He had been sitting in the waiting room for half an hour when the tension subsided. He looked around. There were about eighty people, half of them female.
He looked more closely. An average representation of the population, he estimated. Sloppy women and yuppies, a few older ladies, a young man with tattoos on his legs and a few men like him, mid-forties, blue or grey mackintosh. Would they all…? A girl of about sixteen looked at him from afar. Still a child, why does she long for freedom? What does she want with it? She can’t handle it yet!
‘Mr. Van der Vloot, room 3.’
Ah, it was his turn. With a sigh of relief he walked quickly to room 3. The door was open. There was a rather young man in a grey suit sitting behind a desk. The man pointed to a chair and refused the outstretched hand. With a short smile, he said: ‘This is a formality, not a personal matter. I have read your application and am now preparing your free pass.’
‘But,’ he sputtered, ‘I thought I would get an interview?’
‘An interview is not necessary. Your application has been approved.’
Stunned, he continued to watch as the measured man took out a grey card, with a red dot on it.
‘Your signature here please. Your DNA is in there. If you have any questions, or anything to report, just press the red dot. I am your personal assistant, and I am always available. I offer you all the help you need.’ He slid the card across the desk towards Van der Vloot.
‘Oh, um… that’s totally different from what I thought. So, I can reach you with this, with this card? What’s your name then?’
‘You couldn’t know how it works, of course, and my name doesn’t matter. You can ask me anything, at any time. You can go now and live and make use of your freedom. Enjoy your freedom.’
Van der Vloot looked back one more time before he left the room, completely confused. The man without a name looked at him blankly and nodded once in farewell.
When he was outside, with the pass in his breast pocket, he decided to do something he had wanted to do for a long time, however childish it seemed. Getting on the train without a ticket. He jumped over the entrance gate at the railway station and ran to a random train. Once he was seated, he felt a kind of triumph for a moment, but a moment later there was nothing more to it. He was just sitting on a train. At the next station, he got off and at a quiet spot, he pressed the red dot on the pass.
‘Yes, I am listening,’ he heard the man with no name say.
‘Eh, I’ve already done something with that freedom card,’ said Van der Vloot.
‘I didn’t like it.’
‘Well,’ he said’, ‘just try again.’
He did it. He boarded an international train and sat down in first class. Nothing happened until they were almost at the border. The conductor came to check the tickets.
Van der Vloot looked bravely at the man: ‘I don’t have one,’ he said firmly.
The conductor sighed. ‘Your identity card, please.’
‘I don’t have that either.’
‘Then you’ll have to come with me.’
The conductor sighed again and called for reinforcements. Van der Vloot remained seated. He found it exciting. They could do nothing to him. He had a free ticket. He told the conductor, who looked at him thoughtfully for a while.
‘I don’t know what you think you can achieve by doing this,’ he finally replied. ‘The police will take you away and you’ll get a fine at the very least. There are no free tickets for trains.’
‘No,’ said Van der Vloot, ‘it’s a freedom card, for everything. Total freedom!’
‘Tell that to the police.’
He was able to do so a little later.
The officer laughed when he showed his freedom card. ‘As long as it’s not a credit card, you can’t do anything with it and you won’t get out of here, you joker.’
Finally, his son had to come and get him, much to his surprise. ‘What’s wrong with you, Dad, going on an international train without a ticket? Did something happen to your brain?’
‘No,’ he sighed and refrained from explaining. As soon as his son left, Van der Vloot pressed the red button again.
‘Yes?’ he heard again.
‘I was taken off the train by the police and got a fine!’ said Van de Vloot angrily.
‘Yes, that’s logical. It’s not allowed to be on the train without a ticket.’
‘Yes, but I still have that freedom card! And still I was arrested! What’s the point of the card?’
‘You did it, didn’t you? Then you were free to do so, weren’t you?’
‘Yes, but I didn’t want to get a fine!’
‘What other people do is not covered by your freedom card.’
‘Then what use is it to me, what a worthless thing!’
‘It is absolutely not a worthless thing. It grants you complete freedom. I would say: try something again and you will see that you can do anything you want. You are completely free.’
Van der Vloot went to work. He went into a door marked ‘no entry’. He had only gone a few metres when someone stood in front of him so that he could not get through.
Get out,’ the man said, ‘and quickly.’
Because he was a tough type, Van der Vloot did indeed go.
Then he fulfilled another old wish. He knocked on the door of the young neighbour.
‘Hey neighbour,’ she said in surprise. ‘Is something the matter?’
