every week is like that and I know I might sound like a spoiled bastard, but I just can’t stand it anymore. I earn good money and I managed to provide me and my family a pretty decent life, but I just can’t stand the monotony of this life and this city. I know everybody in my building – from the old lady that lives on the 18th floor to the janitor. But still, I don’t really “know” any of them. I know when a baby is born, I know when a person dies, I even know when somebody has sex in the building. But when I really think about it, I don’t know anyone there. What makes them happy, what makes them sad, and so on. Imagine how absurd this is: you know and don’t know everyone.” – the man stopped for the second to check something outside the window and then continued – “I’d like to ask you what do you think about it? And more importantly, do you think I should go and live someplace else? I just feel like I need a change, but I have this uncomfortable, almost scary feeling that disables me from doing it.”

Max couldn’t say a word. It was as if hundreds and hundreds of new hammers have been tossed out of the airplane and somehow they all managed to find their way to Max’s head. His face begun to turn red, his palms were sweating, and the only thing he could do is rush out of the bus as it stopped.

Now, this will probably come to you as an exaggeration. Don’t be a pussy Max, he just asked you a question, more so, he asked you a question about something you have experience with. If nothing else, finally you got a chance to talk to somebody about more than just weather.

But Max couldn’t handle it. You see, Max innocently thought people from cities don’t have the same problems people from towns and villages have.  Yes, you could say Max was pretty naive; he was only 18 years old after all.

So the fact that monotony and known-but-unknown people can be found in a huge city like this simply shocked him. What can he do? No point in leaving this city and go to another. It doesn’t matter where he goes, the troubles will follow.

As Max began to cool down he came up with a resolution: from now on he’ll talk to everybody who comes into his life, he’ll find out everything there is to find out about these people and he’ll also make sure everyone knows everything about him as well. It doesn’t matter who the person is – from the bus driver that drives him every day to work to the people who live in the same building. He’ll exterminate this disease that’s slowly killing everyone.

The next day Max woke up and as he was entering the building’s elevator he noticed an old lady in it. They were just standing there as the elevator was going down but at one point Max asked: “Who are you?”

Lady turned in confusion and said: “Sorry?”

“Who are you? What is your name? What do you love? What do you hate?”

The lady gave Max an uncomfortable look and rushed out of the elevator as it reached its destination.

But Max wasn’t just to give up, oh no, he decided to get rid of the disease and he will.

He approached a man from whom he used to buy his lunch, the bus driver who drove the bus with which Max went every day to work, and people who came to the store where he was working. And he approached each one of them with the same questions: “Who are you? What is your name? What do you love? What do you hate?”

He wouldn’t give up, he won’t give up. He’s the one who’ll give meaning to this life filled with monotony.

As you might have guessed, few days have passed and the word spread around about a crazy guy going around asking people: “Who are you? What is your name? What do you love? What do you hate?”.

Naturally, it didn’t take long for Max to approach a person who didn’t feel like listening to his questions and just ignoring it. Instead, the person called the police. Even more naturally, the police came and took Max to the police station. There Max tried to explain who he is, why is he doing what he is doing, but the more Max tried to reason, the more the cops thought he was crazy.

“So you’re saying you want everyone to know everyone?” One of the policemen asked.

“Well not everyone. I just want to make sure that people talk to each other and they truly know people who are part of their lives. You see, our lives are filled with monotony and we’re wasting our life without us even realizing it. There are countless people we meet in our lives without us ever actually meeting them.”

“So, that’s why you approached total strangers?”

“No, no, not strangers, but people whom I know.”

“We called some of the people you tried to “meet” and they say they don’t know who you are. Only the bus driver told us that he knows you, but only because you drive the same route every day.”

“Well yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. We know so much people, but we don’t actually know who they are. So I want to make sure we know who we are.”

But Max’s reason couldn’t reach policemen’s reason, so Max spent a night in the police station and the next day a psychiatrist came. Max in the same reasonable manner explained to the psychiatrist what he explained the policemen and the psychiatrist seemed to understand. Max was relieved.

After the psychiatrist left, the policemen came in and told Max to wait an hour and then he’ll be released. Max had no problems with that.

An hour passed and a white van came. Two men dressed in the same tone of white came, took Max and… Well, no need to continue the story; you can already guess how this ends, right?

Yes, Max ended up in a mental hospital. And why? Because he didn’t want to be a stranger anymore. Granted, in a bit psychotic way, but that’s why this is a story.


Icon Credit: anonymous by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project

 

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