Standing on The Edge of The Eiffel Tower and Life
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Standing on The Edge of The Eiffel Tower and LifeAn Excerpt From The Man Who Risked It All
Here’s the breathtaking beginning of The Man Who Risked It All, a novel by international best-selling author Laurent Gounelle.
The place was suggested to me by my memory, and it’s no doubt not pure chance that it had been kept there, in one of my memory’s mysterious compartments. Some time before I had read, in a magazine left behind, a controversial article by someone named Dubrovski. In it, the author laid out his theory on the right to suicide, and his idea that, if you were going to commit suicide, you might as well do it properly. He described a suitable place for what he poetically called “the flight of one’s life”— the Eiffel Tower. It is totally secure, he explained, except at one point that it’s useful to know. You have to go up to the Jules Verne, the luxury restaurant on the second floor, go into the ladies’ room, then open the little door marked Private to the left of the wash basin. It leads to a tiny room that serves as a broom cupboard. The window in there is not barred and opens directly onto the girders. I remembered these details as though I had read them that very morning. Dying at the Eiffel Tower had something grand about it. Revenge for a mediocre life.
One more step . . .
I had to walk far enough along the beam to reach a suitable point where there was no metal structure below me to impede my fall.
I was leaving nothing behind me, not a friend, not a relative, not a pleasure, nothing that could make me regret my action. I was ready, in my head and in my body.
One last step . . .
That’s it. The right place. I stood still. Consciousness was already beginning to leave me. I took a deep breath and slowly pivoted on my heels to the right, toward the abyss that I didn’t look into but whose presence, whose beauty, I could feel.
I was on a level with the flywheel of the Jules Verne’s private lift. Three yards of nothingness separated us. From where I was, I could see only the grooved edge holding the cable, as it circled the wheel, then plunged into the void. The void. The windows of the restaurant were on the other side of the tower. Nobody could see me. No noise from the restaurant reached me. I heard nothing but a gentle humming, the sound of the night. Those shimmering lights in the distance were drawing me, hypnotizing me. The warm, intoxicating air was flooding me with supernatural well-being. Most of my thoughts had left me. I no longer inhabited my body. I was no longer me. I was merging with space, life, death. I no longer existed as a separate being. I was life. I . . .
A cough . . .
In a flash, it brought me out of the state I was in, just as the snapping of a hypnotist’s fingers breaks his patient’s trance.
To my right, at the end of the girder, stood a man looking me straight in the eyes. He was about 60, with silver-gray hair, wearing a dark suit. His eyes, lit by the reflection from one of the tower’s lights, seemed to emerge from a void. All my life I’ll remember those eyes, a steely blue to freeze your blood.
A feeling of anger mixed with my surprise. I had taken every precaution not to be seen. I was certain I had not been followed. I felt as if I were in a bad film, in which a rescuer miraculously arrives at just the right moment to prevent a suicide.
I had made a mess of my life. Others had taken control of it, but my death belonged to me. To me alone. There was no question of me allowing someone to hold me back, to convince me with soothing words that life was beautiful all the same, or that others were unhappier than me, or I don’t know what. In any case, no one could understand, and what’s more, I wasn’t asking for anything. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be alone. Alone.
“Leave me alone. I’m a free man. I’m doing what I want. Go away.”
He watched me in silence, and right away I had the feeling that something wasn’t right. He looked relaxed. Yes, that’s it, relaxed!
He raised his cigar to his mouth, calmly.
“Go on. Jump!”
I was stunned by his words. I was expecting anything but that. Who was this guy? A weirdo? He wanted to see me fall and get off on it? Shit! It had to happen to me! But this can’t be! What had I done to God, for crying out loud? I was incensed. It was not possible, not possible, not . . .
“What are you waiting for?” he asked in a terribly tranquil tone. “Jump!”
The situation left me completely at a loss. My thoughts were knocking into each other without managing to come together. Struggling, I managed to say few words.
“Who are you? What do you want from me?”
He drew on his cigar and held the smoke in his mouth for a while, before exhaling it in thin coils that vanished before they reached me. His eyes riveted on mine paralyzed me. This guy had enough charisma to bend the Eiffel Tower.
“You’re angry. But you are suffering a lot deep inside yourself,” he said in a very calm voice, with a light accent that I didn’t recognize.
“That’s not hard to guess.”
“You’re atrociously unhappy and can’t bear to go on living.”
His words troubled me and made me feel my pain. I nodded. The silence weighed on me.
“Let’s say I’ve had big problems all my life.”
A slow, very slow puff on the cigar.
“There are no big problems. There are only little people.”
A wave of anger rose up in me. I could feel my blood beating in my temples, which were burning hot. I swallowed hard.
“It’s easy to take advantage of my situation to humiliate me. Who do you think you are? Of course, I suppose you know how to solve all your problems?”
With incredible self-assurance, he replied: “Yes, I do. And other people’s problems as well.”
I was beginning to feel ill. Now I was fully conscious of being surrounded by the void. I was beginning to be afraid. Fear had finally found me and was worming its way inside. My hands were moist. I absolutely mustn’t look down.
He went on: “It’s true that by jumping your problems will disappear with you. But the situation isn’t as fair as that . . .”
“What do you mean?”
“Once again, you’re the one who’s going to suffer. Your problems won’t feel anything. As a solution, this is not very balanced.”
“You don’t suffer jumping from a tower. The collision is so violent that you simply stop living without having time to feel anything. No pain. I’ve informed myself.”
He quietly laughed.
“What’s making you laugh?”
“That’s true—if you start from the hypothesis that you are still alive at the moment you hit the ground. That’s where you’re wrong. Nobody arrives down there alive.”
A long draw on the cigar. I felt more and more ill. Dizzy. I needed to sit down.
“The truth is,” he went on, taking his time, “they all die during the fall from a heart attack provoked by horror, the abominable horror of the fall and the unbearable vision of the ground coming nearer at 150 miles an hour. They are struck down by an atrocious fright that makes them spew out their innards before their heart explodes. Their eyes are bulging out of their sockets at the moment of death.”
My legs were shaking. I nearly fainted. My head was spinning. I felt extremely sick. Don’t look down, I told myself. Definitely not. Stay standing straight up. Concentrate on him. Don’t take your eyes off him.
“Perhaps,” he said after a silence, speaking slowly, “perhaps I have something to propose to you.”
I stayed silent, hanging on his words.
“A sort of deal between us,” he continued, leaving his words floating in the air.
“A deal?” I stuttered.
“Here’s how it is: You remain alive, and I’ll look after you. I’ll set you back on the right road, make you a man capable of leading his life, of solving his problems, and even being happy. In exchange . . .”
He drew another puff on his cigar.
“In exchange, you’ll do everything I tell you to. You promise on your life.”
Excerpted from The Man Who Risked It All by Laurent Gounelle. Copyright © 2014 (Hay House).