They came, as all extremists do
In time, to a sort of grandeur …
— Richard Wilbur, “The Undead”
There’s a kind of patio in front of this hotel and a man sits there, smoking a cigarette.
I arrived at this hotel three days ago and he was already there.
When I awake in the morning — I peer out of my window, look down — he is there.
When I go to my car, he is there.
When I ready myself for bed, he is there. Smoking.
He has neither phone nor book. He listens to nothing — nothing that you or I could hear — and appears to look at nothing, except, perhaps, the tiles that floor the patio.
It could be that he has neither sight nor hearing, that he is only mouth and lungs.
He sits by a table, but nothing is on the table: no pack of Marlboros, no lighter.
He wears a loose casual shirt and nylon trousers.
It is as though he has one cigarette he smokes eternally. It never burns down, but eternally renews itself.
“Purity of heart is to will one thing,” said Kierkegaard. This man has the purest of hearts.
When I check out today, he will surely still be there, and I will try to catch his eye. But I have little hope of that.
Perhaps I will return to this hotel in a year or two and find him still there, smoking.
Perhaps I alone can see him.