It was Naplinski’s relationship with Sartre that had secured him an invitation to read his absurdist prose at a conference in Paris.
It was the autumn of 1969, a flowery and vivid and inspiring time, so different from the cold and indifferent spiritual vacuum he now inhabited in what seemed to be his new home and final destination, the Kükita parking lot.
Through the moisture on the glass of the cafe, he watched the policemen eating their potatoes while they were entertained by the establishment’s pretty keeper. His eyes trained in on their colors — blue and yellow. He noticed the fearsome three lions embroidered on their costumes. “Typical,” he snorted to himself. Then he glanced back at his car, where his young innocent passengers were fortunately still sleeping beneath their blankets of Estonian flags.
Naplinski may have been deprived of his right to drive by an expired document, but he felt as if he had stepped into the jaws of those three Estonian lions. He had been around the world, you see, and knew how states always chose carnivorous predators to represent them. While Estonia had three ferocious lions, Finland had one, except Finland’s lion also had a sword. This amused Naplinski, as he had never encountered a wild lion in Estonia or Finland, and the ones at the zoos seemed rather unimpressed and glazed over. He seriously doubted that one could be trained to handle weaponry!
The US meantime had a very aggressive-looking one-headed eagle, while the Russian Federation’s pissed-off eagle had two heads! It was like the Cold War all over again, except the coats of arms had existed before the Cold War.
Naplinski kicked an empty plastic Gin Long Drink container out of his way in the cold and wet parking lot. Stranded in Kükita after the Robbie Williams concert. Who could make something like this up? It had to be a dream!
But Paris had also seemed like a dream. He recalled the regal hotel meeting room that had served as the setting for his reading, the famous faces in the audience. How he had placed Magical Mystery Tour on the turntable and read the crowd into the stratosphere. Naplinski was so excited by it, he almost forgot about his Soviet handlers. And, most of all, he thought of how he would have to tell his friends Fred Jüssi, the naturalist, and Lennart Meri, the dramatist, back home all about the Paris reading.
Naplinski’s goattee had been strawberry blonde back then, not the gray and white it was today. His intellectual’s spectacles had merely been decorative in 1969. These days he really needed them. He still wore the same black beret though, tilted to one side, as Sartre had instructed him during their meeting in 1964. “There you go, mon ami Jaak,” he had said. “Like a real existentialist!”
And after the reading, he felt a finger tap him on the shoulder. Looking up into a long, angular face, with a tuft of graying hair, Naplinski recognized the man at once as steely-sad-eyed Samuel Beckett.
The author of Waiting for Godot was crying.
“What’s the matter?” Naplinski had asked Beckett.
“They’ve given me the Nobel Prize in Literature,” answered the playwright.
“That’s terrific!” said Naplinski. “You of all people deserve it!”
“It’s absurd is what it is,” said Beckett, his lips shriveling. “All of it. Just absurd. A catastrophe!”
“Absolutely, it is,” said Beckett. “Quick, please, tell me something about Estonia, anything to take my mind off of this terrible luck, like … what is the coat of arms of Estonia? Just tell me,” Beckett stepped forward, and Naplinski stepped back.
“Y-you mean the S-soviet coat of arms or p-prewar coat of arms?” Naplinski had stuttered.
“Prewar,” commanded Beckett, leaning in.
“Th-three lions,” Naplinski whispered. “I-it had three lions.”
“Mmm, three lions, I like it,” Beckett leaned back, put his hand to his mouth and mused. “Jealous, actually. You know, in France, we just have a bundle of rods and an axe.”
“N-no, there’s certainly some animals on the French emblem, too,” said Naplinski, gesturing to the coat of arms on the wall. “Look.”
Naplinski and Beckett strode over to the mounted emblem, stood before it, studied it.
“So there are, so there are,” said Beckett. “But what animals are they?”
“I th-think the one on the l-left is a l-lion, the one on the r-right is an e-eagle.”
“Lion?” Beckett arched an eyebrow. “No, no. The head on the left is clearly a monkey.”
“And the one on the right?”
“Why, that’s a baby monkey, of course.”
“A baby monkey,” Naplinski repeated in puzzlement, staring at the emblem. But when he turned to look back at Beckett, there was nobody there.
Later, Naplinski searched the hotel stairway and lobby for his distraught Irish playwright friend. He asked the hotel concierge about it too, but he disputed the story, claiming that Beckett had never been there. “The very best writers, Monsieur Naplinski” commented the concierge, waxing his handlebar moustache, “are wise enough to never leave their homes.”
How true! Naplinski now thought in the Kükita parking lot. How catastrophically true.