One afternoon in that distant and unheralded city, where it appears that Claude’s life is winding up quietly, unobtrusively, and according to plan, something happens that is entirely strange. Claude has just stumbled out of an over-priced but shady cafe where he has made a single cup of coffee last long enough to compose three poems as mediocre as they are heartfelt and is blinking his eyes in the bright sun when he sees two members of his family drive past on a motorbike. The woman holds lightly onto the man who is driving. Neither is wearing a helmet. They cruise right past him, crisply and smoothly, without turning in his direction or stopping.
Claude is too surprised to call out.
He has seen them for only a few seconds. They are two people he has not seen for several decades, in a city thousands of miles from this one. Nonetheless he is sure it is them. He is certain, too, that they have recognized him. Or, to be more precise, it seems they did not need to recognize him, since they presumably knew that he was there all along and stopping for him had not been part of the plan.
Claude stands slack-jawed beside the street, like a man who has suffered a small but not negligible seizure. This sudden appearance seems to him as unkind as it is precipitous. It was very long ago that he first left home, and he went far away, so that his family would not need to go to the bother of rejecting him, and so that he need not feel rejected. It is unnecessary to reject what is already absent: on that fine principle he had arranged his existence.
Now it appears that his family has pursued him. Why? Are they checking up on him? Has additional rejection been deemed necessary? Why should it be so? What business could members of his family, inveterate successes one and all, possibly have in a unprofitable city like this one?
All at once Claude understands the helpless suffering of those who suffer phantom pain, the unappeased throbbing of a limb long-gone. He is like a deeply devoted man who has lost his dearly held faith in a single moment. Oh, that it should abandon him now, his faith in the efficacy of going away!