A moment with Bill Hayes, at the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival


Look at this picture.

I mean, really look at it.

It shows the two of us with such arrogance.

It shows but it doesn't explain anything. Anything.

I'm feeling so guilty after having tricked Bill Hayes into having this picture taken.

There was this sign to start with, unequivocal, in plain English, high above his head: NO PICTURES ALLOWED.

Then there was his face, smiling without smiling, his trademark pose in all the pictures, almost a grimace.

Ever since this picture was taken, I've been wondering why he said 'YES' and then greeted me with a 'THANK YOU OLIVIER'. After all, he had every right to ask me 'CAN YOU READ?' or even tell me to bugger off...

But he didn't.

And I wonder why, I can't help it.

Is it because... his latest book 'Insomniac City' is subtitled 'New York, Oliver, and me', and the closeness of my name with that of the late physician, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks with whom he shared his life made it impossible for him to say 'NO'?

Is it because... he himself often asks strangers to take their portrait on the streets of New York and then put them in such books as Insomniac City?

Is it because... it was the back of the queue and he knew I had been waiting for almost half an hour to get to that point ?

Or is it simply because... Bill Hayes was nice, and was genuinely happy to have his picture taken with me?

Looking again at the picture, I can't quite tell to be honest. I look at his eyes and see nothing, no emotion, no message, no meaning. I might be wrong, but in a rather bizarre, underground kind of way, I think that perhaps, just perhaps, he simply did it for Oliver Sacks himself. As if he owed it to him. For during the interview, he talked about the 'emotional openness' he had taught Sacks, a great mind by all means, but one who pretty much lived like a monk all his life until they met - when he was 75 -, having had no real partner, no companions, him who famously said "I don't so much fear death as I do wasting life", him who never stopped working, thinking, and learning, rather than seeking or even trying to understand pleasure.

So maybe, just maybe, it was a case of having 'emotional openness' towards a total stranger, someone who was asking if he could have a picture taken, someone like him.

Me.

O.V.


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