Long ago, in the mid 80’s I worked for a bank in the IT department on the Western side of Amsterdam. I lived in the east part and moved around town by bicycle, most because it is by far the fastest way of getting around, even if the weather is miserable it is still the nicest form of inner city transportation. Being on a bike you also see a lot more than in some vehicle, including public transport.
I loved the sights of the city in the morning, riding along the IJ, the big waterway that separates the North part of Amsterdam from the rest of the city, it never looks the same. After passing central station there was a stretch running along the water (now almost all built up) and then you’d turn left into Van Diemenstraat where they just launched the first tech incubator for the city, the Y-Tech, which still exists today though it is more of a rental facility now. It was located in an old brownstone warehouse right on the waterfront, the ‘hip’ place to be for the start-ups of the day. As I rounded the corner it was clear that not all was as it normally was on that particular ‘idle Tuesday morning’, to quote Sunscreen. An ambulance was parked right next to the bicycle path, and paramedics were about to cover up the face of a young man in a suit who was fairly obviously dead.
This was a thing I’d never seen before, someone so young and already lifeless, a strange sight. I’d been to my share of funerals (and a lot more since) but to see someone in the prime of their life struck down like that was a totally new thing in my life. And it made me wonder, he didn’t look that much older than I did, what happened to him could have happened to me.
What really got to me was his briefcase. A fancy brown leather affair with gold trim, clearly an expensive item, probably much more expensive than the suit he was wearing. Dressed for success (not that I subscribe to that but clearly he did) and aiming for a future. Right up until the moment that he died on that rainy sidewalk. I made a point of checking the newspapers that day and the next, it turned out he was 26, cause of death: a heart attack.
No mention of a briefcase. But for some odd reason it was the thing that really stuck with me, that briefcase. A person so full of promise, still reaching for that briefcase which might as well have been on the moon for all the chances he had of reaching it. Ambition, success, it all must have seemed so close. I wonder if the evening before he died he had fun with friends and relatives or whether he was studying up on the company he almost visited the next morning.