At once it felt difficult. She looked at him so kindly… She was an attractive woman and there she was, looking straight at him, waiting for his answer.
‘Um, um,’ he stammered, ‘I thought you always have to push that heavy dustbin all the way to the corner, and that you might be sick or something, and that we don’t know each other at all then.’
She looked at him a little surprised and slightly amused. ‘You want to help me, do I understand that? How very kind of you. No, we haven’t got to know each other at all yet, have we?’ She held out her hand to him. ‘I’m Charlotte. I live here with my six-year-old son, but he’s gone to school.’
‘Oh, er, yes, I see,’ said Van der Vloot, still confused. He felt he had a red face, which was very annoying. ‘I’m Kees, Kees van der Vloot, and if there’s ever anything, please ring the bell at number 67. That’s where I live with my wife Gerda.’ When he mentioned his wife, his face turned even redder. He still managed to say: ‘Well, why don’t you come over and have a coffee with us with your son, it would be nice.’
She smiled radiantly and gave a thumbs up: ‘I will soon. Thank you, Kees!’
Van der Vloot got the hell out of there. He saw his wife coming from afar and quickly ran into an alley.
With a heavy beating heart he stared at the freedom card, ready to tear it up or burn it with envy. He would lodge a complaint. What a rip-off. Everyone was always talking about the Bureau of Freedom and how wonderful it was to be completely free. But maybe it was the card, maybe it didn’t work. Through some dark alleys he reached the Bureau of Freedom again. That is, the place where it had been. There was another sign in front of the door: Consultation bureau for toddlers. There were also brightly coloured curtains and the door was locked.
How could that be? Angry, he pressed the red button.
‘Yes, can I help you?’
‘I am standing in front of the door of the Bureau. Where has the Bureau gone?’ shouted Van de Vloot furiously at the card.
‘The Bureau is where it has always been, sir,’ was the reply.
‘Not so!’ roared Van der Vloot ‘and that card doesn’t work either!’
‘What happened then?’
Van der Vloot reported, adding that he had not even dared to do what he had wanted.
‘So, if I understand you correctly, you wanted to kiss that young neighbour and you didn’t?’
‘Well, then I don’t see the problem.’
‘You don’t see the problem? Don’t you know how embarrassing that was? I stood there with a red face and I didn’t feel free at all!’
‘That is because your conscience is beginning to speak, Mr Van der Vloot. You were perfectly free to do what you wanted, but you found out that it was only wishful thinking, and not a real desire.’
‘Then what is all this freedom worth? Nothing else would happen if I didn’t have the card!
‘Well, that’s true. I don’t know where you got the idea that everyone would approve of what you do, but you are certainly free. You were free all along, but you didn’t realise that. Of course one also gets the consequences of the freedoms one takes. That is just how it works.’
‘Incredible, I’m just being taken for a ride. Have I been on the waiting list all these years for no reason? I gained nothing?
‘You have certainly gained something. Now you realise that you also have to accept the consequences. You are completely free to choose whatever you want, including anything that has pleasant consequences for you.’
‘Yes, but,’ said Van de Vloot after a while, ‘then I’m not doing anything different from what I always did before I had that worthless card.’
‘But you don’t have to, do you? Now that you are hopefully free of the illusion that you could do whatever you wanted with impunity, you can drop all those protests of the past and take a fresh look at life. You will never again think that you have to do anything, because that is not true. You will no longer fight against life because that is an endless battle. You can look at the opportunities that life has to offer, the help and kindness that have been in your life, how privileged you are compared to your situation a few months ago. You wanted all the things that were not good for you, just because you thought they were not allowed. Do you know how many things you can do that are good for you and the world around you? And I am not even thinking of the well-known ‘good works’, but, for example, a cheerful mood, a kind word, an energetic appearance, a satisfied look, a good thought, a helping hand where it is needed. And that is all allowed! You have already done it today! Think about it again. And should you need me, just press the button. You can always reach me. You can also just think of me, then you might already know what the answer is.’
Van der Vloot turned right around, intending to go home. Halfway there he sat down on a bench, staring at the people rushing past. He couldn’t figure out what happened to him. Was it real? It certainly felt real, but then again…
He pondered for a while and then suddenly a little ray of happiness sprang up from a quiet place in his heart and ended in a smile. A new freshness whirled around him. Van der Vloot suddenly understood the whole picture: he hadn’t received what he wanted, but what he needed! An illusion had gone and left a happy spot in a place he had never detected yet. The feeling had an unknown quality, so different… He sighed, stood up and decided to find the source, no matter what. He was now ready to go home.