I learned this morning that a very good friend from my pre-previous life had died. Apparently, he was celebrating his 65th birthday with a group of former fellow students, fell over the stairs while leaving the restaurant and died instantly. While this is the kind of death I envy, it is still very sad, and he could have lived many years yet. Although I am not sure he really wanted to.
He was my first husband's best friend, and they were highly ceremonial toward each other, as part of the game, calling each other "milord" and such. They had long philosophical conversations, and my husband explained to me that as a woman I would never ever comprehend the depth of their minds. Yet when we divorced, Alik remained my friend and gladly shared his mind with me. We attempted to have a relationship, stated it wouldn't work and decided that being good friends was more gratifying. He had an exquisite taste. Back in the old days in Moscow when there was little choice in flowers he would bring me iris and cyclamen (had orchids been available I am sure they would be his favourite). He managed to find the most incredible wines and the most exotic cake. He found the only place in Moscow where they served hot chocolate. And he liked skating - we would go skating every now and then, and I have vivid memories of snowflakes dancing in the light of coloured lamps over the skating rink. Grown-up people - we loved it. He would come to my birthday parties and occasionally New Year parties, but he preferred to meet me alone, over a good homemade meal and a bottle of wine.
When I moved to Sweden, the first ten years I was incredibly stupid and invited all friends to come and see me at once. It was crowded, chaotic and never allowed any time to talk. So eventually I learned to see friends one at a time, portioning out my precious hours in Moscow, inevitably favouring some over others. Alik lived in a far-away suburb, it was an adventure to get there, and we had a tendency to sit up late, so I would often stay overnight. He had become a grumpy old bachelor, complaining over the world, over people, and his own miserable life. He would prepare a meal, and after the meal he would smoke a pipe. We would catch up on the past years' experience. I know it's a banal simile, but it was like a time bubble.
Knowing his taste for good food, I tried to invite him to the newly emerging gourmet restaurants in Moscow. He said he couldn't afford to invite me and would never accept that a woman paid for his meal. But he appreciated good tobacco that I brought from Sweden.
I also tried to invite him to visit me in Stockholm, and he said he didn't want to come as a poor relative. He had only been abroad once, in Belgium.
By the way, he was an outstanding philosopher and sociologist. He worked at the Institute for International Working-class Movement, which was, in those old days, the hub for the best philosophers in Russia.
At my father's funeral, after a couple of glasses he tried to explain to those present that they underestimated my father who was the greatest intellectual he had ever met.
During my last visit to Moscow, for my school reunion, I didn't tell anyone that I was there, because I just couldn't cope with it, but I called Alik, told him that I would be in Moscow for a day and a half and wondered whether he was free to see me. We had a four-hour-long lunch in a Persian restaurant. He paid the bill.
Honestly, just a couple of days ago I told myself that I should call Alik to see how he was. He didn't use email or still less facebook, so we were out of touch.
And now it's too late.