If one death post a day is not enough for you, then you’ve just got lucky! In November 2017, I learned about another way too early departure of someone I knew. I was in Tokyo on a business trip. It was a crisp and unusually clear morning, with the rising sun painting the sprawling megalopolis silver and gold. On my way to the breakfast, the distant cone of snow-capped Fujisan was outright dazzling behind the tall hallway windows of my high rise hotel. It would have been beautiful if the strange serenity wasn’t marred by the shards of hangover gritting in my head (some of my former Japanese colleagues party even harder than they work, and I always feared that not following suit would be considered rude in that wonderfully strange culture).
In the dining room, I loaded my tray with about a dozen tasty little oddities. Only a minute later I realised it might be quite hard to force it all down on that particular day. But I hate wasting food, so I braced myself and on I went, chopsticks clicking. While I slowly progressed through the ordeal I pushed myself into so foolishly, I was listlessly flipping through Czech news on my mobile, thinking that the day can’t get much worse. And then it did.
I saw a familiar name in one headline, saying the man had died. Surely that’s not the guy I remember from school, I thought. I opened the full article and saw the picture that features in this post. My chopsticks stopped mid-air, a piece of kimchi flopping back to the plate. It was him all right, winking at me from a place that was eerily similar to a Tokyo park I’d visited not so long before. He didn’t even look that much older than I remembered him. Only he was dead.
His name was Berry (or Berrz, as he used to spell it in a mocking reference to the quirky Y/Z swap in the most popular Czech keyboard layout). For a couple of years around the turn of millennium, we became quite close since we soon found out we’re about the only two geeks in a class of fresh journalism students. We were obsessed about cyberpunk and transhumanism. We could even code a little, which was unheard of at a humanities school. Few months into our first year, we and our awed digital media teacher somehow managed to get to high-res copies of movies like The Matrix, Strange Days or Tetsuo: The Iron Man. When the school was over, we watched those films in a dark lecture theatre while the rest of the class discussed Saussure, McLuhan, lacanian post-structural feminism and similar posh hogwash in nearby pubs. And then we would go to those pubs and catch up with our friends who were well ahead in pints and thus suddenly more than happy to talk about our weird stuff for a change.
Yeah, we had a good time back then, though it didn’t last long. After a sloppy graduation, I veered off towards computer science in a futile attempt to realise some of those visions we used to read about. Then Berry moved to the capital and I moved to Ireland, and we gradually stopped seeing each other. Still, I’m sure that if we somehow did run into one another, now or another twenty years in future, it’d be as if we just took a little break in one of our late-night futuristic ravings to sleep off a particularly nasty hangover.
Only it won’t happen, ever. Apparently he had a pretty vicious cancer and that’s a bit harder to shake off than a few pints. Based on what I read and heard from old schoolmates, he’d been wringing what he could from his life, just the way I remembered him. And when he could do no more, he went to his home village to spend the last days in peace, with his wife and parents around till the very end. Looks like he not only knew how to live, he also picked about the nicest way of dying I can imagine. Not that I’m suggesting dying is nice, mind you. But I suspect people do tend to botch it rather often. Which is really sad, because the way I see it, kicking the bucket is quite an important part of life and there are no second chances to do it right.
When I finished reading the ghastly news about Berry, I choked down the rest of the breakfast, went to my hotel room and cried. Perhaps not as much as when I learned about the deaths of Mates or Apacka, but there was a surprisingly great deal of sadness if one considers that I might never have seen Berry in my life again anyway even if he lived until hundred.
A minute later, my nearly forgotten hangover hit me with what seemed like a circular saw spinning inside my all too tight skull. And then I laughed bitterly through the tears, and wiped away all that crap that was ripping my head and soul so raw. Because there are much worse things in life than grief or after-effects of mild alcohol poisoning. Like being dead, for instance. And as long as that’s not the case, one should keep going in the best way possible. Which I did. For a while, anyway.
The feature photo originally comes from Berry’s archive.