The story of no story

Coffee was good. Pungently bitter and opaquely black. Fine grains of dregs rolling on the tongue with every sip. The rolls were puffy and sweetish with raisins lost amid the air bubbles in the dough, as if asking to be poked out with the index finger, which would drive Tante Elsa mad.

“Yes, that’s a very nice place you’ve got here”, Peter said carefully chewing his cud. “Welcoming, warm. So!”, he added looking up to Andrew, clearly about to raise a new subject. “What can we do from here?”

“You mean now – work? Your work?”

Peter nodded with his mouth full.

Andrew sipped at his coffee gazing through the window, his face full in the sunlight as if offering itself to the beams.

“Well, I do have one or two ideas – but – erm, since this is your third-time Romania I was thinking you don’t need the same stereotypes. You know”, he added suddenly down-to-earth, taking his eyes off the window and peering right through Peter’s eyes, “that kind of scenario whereby foreign journalist is visiting old granny to interview about hardships.”

Peter grinned.

“Hmm, well, yes, that does sound like an old story.”

“See!”

Silence fell, as if Andrew was missing his cues. He stood up, fetched himself the coffee pot and a cake of white cheese, yellowish at the edges from exposure to the air, covered in little holes as if poked by a kid with the index finger.

Peter kept chewing and biting at his roll, gurgling down large sips of coffee, watching Andrew slightly inquiringly.

“But – you know – “, Andrew said thoughtfully, as if just then considering the idea, “there is another option.”

Peter stopped chewing expectantly, holding his breath, his eyes set on Andrew’s face.

“What about – “, Andrew started off but sank again in pondering silence. “What about – we could just do – Nothing.” Here he raised his eyes to Peter with an inviting smile.

Peter stood still for another few seconds.

“Oh! You mean – Nothing!?” he exclaimed not sure whether Andrew had meant it as a joke or not, just the same not sure whether he should take it as such.

“Yes!”, Andrew assented passionately. “Just think of it! Do Nothing! Doesn’t it sound exciting?”

Peter resumed his careful chewing. Foreign ground.

“Just look at it this way,” Andrew went on. “A crazy local has abducted you to his abode in the midst of the forests, and the whole day you do what he does,” and here Andrew shrugged, “that is, nothing in particular. Just living here.”

“Oh, you mean something like Robinson Crusoe, ha ha”, Peter put his head out of the shell like a snail in the sunshine.

“Yeah, that’s right, something like that”, Andrew replied enthusiastically. “Only without the touch of exoticism, you know, doesn’t have to be like that. That’s the point. You’re used to exotic experiences, I bet. Have travelled round the globe, been there, done that, what have you. Now it’s just – nothing in particular, nothing that you could name and label, nothing foreign, exotic, nothing spectacular, no story, nothing to report on – just being here. What sayest thou?”

“I see”, Peter replied slowly, considering his words. “You mean that kind of Nothing. And have you got something for me to imagine under this Nothing? What would it be like living here doing – Nothing?”

“Well, fetching wood from the forest, doing small work in the chapel here, I need to do some maintenance work, you know, cooking, I could show you the mountains round here take you to a cave and a hermit’s hut – a real one, not mine!, attending the service early afternoon, in the evening and at midnight, well actually lots of little things that add up and make up a day – and a night too. There’s not much to do you know, in your sense of the word. But just be here. Go with the flow of the hours. The little duties. The necessities. And  we can forget about Mona – or I could drive her back to the hotel in the town, or if she was willing I could bring her along here too.”

“Mona roughing it?” Peter laughed.

Andrew did not laugh, just smiled a bit fatherly.

“Mona would be talking it. Commenting instead of joining. I might be wrong, though”, Andrew added with a smiling resignation.

“Mona’s been so useful and reliable, and competent too!” Peter felt he needed to do her justice. “But this is all in the other scenario, as you call it, the scenario of doing things. Of reporting on stories. If I was to go without a story she would probably be redundant. Out of her depth, if depth is the right word”, Peter added thoughtfully. “So yes, maybe she should take some time off.”

“Does that mean you’re in for it?”

“For what?”

“For doing Nothing?” Andrew said grinning.

Peter smiled and considered for a second.

“Yes, why not. The story of no story. I will be degraded from hero to no-character, but let’s hope that won’t mean getting demoted from my job when I get back to the office!”

“Actually, why don’t you see it the other way round – maybe it’s just your chance to finally become a hero?” Andrew winked at him. “I mean, if I understand correctly, you travel about poking your finger through other people’s lives while nobody gets to know anything about you. You just hold a mike and talk into a camera, and this only some of the time, because most of the time you’re not even in the camera spot, because it’s the other guys that are doing the talking. So you were a nobody, actually, if you don’t mind – until now! Now’s the time to show yourself, come out of your shell like a snail in the sunshine, and show ‘em who you are!” Andrew concluded with broad theatrical gestures and a lopsided smile on his face swinging between irony and gentleness.

“Show who?” Peter laughed in an attempt to be laid back.

“Don’t know – whoever might be around in your life to watch and be interested to see who you are. Show ‘em. Show yourself, for that matter. Doesn’t matter in fact. Showing’s not the point.”

It occurred to Peter in a flash that he wasn’t paid by the channel to do being himself, nor hero-ing around in a god-forsaken apple-tree orchard. But he kept quiet. After all, it’s always how you wrap it up that matters. Or not even that. The vision. That’s it, the vision. Not the story you tell, which often you could pretty sum up in two sentences; not the appropriate words you use to tell it, since you can even do it in a language not your own, or using someone else’s words like he had done on the postcard to the Beatles, patching up ready-made chunks, Beatles’ own song titles or text titbits, to make up his own message – no, it was the vision behind it that mattered, that would make it or break it. Which means – beyond the facts, the characters, the setting and the chronology, that undefinable thing that you were able to see into the facts, characters, setting, or chronology, or what you made of all that. Your own part to play, if you’ve got the guts to play a part at all instead of just reporting facts on the safe side of the matter-of-fact. The guts to have a voice – to have a vision. Become a hero, says this queer local.

Yes, he will find a vision behind it to report on, in the aftermath. When everything has been played out and he is sitting on the plane back home, back to London. There is bound to be something about this local worth putting down to paper.

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