Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson
Published by Babelcube Inc.
It was cold and raining on the day he jumped. Midway through December, approaching Christmas, it was as if it were a story straight out of a Dickensian novel. The one difference being that this was not a story; it was not a work of fiction, and it did not have a happy ending.
He had often been tormented with this very issue during his time here. But not anymore. What was the point? There was no going back, and if even there was, wouldn’t he have just done exactly the same thing, step by step, proving the theory that some people just never learn from their mistakes? Most likely yes. He had continued to do the same thing time and time again, because from the start he already knew what could, and would definitely happen and still, he had carried on ahead, like an idiot, because it was impossible not to.
He looked out of the window, towards the trees at the back of the garden. The snow had settled on them gently, as if it were afraid of breaking the branches, and upsetting the equilibrium. Never before had he seen so much snow, and the resulting landscape was like something from a story, simultaneously precious and surreal. The entire garden was beautiful; the hedges, the pond, the pathway… but the wooded area was his favourite part. During his morning walks, he would always gravitate towards the same place: a bench beneath the shade of the last cypress. It was a silent and peaceful place, with the occasional ray of sunlight that, every now and then, would be filtered down through the leaves. All of these things served to accentuate the beauty of the place, but they weren’t what made it unique: it was unique because it was the only point from which you could not see the bars. The bars on the entryway promised a service of protection, but were, in reality, carrying out a very different function. They were the bars marking out the confines of his prison.
He had never liked to feel trapped, and yet over the course of his life, confinement was all he had ever known. He had progressed straight from within the confines of school to the confines of society with the characteristic ease of one accustomed to peaceful compliance with the norms. But he had always had some kind of refuge within any of these prisons; and at the moment, it was the bench beneath the last cypress. In school, it had been the most hidden away corner on the playground, next to the lemon tree. In a way, it was quite a special place, because it received the sun’s first rays in the morning, and continued to be a suntrap throughout the entire half hour during break time; which similarly made it the most pleasant place during the winter. But above all, it was the most remote, and therefore the least frequented place: far from the noise and boisterous bustle of the other children at play. He had always been a solitary child, afraid that the older children on the playground would take advantage of him.
He did have moments of lucidity, but this was not one of them. He tossed and turned in bed, worrying. He was fed up. He could not stare at these white walls a minute longer. It was night-time, judging by the insipid light coming in from between the slats of the blind. Where was he? He was feeling confused, he didn’t know what had happened, nor why he was there. He tried to sit up, but he immediately felt something stopping him. There was a tube inserted into his arm. Was he in a hospital? He did not remember having had an accident, or an illness. He did not like it, he felt trapped. He looked at his surroundings, and in the semi-darkness he could make out a figure. Trapped. He continued to toss and turn, unable to calm himself down. He did not like being there. It was too hot; he needed to open a window. He sat up straight, more carefully this time so as not to pull on the drip, and with some effort he got up. Grabbing on to it with one hand and wheeling it along, he made his way around the bed with difficulty, until he approached the figure lying in the armchair. It was a girl, but he didn’t recognise her. Who was she, and what was she doing there? Trapped. He began struggling to breathe; he needed more air. He carried on making his way to the window, and raised the blind. The moon shone down to illuminate a beautiful, snow-covered garden that was completely unfamiliar to him. He stayed there for a few minutes, enchanted by the view, and little by little he calmed down. He noticed that there was a lock on the window, the sort that required a key to open it, so he leaned up against it in order to get a better look, but it gave a sudden crack, making him jump. It seemed strange to him that an apparently new window would crack like that, and so he inspected the hinges, to try to find the origin of the noise. It was at that point that he discovered that the wood around them was broken and splintered, as if someone had purposely tried to break them, almost working them off completely. The window was barely attached to the wall. One good push and it would fall in its entirety, propelled by its own weight onto the garden snow. He looked down to the ground and calculated the distance. He was probably up around the fifth floor, so it would be a decent fall. Dangerous, he thought, but strangely enough, the discovery had done nothing more than to help him calm down: he no longer felt trapped.
