“I just really don’t understand why you’re doing this,” he said. He grimaced as if I had somehow physically hurt him. I should have known not to bring him along. But I didn’t think he’d mind that much.
“I want to become a journalist,” I replied, knowing that my answer wouldn’t satisfy him. Is this how you lose a friend? I thought.
A couple of days before it happened, I had talked to my French teacher. She used to be a journalist and because I wanted to write and somehow not starve to death, I wanted to become one too. She told me that she had some friends at Knack, a big Belgian magazine and that she would let them read some of my work if I wanted her to.
Obviously, I did. But I couldn’t let them read some essay about an ass I had a crush on months ago. It had to be a worthy article with at least some literary value.
The idea came to me when I was watching Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei, a German movie about three anti-capitalist youngsters trying to stand up for their ideals in the only way they believed was effective. They broke into rich people’s houses, moved their furniture and left notes, saying “die fetten Jahre sind vorbei” (“the days of plenty are over”) or “Sie haben zu viel Geld” (“you have too much money”).
I somehow identified with these activists and understood their ideology. “Jedes Herz ist eine revolutionäre Zelle” (“every heart is a revolutionary cell”) wrote Jule on the wall of her apartment. And yes, my heart was a revolutionary cell too. So I decided to do some research and write about people like her. People whose beliefs spoke to me. Anarchists.
My neighborhood was a perfect place to start. Every time I walk my dog, I slow down passing the anarchist street that is just one block away. “I am looking for a smile” is written on one of the windows in white paint. Anarchist flags are hanging out. Graffiti is covering the façades. The houses look a bit derelict, but then again, most of the people living there aren’t the owners. They’re the squatters.
The anarchist center, a building with a café on the ground floor and an anarchist library on the top, organizes a soup kitchen twice a week. Everybody is welcome and everything is free. You only pay if you want to. You only help if you have the energy. So I decided to go and see for myself what the whole thing was about.
But the thing about me is, I’m not a doer. I’m a dreamer. I always dream of doing things, but eventually I just do what’s expected of me. Which might not be what I want to do at all. So although I wanted to go in and meet these people, I didn’t dare to. So I just looked at the posters and read the newspaper cutouts hanging on the windows of the anarchist center and then went home.
But I had to write that article. And I was running out of time. Officially, no deadline was assigned to me, but me and my French teacher both knew that if I waited too long, the offer would be withdrawn. So I got cracking.
I called the only friend I knew who would accompany me to an anarchist center and not attract too much attention. He was the kind of guy who painted his nails black and wore black clothes to express the inner workings of his mind. The thing that stood out about him more than his fashion sense, though, was his hair. His blond afro. But although he was quite notable at school, he was alternative enough to blend in at the place we were going.
“There’s no meat here?” he asked, looking at the pans filled with ratatouille and salad.
“You eat way too much meat anyway. And if I told you the food was vegan, you wouldn’t come.”
“That’s not true. I just would have eaten in advance.”
We sat in the corner, talking and watching others talk. All kinds of people gathered there – young, old, middle-aged. Shy people and outcasts, feisty people and activists, mothers and children. What I noticed the most was the atmosphere – warm and relaxed, not stiff at all. It wasn’t freedom the way I imagined it, a getting away from the expectations of our society. It felt more like home. If only the whole world could look like that, I thought.
The lights cast shadows on the cracked walls and book shelves. The Smiths were playing in the background and I was humming along. My friend was looking around, a bit bewildered, not really understanding what was going on. I suddenly regretted bringing him along. I could have made friends here. I went to the bar and ordered drinks, that were incredibly cheap. While talking to the bartender, a volunteer, I arranged a concert for myself at the anarchist center for the following week. Everything was going so smoothly.
And then a man stood up and started talking. He raised his voice and asked for attention. The whole room immediately went silent. There were no rules here, just politeness and respect. “The Jehovah’s witnesses have made a children’s film about how it’s wrong being gay. We cannot tolerate that. Everybody should be given the right to be themselves,” the man was saying. “This is why we are going to hand out flyers tomorrow to protest the distribution of this film. If you want to join me, let me know and I’ll tell you where we’re meeting up.”
A couple of minutes later, I approached the man and gave him my number. He would text me the details the day after. My friend looked disappointed and mad. Mad at me.
We went outside and he grabbed my arm. “What the hell?”
“What do you mean?” I asked him, pushing him away.
“I’m not religious, I actually think religion is crap, but I still believe everybody’s got the right to believe whatever they want to. Protesting against a religion? I really didn’t think you were that kind of person.” He was very pale, which was frightening. I had never seen him this angry before.
“Hey, relax. I can explain.”
“I hope so,” he said and we walked on in silence until we came to a park and sat down on a bench. It was already dark and you could see the stars. But we weren’t looking.
“I just really don’t understand why you’re doing this,” he said, calmer now. Dispirited.
“I want to become a journalist.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” he cried out surprised. So I told him that I was writing an article. That I was doing research. That I had to go to that manifestation to infiltrate the anarchist movement.
But I didn’t tell him that I actually believed in the ideology of the anarchists. That I had felt at ease at the anarchist center. That I don’t believe you can ever justify homophobia.
“These people are crazy,” my friend said and I just nodded. I didn’t like disappointing people.
I didn’t go to the demonstration. Because I’m still not a doer. But I’m getting there. One step at a time.