Image Journal - Issue 120

Published: Apr 2024
Category: Online
Language: English

I WOKE UP AGAIN and while I wanted to get up and leave, I couldn’t see where to. I leapt over the parapet and found myself in the middle of a road, empty lanes covering the entire space before me. Another parapet, rather low, then again a tarmac, like tangent causeways heading in divergent directions, like rivers merging and separating again between medians that rise from sinking mud only. I can find no other way to describe it. Then another parapet, and I thought that if I leapt over it the space would open up. From one road I leapt to the next, but where one ended the other began, a gray tangled ball of yarn, overpasses and bridges over and under, low barriers and nothing beyond them, a cluster of lanes and interchanges, a net without limit, and at that point it dawned on me that it made no sense to go forward, so I went all the way back. Then, I cannot remember, a blank spot, and then again, I could see. Unfamiliar faces bent over my head, I couldn’t tell how this happened, and they were smiling at me. One spoke and said: this dream of yours, it is real. It took you far away and brought you back, but all that time we were here waiting for you to wake up. A sleep so deep we thought you had fainted, you could hardly manage to breathe. We brought you here and put you on that mattress and let you sleep. All is well now. Do not be afraid. How many days did you sleep? A few hours, you will say. If I ask you, that’s what you’ll say, that’s what you’ll think, but look at this bread. Take it in your hand, look at it. It is dry, but it was fresh when we baked it, and now it’s hard as a stone. Since that day you have been fast asleep. And once you had woken up, you got scared when you saw us. You do not know us, and because you do not know us, you are afraid. Don’t be afraid of us. We will do you no harm, we are also like you, we have all come here from the very same place and we all have the very same mark upon us. Feel it with your hand. You may notice, it’s as if your forehead had swollen a bit, as if something sticks out a bit. You feel it only a little, but you and I, all of us have it. And all of us share the same dreams, more or less, and everyone is afraid of the very same things. You are not alone. Not in that either. And many times we wake up in the dead of night and can’t find any rest. You will see for yourself. And you will see that little by little during the day we forget why we are here, but, as we have one another, we only see what’s here for us, and this suffices for us, and from that moment on, we go on living only with this, and we say: there is no judgment, no judge, there is no other world. And for you, the rest of it was all a dream. Yes, it was true, but it was a dream, and now that you have woken up, put it aside. This is how we reason, and one forgets with the help of the other. We found each other, and we all decided to stay. It’s good enough here. We don’t need to leave and go anywhere else. We are far enough away that no one can watch us, and you don’t need to go any farther to avoid being spied upon by the one who chased you away. Coming up to this place, that does it. Of course, there may be books and lists as well, and the one who took your name down will keep you in there, his book will remember you, but we are all written down in it, so let him stay with his book, and we will stay where we are. And since he can no longer see you, forget about it as much as you can. Don’t bother. Whoever he is, over here we cannot see him at all, neither do we ever see him, nor does he exist. We forgot him and let him forget about us and let’s forget what has happened. That’s all over and done with now, and we’ll stay here and build. For us, there is no judgment outside of here, no judge, no other world. This place is us. And you can stay with us. You start again from the beginning, from a new hiding place. Quiet, dark. 
They had set up tents. Not all; some had a few blankets thrown down and were lying on them. Often there was a man with a woman and child on each blanket. It seemed a little odd to me, because some had dug a hole and built a shallow shelter with the blanket on top. It might get very windy and cold at night. Even now it was rather windy. Dust was raised up all over the place and more was likely to come, since there was hardly any vegetation. In a partially buried tank there was still some water, but as it seemed to run out, they called me to join them and go fetch some more. On that side there was sand nearly everywhere, and nothing grew there. The opposite side looked like a shore—it could have been a coast. When we went for the water, walking among them, I noticed that there were others, many others around, and others behind those who could not be seen beforehand. Some were busy with building, and they greeted me when I passed. This was the first house I saw. I looked inside, and it seemed dark and cavernous, and it sloped down a little. This coolness of a deep, moist place wafted out from it. You felt it just oozing out of the entrance. And more people were building, and there would be more of those houses eventually. After I had walked awhile, I turned to look from a distance and peered back at the whole thing, whatever it was, houses, tents, with blankets in between, people standing, people lying down, and the others who kept coming out of those cave-like places, raising scarves to their eyes. And the open space in between, the passages, the narrow roads carved in the sand, white veins and then a little red from the setting sun. The air was a translucent skin, and from below it showed how the recesses of the city were growing and forming. I was thirsty. The others had made their way ahead and had almost got to the water.
In the evening, we sat down and shared food, what little they had, what each one had brought. I don’t know if they were all there, but there were a lot of us, no doubt about that. Some had brought fruit, someone had beans. No meat whatsoever. None had been brought, none had been found, and no one had gone out for a kill. They were boiling weeds, but someone tasted them and said they were tough. Then someone who had brought an animal with him said to the animal, come here, in front, and sit next to me with the others. They kept staring at it, and he brought it among them, and the animal stared back at them and they stared at it too. Like mute witnesses of some kind, as if they were expecting the animal to ask them a question. Nothing happened, however. 
We ended up being the last ones who stayed to feed the fire. Then a fable was told. A little farther away, two people were rolling and hugging, and for a moment I felt as if they were touching me, as if I were trembling the way they trembled, the way he entered her. I gazed at them and did not listen, then I heard a little of the end of the fable: the house had fallen on someone, crashing down upon him, and he ended up dying inside the house.And once more, a few feet away in a tent that suddenly flapped in the wind, two distinct shadows, merging, at the next moment, into one another again, tents trembling in the light of the fire, each person nesting inside a darkness they had set up for themselves, all at peace now, or almost, only that thing floating up, and I follow it with my eyes: a torn page upon the wind.

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