The girl had spent almost the entire day sitting there. She had arrived very early, and had tried conversing with him, without any success. He hadn’t recognised her. Although she seemed strangely familiar to him, he did not know who she was, which had only served to increase his nervous state, inducing an anxiety attack, and resulting in a fresh dosage of medication and sedatives. It had been a strange day; he had got out of bed, as if in a dream; the sort in which you do not know what you are doing or why, but do not attempt to make sense of it and simply carry on regardless. After the morning’s sedatives had taken effect he had felt somewhat fuzzyheaded, but peaceful. However, this feeling had been progressively changing as the hours passed by, and the anxiety began to grow within him every time he saw her, sleeping in that armchair. He knew that her being there had some sort of implication; something that he ought to remember, but had no possible hope of being able to; something that his mind was blocking out. Mistrustful, and looking at her out of the corner of his eye, he had ended up falling asleep too… until now. He tossed and turned in the bed, unable to sleep at all.
The girl. He needed to find out who she was. He wanted to remember. Remember what? Something was telling him that this was not a good idea, and for a while he felt afraid: afraid of facing up to reality. He was much happier in ignorance, but he felt caged within these four white walls, about which he knew nothing. Little by little, he started losing consciousness again, entering once more into the world of dreams.
The relief was, however, short-lived. After a few hours, the dreams gave way to the nightmares, and he began to remember. Over and over again, he dreamt about what had happened, and how he had ended up here, a prisoner. For the first time all day, he was seeing things exactly as they were, which left him in a state of terror. He wanted to shout out loud, but he did not dare, for fear of waking her up. He wanted to get out of here. Grabbing hold of the pillow with some force, he noticed something hard inside it that should not have been there. It was then that he woke up, completely conscious, as if somebody had slapped him right across the face.
He made an attempt to breathe deeply, and calm himself down, but this time it was impossible. He grabbed the pillow again, and with his hands he felt it over. In the darkness, he searched for an opening in the fabric, some kind of zip or button, until he could fit his hand inside and get to the object. It was cold and sharp. Suddenly, he remembered everything.
Over the course of the seeming eternity of the next few minutes, his mind played out, as if from a film reel, the series of events. He wanted to scream. He got up quickly this time, and pulled the IV tube out of his arm. He heard the blood rushing through his ears, and he lost his balance, but, by supporting himself on the bed, he could manage to make it to the window. He needed to do it, and he needed to do it now. He had been putting it off for too long. He watched as his hands worked away, without being fully conscious of actually moving them. After a sharp, definitive blow, the window hurtled away into the emptiness, followed by the crash as it hit the ground. The snow muffled it somewhat, but the immediate sound of breaking glass woke the girl. But it was to late; he had already thrown himself out. He was free.
The girl had spent the whole morning there, but she didn’t know what to say to him. She read aloud to him from an adventure book, telling him that it was his favourite, but there wasn’t even a single scene in it that reminded him of such a fact. As such, he simply focussed on allowing his mind to wander, giving his imagination free rein to recreate the scenes that she was describing.
The story was about a boy who sneaked onto a ship bound for America, because he wanted to have adventures and explore new worlds. However, once on the high seas, he discovered that the ship’s crew had no intention of guiding it through the most secure areas, but rather through specific islands, strategically negotiating storms and dangerous currents with the aim of finding gold. The boy had tried to warn the passengers, but this had only resulted in his being discovered by the captain, who promised him a highly lucrative future if he learned to keep his mouth shut.
He gestured for her to stop reading. The story was beginning to sound familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember what the boy’s response to the ship’s captain had been. Had he opted for the easy road, entering into the dangerous world of the sailors, or had he instead championed the safety of the passengers?
