In the early daylight the boy walks past the nightspots of the town. Doors stand open, work is in progress, the night is being swept out, some music still hangs around. The boy is terrified, he actually believes (his mother has told him this) that these are the gates of hell. Don’t laugh, stay serious – this is your fellow man. This is the freedom that it is all about: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of dwelling, freedom of holding one’s breath and suddenly gasping. The young man is a boy no longer, he has become a man, erect in life and limb. I got to know him in this borderland area. I understood that I had to leave hell out of consideration. That cost me no trouble – I come from a family where religious belief was never talked about. Just as we never talked about the permafrost in Siberia or the Shah of Persia. We talked about the Kindertotenlieder, because each week my father went to the Concertgebouw. When the boy’s mother had died, I realised that the freedom of religion also applied to him. He was twenty-three years old and, like me, lived in the Rivierenbuurt precinct of Amsterdam. If we happen to talk about freedom, it always has to do with love, that delicate area where the tiniest differences can have the greatest consequences. Since the young man also believed that he here also had a free choice, the reality of the matter was hard.
The girl he wished to approach admittedly belonged to the same church as he did, but after his mother’s death there were rumours buzzing around about his abandoning the faith. The young woman in question had no strong feelings about that, but her parents were implacable. Their daughter got into hot water because of an important characteristic of our culture – being grassed on. She was observed on several occasions with the young man on the edge of the Beatrixpark. They were standing talking to each other, they were not touching each other. When she no longer came, the young man found a letter in the letter-box with just one sentence: It’s nothing personal, I’m not allowed to see you again, my father’s forbidden it. I’ve always remembered the first four words, it’s sixty years ago.