The Consolation of Philosophy

‘Next stop, Cirque.’

Berit stowed her book away and shuffled to the door. She stepped out, pushing her way through the crowd. Tied her scarf round her throat. It was five to ten. She would just about make it.

‘Excuse me,’ someone said.

She set off towards her class.

‘Excuse me.’

A hand tugged her arm. One thing Berit hated was being manhandled.

‘Get off,’ she snapped, shaking loose her assailant, a short, elderly woman wearing horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in tweed. She had been sitting opposite her in the tram, Berit realised.

‘I’m so sorry,’ the woman said, ‘but I do need to talk to you urgently.’

‘Ah,’ said Berit. ‘I’m late for my class.’

‘I understand,’ said the woman. ‘But there’s something very important that I need to tell you.’

Oh God, thought Berit. Another crackpot. She’d been like a magnet for freaks, recently. She was about to walk off, but hesitated. For all she knew, this might be someone important. The Chair of the Law department.

‘Well?’ she said.

The old woman took off her spectacles and looked at her.

‘I’m afraid I have some very bad news. Could we sit down for a moment?’

Christ, thought Berit. Are they expelling me? Odd way to go about it.

She followed the old woman and sat down beside her on a bench.

‘I know this will come as a shock,’ the woman said, ‘but you only have two days to live.’

A train of infants marched past, two-by-two, flanked by their minders.

‘Eh?’

‘This must be terribly unsettling to hear,’ the old woman said. ‘I’m so sorry.’

An infant broke off from the train and made a mad dash for freedom, to the cheers of his peers and the groans of his minders.

Berit, confused, looked at the old woman, who had tears in her eyes.

A clock struck the hour.

Berit got to her feet.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but I have to go.’

‘Please,’ said the old woman, reaching towards her. ‘There’s no mistake, believe me.’

‘I don’t think so,’ said Berit, turning away. It hadn’t been the Chair of the Law department after all. Late for the third day that week, she ran through the park, cursing.

*

‘Miaow.’

Jeff, Berit’s cat, rubbed her shins under the breakfast table, wanting to be fed.

She was tired. She had made the mistake, instead of drifting off to sleep, of reflecting on the encounter at the tram stop. The more she’d reflected, the more angry she’d become. What had entitled that woman to accost her that way? How dare she?

If I see her again, thought Berit, she’ll get a piece of my mind.

*

Next stop, Cirque.

Berit yawned, got up from her seat, and headed to the door. She stepped out, pushing her way through the crowd. She tied her scarf round her throat. It was four minutes to ten. She would have to sprint.

‘Thank God! It’s you!’

A hand grabbed her arm. Berit span around, coming face to face with the old woman.

‘For fuck’s sake,’ said Berit.

‘There’s not a moment to lose,’ said the old woman. ‘Quick, let’s sit down.’

‘Let’s not,’ said Berit, prising the old woman’s hand off.

‘You’re upset and angry,’ said the old woman. ‘Just give me two minutes to explain. Afterwards, you can ask as many questions as you like, or none at all. Two minutes, that’s all I ask.’

Berit shook herself free and was gone.

*

‘Miaow.’

The cat slinked between her legs. She sat slumped at the table, exhausted.

That poor young woman, whatever her name was, would die the next day. There were all sorts of things she could be doing with her final hours. What a terrible shame.

This was a burden she would have gladly done without.

The others hadn’t been any better. The banker, the bus driver, the boy in the park. She’d got abuse, threats and (in the case of the small boy) physical violence.

The evidence was clear. People just couldn’t cope with news of their impending death.

Who could blame them? And yet, shouldn’t they ought to know? Could anything be worse than, one day, out of the blue, dying? Discovering too late that this was it, it was suddenly all over? With no time to take stock of the situation, contemplate life’s lessons, put one’s affairs in order.

However much she loathed it, this was vital work. It was essential to transmit this knowledge.

And she had gone to such trouble to be as reassuring as possible!

Great pains. Which had met with failure.

She sighed.

The cat miaowed.

She sighed again, then an idea came. Perhaps if she wrote down her message and gave it to the young woman? The essential facts. Let her digest it on her own, at her leisure.

It was certainly worth a try.

She fetched a pad.

*

‘Next stop, Cirque.’

Berit stowed her book away and shuffled to the door. She stepped out, pushing her way through the crowd. Tied her scarf round her throat. It was five to ten. She would just about make it.

‘Excuse me.’

A small girl was tugging on her jacket.

‘Excuse me,’ the girl said. ‘You need to read this.’

She handed Berit a folded piece of paper.

‘OK…’ said Berit.

 She shoved it in her pocket and hurried off.

*

They who obtain divinity become Gods. By nature there is only one God, but there may be many by participation. Regardless whether we categorize Boethius’s words as realist abstractionism or constructivism, what may safely be asserted is that…’

Berit’s attention drifted. She fingered the folded up paper in her pocket. The nerve of that woman.

She took out the paper, unfolded it, and after staring at it for a good twenty minutes, felt that she understood.

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