“Everybody is somebody’s fool”: I was in a smoky Berlin bar giving an account of a recent heartbreak to a friend. I had fallen in love with a girl who was on the rebound from a break up of her own and, after having some fun with me to forget the other guy, she had given me the boot. Suddenly and clearly that phrase popped into my head. It was a saying I had often heard from my Iranian friend Nima who used to live in Amsterdam. I had always liked it because, like most sayings, it seems to carry a simple, yet unshakable, truth. This basic law of the jungle (in emotional terms) always stuck with me and taught me to be understanding when I had inadvertently broken the hearts of others. It also taught me to resign myself to this somewhat Darwinian fatalism when my love wasn’t reciprocated and helped me to accept that I was merely stuck in the middle of a love food-chain, as it were. I hadn’t seem Nima for many years and then, the other day, still bearing a heavy heart, I ran into him in Berlin. I first got to know him through an ex-girlfriend — she and her identical twin were Nima’s best friends. I got closer to him when we joined the same class to study photography at art school. It was there I learned about his background. Basically he came from a family of criminals, although his parents had adjusted to a normal life since moving to Holland from Turkey where they had lived many years. There they had worked as ‘mules’ taking drugs into Europe. I should mention that neither Nima or his sister were criminals — at least not full time. He is the youngest of four brothers, and back then, the other three were all in prison, each for committing a different crime. His eldest brother, like their parents, had already ‘retired’ . He ran a legit business but was convicted of attempted murder after shooting a cop with a shotgun. He had taken up hunting as a hobby and would often go to the woods in Belgium to kill game. One time he was cleaning his double-barrel Ithaca when a neighbour saw him through the window and called the police, an ‘Arab’ with a gun seeming suspicious to him. Well, this brother was taking a nap on the couch after cleaning the weapon, just before going on his hunting trip,when he was woken with a start by a team of armed men breaking down his door. As an instinctive reflex he rolled off his couch onto to the floor, grabbed the shotgun that he had leaned nearby and fired it at the first man that entered the room. When he saw the policeman flying out of his house (like the coffee cans he used for target practice in the woods) he realized he wasn’t dreaming. Luckily the officer’s kevlar vest stopped the buck-shot — its impact only fractured a rib. The middle brother was a dealer that, for one reason or another, had a bounty on his head. One night he was parking his scooter when a hit-man approached from the darkness to shoot him pointblank. Agility seems to run in the family’s blood because this brother managed to grab his assailant’s revolver by the cylinder, blocking the trigger-action, before squarely head-butting him as hard as he could. Because he was still wearing his crash helmet the man went straight down leaving the gun in his target’s hands. Nima’s brother shot the hit-man six times before he could recover himself and possibly pull out a second gun. I don’t know the details but he was caught by the police and even though he pleaded self-defence he was sentenced for voluntary manslaughter. The story of the youngest brother was a little more straightforward case of armed robbery. At 24 this brother was as impulsive and fearless as they come. When he was a boy he was often bullied or taken advantage of for being a Middle Eastern kid. By the time he was a teen he had taken up the profession of his older brothers. He would very ‘subtly’ flash the gun he always had tucked under his shirt to straighten out anyone that bothered him. His 9 mm became an inextricable part of his personality, in the way a camera can be for a photographer. He felt as though he could pin down the world with the muzzle of his gun. Before going to sleep he was more likely to forget to brush his teeth than that to neglect to put the pistol underneath his pillow. So one day he was strolling around the sterilely clean streets of Rotterdam when he came across two guards from an armoured car loading cash into an ATM. Without thinking twice he pulled the pistol from under his shirt and robbed them. He walked off with one of the moneybags like it was the day’s groceries but, quickly, he was caught — probably there were surveillance cameras and the police had been warned before he even touched the money. While his brothers were tall and muscular Nima, on the other hand, is very short and slight. He is also gay — a fact that his parents never reproached him for since his father was very open about his homosexual experiences in a Turkish prison. Nima has a huge nose that is only surpassed by his enormous mouth, from which, besides a devilish, funny smile, come words as powerful as .44 bullets. In his own way Nima was as tough or tougher than his brothers; nobody could out-mouth him. He would machine-gun down anyone that stood in his way with piercing arguments that came so fast they never knew what hit ‘em. One day in class he came to me with a crazy story about how some friend of his middle brother (who was by then already in prison) had stolen a Mercedes from him. Nima asked me to help him get it back. I agreed to help as long as he would elucidate things a bit. He explained that, before killing the hit-man, his brother had asked if he could put a car in Nima’s name. Since family is such an important institution in Iranian culture he didn’t even question it. It seemed his brother had lent the car to a friend shortly before going to prison who had then disappeared with it. I think the possible consequences of having a car that might be used for illegal activity in his name had just occurred to Nima. He knew where this friend lived so had decided to get the car back. Calling the cops was, of course, out of the question. But, like many of his projects, nothing came of it and I forgot all about my agreement to help steal back the Mercedes. Some months later Nima received about ten notices for speeding fines in his mail. It turned out that his brother’s friend had been chased by the police and had driven across the country at full speed in the car in Nima’s name. Since he felt he was innocent Nima refused to pay the fines. The penalties for late payment soon built up, snowballing into a huge sum. In time he received a letter from the judge warning him that the police would come to his house to confiscate his belongings. Eventually he started to pay off his debt in instalments. I think he’s still paying it now. Nima had always been closer to my ex-girlfriend than he was to me, so when their friendship broke down and I left the art school where we studied together I didn’t see much of him. He had such a big mouth that he — unwittingly perhaps — held a certain oppressive control over his group of friends. It was hard to challenge him on any matter. As a consequence he was always the leader of the pack and everyone would follow his ‘suggestions’ for where to go or what to do. Whenever he got in an argument with someone my ex and her twin sister would side with his opponent in the hope that Nima would be finally dethroned. The day that Nima met someone with a sharper tongue than him his friendship with the twins ended. He couldn’t forgive their disloyalty and ultimately he felt humiliated and defeated. The fact that they had witnessed his fall from the top was too much for him to bear. The coincidence about running into Nima in Berlin the other day wasn’t just the fact that it had been so long since I had seen him in Amsterdam — Berlin is a big, busy hub where these kind of encounters are commonplace— but that I was walking with that German friend to whom I had just told Nima’s story in that bar the night before. My friend was very pleased to meet him but, if I’m honest, if I hadn’t wanted to illustrate my story (and maybe also prove it somehow) I might have let Nima pass me by. In the end I never really felt we were friends and besides, he insisted in taking me to these gay parties which I always found kind of annoying. (Pablo Pijnappel, Everybody Is Somebody's Fool, 2012) [Made possible with the kind support of the Mondriaan Fund]