Herr Ahmed reminded me of myself five years ago, when I was roughly his age. I still remembered how I left school with a feeling that the world seemed full of possibilities and destinations, much like this train station, and that I only had to pick the one path that was right for me. Despite not knowing what that should look like, I was certain that life would magically unfold in front of me. I could still recall the feeling of freedom I felt, when I left my parents’ house to move into a matchbox-sized dorm room in a small town in the far south of Germany. I had signed up for art history and math, thinking that time would tell what my heart was most set on. Turned out, for most of the first three semesters, my heart was set on partying and Lars, who was slightly older than me, lived upstairs, and provided comfort and booze whenever I needed it. Three semesters went by, in which I mainly alternated between curing a hangover and working hard to get one. As Lars, despite sharing the same lifestyle as me, miraculously managed to complete his Bachelor’s degree and moved away to work at an up-and-coming tech start-up, it dawned on me that I should probably make some meaningful adjustments to my life as well.
Admittedly, part of this was also “inspired” by my parents telling me that they would cut my funds if I did not present them with a solid master plan shortly. Frustrated by their financial superiority, I decided that I would only be able to experience ultimate freedom if I was earning my own money. Between art history and math, the latter was most likely to generate some income, I figured, so I decided to apply to the local bank that was hiring trainees at that time and offered a welcome gift of EUR 500.00 in cash.
On my first day in the local branch, I felt disillusioned and was certain that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life. The average age of my colleagues was 50 plus, and that was after counting in my youthful age of 25. Most of them were chain smokers who spent more time in the smoking corner behind the garbage cans outside the building than behind their desks; their clothes all resembled my grandma’s curtains, and the smell of old, stale cigarette smoke was tattooed into their fabric forever. The coffee break at 10 a.m. was the highlight of their day, when they gathered in the small coffee corner in the back office to exchange life hacks (“Did you know that you can easily save 20% of energy by not pre-heating the oven?”) and to complain about different sources of pain in their ligaments, often originating from some kind of perceived draft through a tilted window. I was unapologetically judgmental and despised their lives with an almost passive aggressive passion, just because they so obviously lacked the knack for adventure that I was priding myself on and that I valued so highly. They were so different from my freedom and travel-loving self and my disapproval of their lifestyle was, in retrospect, mainly a self-defense mechanism because the last thing I wanted was for their boredom to brush off on me. My aversion was governed by the pure fear of becoming what I had right in front of me. Therefore, I made a point of not having the regular 10 a.m. coffee with them, of smoking my cigarettes in a different corner of the back yard and of setting strict boundaries to avoid an overlap between work and my private life.
However, much to my surprise, my colleagues still looked out for me and did not hate me back despite my best efforts. Gerda from accounting, who brought a self-baked cake to the office every Friday, always put a piece on my desk and consequently accompanied it with a kind smile. Not even fake kind, but actually true and honest kindness. She was easily 20 kilos heavier than her doctor would advise her to be and her thick glasses were so heavy that they had left a permanent dent on her nose. Yet, despite the objectively unsatisfying job, body weight, and nose dent, she seemed to be inexplicably satisfied with her life. Herbert, who worked in payroll and was part of the office bowling team, was one of those types as well. Despite my open reluctance to socialize with the others, he kept asking me if I wanted to join the team. And he did not even seem offended by my frequent rejections. He just smiled and kept saying: “Well, maybe next time.”
It took me a few months, but I finally realized that all those people who I despised for their seemingly boring lives shared a quality that I was most envious of: They were at peace with themselves and their lives. So much that they made the laser sharp observation that I was still all over the place, and their continuous kindness was their way of showing me their sympathy and support. I eventually got it: Certainly, it had neither been Gerda’s nor Herbert’s dream to be a teller at the bank, but it was also not the end of their world, nor was it a factor determining whether or not their lives were valuable and enjoyable. It was entirely up to them to make the conscious choice of being satisfied with their lives. Nobody else’s business.
I wanted to tell Herr Ahmed that he would be fine, that the discomfort would eventually vanish as he got used to his new job and that he might possibly even begin to appreciate his colleagues for all their authenticity. It would still take a while, though. However, I also knew that he would not believe me. Not right now. He would most likely think that I was trying to make fun of him. He will eventually figure it out by himself, I thought and allowed my mind to wander off to the next character on display.
(…to be continued…)
Series – Evanescent
January: If Something Can Go Wrong…It Will – Jonay Quintero Hernández (Spain)
February: The Planet of Pleasure – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
March: Evening with Jackie Chan – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
April: Vuvuzelas, Walkie-Talkies and Madiba Magic – Sarah-Leah Pimentel (South Africa)
May: Remembering – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
June: 5-4-3-2-1 – Talia Stotts (America)
July: Getting Ready for Newborns – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
August: Regrets – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
September: A Hollow Pursuit – Diana Haidar (Syria)
October: The Test – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
November: A Life Rekindled – Lauren Voaden (United Kingdom)
December: Wanderlust – Ina Maria Vogel (Germany)
Special: Catching Water III – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
Background – Context
Transadaptation Volume 2: Conceived – Childhood Transadapted, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2021)
Transadaptation Volume 1: In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: Frankfurt, Germany – At the office – Enzo Lo Presti (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed