His name is Sven. He is 27, blond and used to have a well-shaped body.
We lived together for three years, him and me. Nights with beer and peanuts and good talk and days that we barely saw each other because of my busy schedule. He is an architect, or maybe he just was, I’m not so sure.
In March he made his life dream come true. He travelled to Japan and for three weeks his Facebook wall was plastered with photos of temples and streets and people. But most of all there were pictures of houses, large and small, finally photos of houses and apartments from the inside. Besides one of the pictures, to this day, stands a sentence that I think started his obsession:
“The people here are really nice. Tell them you are an architect and ask nicely and any stranger will show you their house – just make sure to take your shoes off!”
In his posts and the two short phone calls we had during his time in Japan I noticed that he seemed to have a new passion: Minimalism. Simplify and declutter your life and you will simplify and declutter your mind.
“You know,” he said. “They have apartments here, not even bigger than student rooms, but they have everything! A shower, a kitchen, everything in just one room and you don’t even notice it!”
The first thing Sven did when he came back was to pack most of his life – first spare clothes, his game consoles and his TV, then also old gifts or random memorability – into boxes. He placed the boxes on the sidewalk and within the hour they were gone. Within a week more and more left his room: Old birthday cards, photos, trophies, even his heirloom grandfather clock. Soon all was at the side of the street. Soon all of it was gone.
A room with a near-empty shelf, a near-empty wardrobe, a desk and a chair.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked.
And I had to agree: So simple, so clean, so relaxing.
No clutter. No memories.
Although some of Sven’s motivation jumped over to me my room stayed a mess.
“You should really declutter,” he said. “I’ve never felt happier.”
And Sven lived simpler by the day.
“It’s so much more relaxed.”
He smiled while he said that.
“I feel so light.”
“I don’t need to choose anymore. Three sets, rotate. Everything else is excess!”
“It’s not good for your back anyway.”
“It just collects dust.”
“Your body learns to face the cold.”
“Soft is bad for your spine.”
“It’s so much easier.”
“Oh,” I said. “But where do you sleep?”
“The floor is enough.”
He smiled that smile again. Relaxed, calm, serene, impossibly happy.
“And what do you do when it gets cold?”
“No problem. I still have the wardrobe.”
In early August he moved into the wardrobe. And since then I’ve never seen him anywhere else.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that.
Not in the kitchen.
Not in the bathroom.
During the day he keeps his wardrobe door open. At night he closes it.
“You should really join me,” he said. “There’s lots of space here.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh,” Sven said. “You’re just too attached to things.”
I said goodbye to the Sven I knew on the 12th of August, the day he shaved his head. By that day he was already thin; far too thin to be healthy.
Sometimes I brought him food.
“No,” he would say. “I’m not hungry.”
He was never hungry and you could see it, when he was sitting sideways in his wardrobe and the only things that gave a shape his body were his ribs and bones that nearly seemed to penetrate the skin.
But he always smiled.
“You really need help,” I said.
And he smiled with teeth of which the gums were slowly retreating.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m much better this way; much better than ever before.”
“Dude, this is not healthy.”
“Much healthier than you live,” he said. “You should really join me in here. There’s space for two!”
“There’s no space,” I said.
I really shouldn’t have said that.
Sven installed a board in the wardrobe, right above his head.
“You can have the top bunk,” he said.
I thought that was a joke.
And every day the top bunk seemed to grow and his space seemed to shrink. But he fit.
He always sat there, quietly, sometimes with a book borrowed from me and at other times just with his mind.
It was September then.
“Really,” he said. ”You can have the top bunk. You will definitely fit.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“Oh,” he said. “I’ll make a bit more space. Tomorrow you’ll definitely fit.”
And the next day, as a joke, I sat on his top bunk.
He closed the door.
There were just my heartbeat and his breath.
“Isn’t it serene?” Sven asked.
“A bit too tight for me,” I said. “And something smells.”
Back then I would have said it smelled like nails.
“That will go,” he said.
By the next day the top bunk was even bigger. His space was by then just a thin shelf, maybe as high as five or six books stacked on top of each other.
The smell got worse.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It will get better.”
“Sven,” I said. “I think you’re dying.”
And he laughed.
“You cling too much to your body,” he said.
“No,” I said. “Really. You need to get to a hospital.”
“I’m not crazy,” Sven said. “Don’t start that debate again.”
“Give me your parents’ number.”
“No,” he said.
For the first time he looked angry.
“Please, I just want to help.”
“No,” he said. “I’m perfectly fine.”
“I smell your body rotting.”
“Don’t worry. That’s just the healing process.”
“The wounds,” he said.
“Nothing major,” he said. “Nothing I needed.”
I grabbed his right hand.
It was bony and small and cold.
“Stop it!” he said.
But I pulled.
He felt lighter than my bag was on most days.
His fingernails dug in my arm.
“Stop it!” he screamed.
His whole body slid out from his shelf.
Just no left arm.
And no legs.
I let go.
“Fuck you!” he screamed.
And with one push he was back in his shelf.
“You’re crazy!” I said.
“No,” he said. “You are. You don’t need all these things for happiness.”
I walked backwards to the door.
“What did you do to your legs?”
“Didn’t need them,” he said. “Cut them off two weeks ago.”
“My god,” I said. “You will die.”
His eyes looked soft again, and he smiled.
“Simplify,” Sven said. “Then you stop worrying about such things.”
Probably I should have called the ambulance or the police, or just somebody – anybody. But I didn’t, because every time that I try I look at him and he smiles.
He is happy, happier than anyone I have ever seen.
It’s been four days now. Sven is still there, happy. Sometimes I hear him hum or sing. Other times he just sits there quietly, smiling.
And I should be terrified, disgusted, horrified.
Instead I just feel serene when I look at him.
When I feel stressed or worried I look at him and I feel calm from his smile.
Without even thinking about it I have begun tidying my room. Sven is right in some respects, certainly. Decluttering calms me down. The first two boxes were on the street today.
And at night, just before I go to sleep, I wonder what it would feel like to be with him, in there, in his wardrobe bunk bed.
And when I close my eyes the darkness seems to fill with a memory. I hear nothing but my heartbeat and his breath. And all I remember is how happy I felt in there.