He was immersed in his thoughts and, as such, had not noticed that the girl had got up and was putting on her coat. He looked at her with the same mistrust as he had done that morning. She whispered something regarding an appointment as she kissed him on the cheek, and walked out, leaving him all alone with a familiar feeling of emptiness in his stomach whilst he tried to remember.
A nurse brought in a tray for him, with the now habitual chicken broth, and a selection of different coloured tablets. He picked them up and held them between his fingers, looking at them apprehensively. These little dosages would force him to remember, taking him out of this current state and back into his now familiar prison: his mind.
It was mid afternoon, judging by the light. He had been asleep for approximately two hours, although it seemed to him that time hardly passed at all within these four walls.
His vision gradually became focussed, and once again he was able to make out the silhouette in the armchair: Marina, the girl was called Marina. The name had just come to him, hitting him like a powerful blast, as if beaten down from the wings of some mysterious angel.
But that could not be possible, because Marina was only 10 years old when they met. It was a rainy April day, on which he had decided to go out for a coffee, following a long morning spent at the office. He had been working in the accounting department, and it gave him a headache seeing that none of the numbers were adding up, even though they never really tallied anyway.
He took the stairs down from the ninth floor, in the hope that the exercise would wake him up, and on leaving the building he turned left, in the direction of his usual café. But this morning was destined to be different, the first sign of which came in the form of a notice on the door that said the café had been taken over. He found it hard to believe that the business was now closed, since they often catered to the people who worked in the area, but he knew most certainly that things were not always how they seemed, and that very often the façade was not in the least bit representative of the reality of things. The truth was that the business had its debts.
With these thoughts in mind, he walked along aimlessly, in a world of his own. He reached the end of the street and looked up, in search of any other cafés. Despite having worked for years in the same complex of company buildings, he had never made all that much of a concerted effort to explore the area, as a result of the tight hours and the stress that habitually characterized the employees there.
What his eyes alighted on though was not a café, but rather a stationery shop with an enormous window display decorated with floral motifs. He loved stationery shops, walking in amongst the shelves laden with notebooks and pens, breathing in that characteristic smell of paper, without even giving it a second thought. But the moment he reached for the door handle, it opened from the inside. With a perplexed step backwards, he waited for someone to walk out, and it was then that he saw her for the first time. She was around ten years old, with dark curly hair and green eyes, and smiled as if she had never seen a man in a tie before. She held out her little hand and pointed, at the same time turning her head and looking back inside the shop, whispering something. He then followed the direction of her gaze and saw, a few steps behind, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his entire life. And that was the moment when he fell in love.
The child’s name was Marina. However, it was not the Marina who resided in his memories, but rather the one sitting just a few metres away from his bed. Looking worried, she asked him why he was crying. He looked at her without seeing her. Looking straight through her green eyes, he saw in his mind the little, curly-haired girl, and wondered how she had managed to grow so suddenly, or how time could have passed so rapidly.
He gestured for her to leave him alone, and she obeyed straight away, somewhat offended. She was beginning to get used to his changes in mood. He could see that he was causing her to suffer, but he could not avoid it. He did not want to be here. He felt trapped.
Everything had happened so quickly that he’d had no time to react. He had lost everything else, but he would not lose his freedom. With these thoughts going through his mind, he slid his hand into the pillowcase and touched the metal object that he found inside. Exhaling a couple of times, with the intention of calming his nerves, he took it out of its hiding place and looked at it under the lamplight. It shone, as if recently polished.
Object in hand, he got up out of bed and made his way to the window, and spent a couple of minutes contemplating the view. Immediately after, he continued with the manoeuvres that he had started several days ago. Half an hour later came a sharp noise; the window was no longer resting on its hinges.
