On Friday, the 22nd of February, I heard in rapid succession that Bernard had been taken to the hospital in Paris, that he was in critical condition, and that he had passed away. It turned out that Bernard had succumbed to aggressive cancer. A couple of months before, I had lunch with him, and my sister Aline. We had no idea he was sick. Aline told him he seemed depressed, and he openly talked about some personal issues he was facing. He gave no indication of being gravely ill and had good plans for the future.
His visits were always brief as he had other plans for the rest of the day. He had promised to be back the following Saturday, but he didn't show up. When he called a couple of weeks later, I told him, "You left town like a thief," which is a French expression used when someone leaves without saying goodbye.
I first met him in Hong Kong. We lived in the same building, and for a while, it was just the two of us. We would meet after work every day for dinner and backgammon. While we shared a background and culture, we never moved in the same circles. We liked and enjoyed each other, we formed a bond that lasted for 30 years. We never had a fight, and we always supported each other when needed.
Our relationship quickly evolved into a mentoring one. We never discussed business, and during our friendship, he almost never talked about his own business with me. It was easy for me to respect these boundaries, and quickly we bonded over life experiences, food, and computers. I cooked for us every night and taught him everything I knew about computers.
Many of our conversations revolved around our mothers. We both had issues with fitting in, and instead of fighting or pretending to belong, we found ourselves in places where not fitting became tangible. We embraced it and turned it into a feature of our lives.
We played a lot of backgammon, and he often won. I didn't mind because his victories meant more to him than just a game. In beating me, he also defeated the misconception that he would always lose.
I guess that one day, to expand our daily menu and for some Freudian reasons, he challenged me to replicate our mothers' cooking. I wrote down a list and sent him shopping. That's how I earned the privilege of being his personal cook for the next 30 years of our friendship.
For six months, we spent most evenings together. Since his father had passed away when he was very young, he mostly spoke about his mother. He worshiped her, which is a prerequisite for North African Jews. I believe he never fully recovered from feeling abandoned when he was displaced from the center of her world after she moved to London with the new man in her life. I found out much later that he suffered tremendously during his boarding school years, and no one was there to protect him.
He would call me to plan the menu before his trips to LA. Garlic and onion had to be invisible in any dish because he loved the taste but couldn't see them as ingredients. I would humor him because I loved him, and I would let him get away with his constant teasing. He would always try to make me believe he had found a "better cook." The latest one was some guy from Madagascar he met in Bali, whom he coerced into making fricasses.and his tease was that they “might“ have been better than mine. I would pretend to be very upset by that and we would exchange some insults, and end the conversation in big laughs.
He was a frequent caller, usually at the same time of the day, either early morning in HK or late evening. I figured that he mostly called when he was exiled to his balcony to have a cigarette since he wasn't allowed to smoke inside. The same rule applied when he visited us, and he would always pretend to prepare to smoke inside, curious to see how I would ask him to go on the balcony and close the door.
Despite appearing to love gossip, he was actually one of the most private people I had ever met. Bernard never talked about his business or personal life, but he never gave the impression that he was withholding anything.
I loved him because he kept everything simple, in life and in friendship. He was always ready to help and would go out of his way to find answers or solutions to situations that didn't directly involve him but that he felt would help his friends.
I almost never saw him upset, and I always suspected that his passions were expressed in a more covert way. He worked smartly, meaning he was efficient enough to make money without working too hard. He often got bored and was constantly looking for new tech novelties that he would then share with his friends. He would even show up at our place with gears and spend the whole afternoon installing them. I would jokingly accuse him of using these excuses to hack our network, and we would share a good laugh.
He loved gambling and winning. After our lunches, he would usually leave around three, and I knew he was headed to a card game. However, I made a point of never mentioning it unless he brought it up himself.
Bernard was a truly benevolent presence in my life. I cared for him deeply and enjoyed our conversations and his visits. It's difficult to come to terms with the fact that he is gone. Against all odds, he found his place in the world and created a wonderful family. He positioned himself in a remote location where he could be alone but still have the world come to him. Standing at the door of China, over the years, he manufactured garments, accessories, and even major art pieces, always finding his way into products that the world was interested in.
He left this world abruptly, almost like a thief. But somehow, I believe his last visit was to say goodbye to me. Gerard Medina, Henry Kam, and now Bernard Seroussi. My best friends are gone, each from a different part of my life, each holding his own magic for me. And now, for the first time, I realize they are brought together with me in this paragraph for the first time.