I set out to investigate the richest people on Earth and what I discovered surprised me.
There was one man, not known to the public, who controlled a truly massive amount of wealth, hidden away behind false fronts and illusory companies. It took me years to find out who he was and when I did he didn’t hide, he invited me to come and see him.
I was incredulous at first. The address he gave me was a tiny flat in one of the worst parts of London. It was summer at the time, stiflingly hot and as humid as a steam bath. Britain still hasn’t gotten used to these hotter summers and outside of businesses we stubbornly refuse to get with the global warming and to invest in air conditioning. Even the richest man in the world didn’t have so much as a fan and had only opened his half rotten windows half way to let the stagnant air circulate.
It was like entering an oven.
He lived alone here in slovenly bliss. The flat was a nest of empty pizza boxes, mouse droppings and patches of what may have – at one time – been flock wallpaper and hideous nineteen-seventies carpet. He wasn’t like any rich person I’d ever seen. Unkempt, bearded, wearing a faded Hawkwind T-shirt and cargo shorts, no sign of any plastic surgery – or any personal grooming at all. He was like the Richard Branson of some strange mirror universe where things had turned out very differently.
He cleared some junk mail off his sofa so I could sit down and took the easy chair across from it. Easing back into its foetid cushions with obvious delight and comfort. Sitting there, grinning at me, waiting for me to open my mouth and ask the most obvious question imaginable.
I obliged him.
“Why? Why do you live here if you’re so rich? Couldn’t you buy a Caribbean island or something? Why live in squalor in London when you could live in… I don’t know… paradise?”
His eyes twinkled and he leaned forward in the chair, springs popping back into place as his weight shifted, the floor creaking under him. “Where do you live?” He asked.
“A little village out near the new forest,” I answered “but…”
He interrupted me. “Is it nice there? Near the trees, the ponies, the gorse?”
I stopped a moment and thought before I replied. “I guess, yes…”
“You guess? I bet it’s paradise compared to this isn’t it?”
I coughed nervously. I was meant to be interviewing him after all, still, I felt compelled to answer. “Sure, without meaning to be rude…”
“But still, you said ‘I guess’, you had to think about it didn’t you?”
I nodded to that, I had.
“Well, that’s why I stay here. I can get used to this. The smell. The neighbours fighting at 2am over the last can of cider. The kids smashing up the windows or burning the cars. I can get used to living in absolute squalor, in hell, to the point where it really doesn’t affect me any more.” He shushed me with a gesture as I took a breath to speak.
“So any time I do encounter something wonderful, or beautiful, it’s… intense, pleasurable, wonderful. Living here the awful has become ordinary and I don’t really perceive it any longer. It doesn’t touch me. I’m used to it. I don’t live in paradise because I don’t want to become acclimated to paradise. I want to notice the good things, the wonderful things, the beautiful things. I don’t want to get inured to them because then I would only notice the bad things in life. Not the good. Wouldn’t that be terrible?”
He leaned back into his seat after his revelation, easing onto the soft cushions of the mouldering easy-chair with a pleasure I knew I could never understand and leaving me staring at my shoes, fumbling for anything more to say.