Marina had just arrived, and was asking him if he wanted her to carry on with the story she had been reading him. Upon receiving no response of any sort, she took out of her bag the book that she had started the previous day, and began to read aloud:
“Exactly two weeks after he had made his great discovery, Tom was hauled up before the captain in his quarters. They shoved him in, closing the door behind him, as if trying to dissociate themselves from him as quickly as possible. Everybody knew it, but nobody dared come to his defence, for fear of losing their jobs, and as such, the only life they had ever known. The whole crew were now aware of the captain’s plans, but they were all hoping to take their cut out of it, and not one of them imagined that they would be going down along with the ship. There would be enough lifeboat places for all of them, they thought. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The captain was seated in a large, leather chair, in the best cabin on the entire ship, with ocean views. He indicated for Tom to sit down, and gave him an amused look. ‘So, we have a stowaway aboard,’ he said with a smile, ‘a stowaway who wishes to cost me dearly.’
With these words he started the explanations, paving the way for the threats, and ending with the promises. Tom would be immensely rich in the future if he learned to keep his mouth shut and not stick his nose in where it did not belong. Until then, everything had been going absolutely perfectly, and there was no apparent reason to be thinking about disaster; as such, Tom now had a decision to make.
Of course, Tom knew that it was all a lie, as he had read the maps and listened to the various conversations regarding the imminent disaster, and the best way in which to get out safely with the passengers’ money. It was the perfect plan.
What was Tom’s response to the captain in his quarters? Did he reject the proposal, and with it a future on the ship, but manage to save the passengers? Or, did he accept, and as such secure a comfortable future at their expense?”
Marina closed the book, taking care not to let any of the pages fold over, and sat up straight.
“Do you remember how it ends?” she asked, looking him in the eye.
No, he did not remember how it had ended, nor did he remember Tom’s decision. He knew that it was only a children’s story, but for some reason he felt overwhelmed with sadness, and the tears began to escape. On many occasions he had read this very story himself, and many more times he had read it to Marina, the little ten-year-old girl with green eyes. She always listened with rapt attention, her eyes widening when danger was approaching, and smiling at the happy ending. Marina always liked happy endings, but this one was an exception. For some inexplicable reason, this was one of her favourites.
Of course, as the years had passed by, Marina had lost her interest in fictional tales, and instead began taking an interest in factual stories, and little by little had started to create her own life, separate from his, until she had become fully independent; leaving them alone in that big apartment.
He had had to endure it with the stoicism of any father in that kind of situation. At least there was still Ella; they still had each other. Ella…
A sob jerked him back out from his introspective reverie, and until he saw Marina’s disconcerted face, he didn’t realise that it had come from his own mouth. He cried in a way that he had not cried in a long time; he cried with such inconsolable force and such a cascade of tears, that he surprised himself, because Ella was no longer there…
Marina came to his side, but this did no more than increase his confusion.
“Where is she?!” he cried out, grabbing the pillow and turning towards the window. Marina tried to calm him down, without much success, and in the end the only solution was to call for the nurse who, after some struggle, administered a sedative, and he slowly plunged into a deep unconsciousness.
When he woke up, it was night-time. His head was hurting, due to those tablets and sedatives. He remembered, with some embarrassment, his attack of hysteria earlier. It was the first time that he had ever cried like that in front of the girl, who was not so much a girl anymore. He had not been able to avoid it; he missed her. Where was Ella now? All the while, he was spending his days enclosed within these four white walls, tormented by his memories.
He did not want to stay there, he felt trapped. Even though Marina visited him every day, with the hope of relieving his sense of confinement, it was not enough. That story… he was finding it impossible to remember how it had ended. What had Tom done? Every time he thought about it, he became overwhelmed by a familiar sensation, a shooting pain in his heart. Tom had not acted correctly. If the ending had been happy, he would not be so engulfed by this sadness…
He heard the sound of a thunderclap, which made him jump. It was a stormy night, and the lightning was intermittently illuminating the room: the armchair where Marina sat, the bed, the window. He carefully grabbed the pillow, and took the sharp object out of the pillowcase. It was time.
Holding it in his hand, he made his way up to the window, and, with stealthy movements so as to avoid being discovered, he began working around the hinges, forcing them to yield.
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Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson