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The Place, Part I, Chapter 1

For my introduction to this translation project, click here. All comments and criticism welcome!

In the total darkness, my eyes looked for something familiar and then closed again, failing to find the horizontal, parallel lines of light often cast by street lamps or the sun shining from behind the blades of my blinds. I couldn’t wake up; and although I don’t recall a specific image or dream, I think of myself at the time as having been a creature wandering aimlessly, arms hanging limp, buried beneath some dense and dark substance, no anxiety, no identity, no thought.

Much later, the order to awake; and the creature began to stir with a feeling of uneasiness, as if seeking an exit it could not find or remember.

The order came again, more emphatic, and with it the feeling of an imperative need to get out. And then I found the way, upward, up through the substance toward the blessed surface. The substance had multiple layers that became less dense as I rose, and the speed of my ascent increased as I went. I angled myself toward the surface, and finally, like a swimmer bursting out of the water to breathe a desperate gasp of air, I awoke with a deep sigh.

It was then that my eyes opened and, disoriented, closed once again. My sleep became lighter until I awoke again, this time more lucid.

I noticed a number of things: That it was cold, that this place was not my bedroom, that I was stretched out on a wooden floor without a mattress or blanket, in total darkness; and that I was fully dressed.

The struggle against the urge to go back to sleep was necessarily shorter than normal; the uncomfortable bare floor didn’t allow it. I regained consciousness, my sullen grumbling accompanied by the creak of my flexing joints. I rubbed my arms and legs and coughed. My bronchioles whistled from breathing the damp air, and my throat hurt.

While I felt around for something familiar, I asked myself the usual questions: Where was I, how had I gotten there? In reality it took me a little longer to ask that second question. I still had not accepted the fact of finding myself in an unexpected place, and I was combing my memory, picking through the last few images of my waking moments, sure that soon everything would be sorted out with a simple explanation: drunk at a party, the storm that broke while I was at some other house far away, some unusual adventure that had meant sleeping away from home. Though not often, I sometimes would wake up without realizing where I was; but at those times, it was always enough to recognize the headboard of my bed or the color of a curtain to get a sense of the place and to bring the last memory rushing back. Yet in this case, there was nothing to serve as a trigger, and the lack of things itself did not mean anything to me either.

My memory was stubbornly stuck on a trivial incident and refused to go any further: A sunny autumn afternoon, and I was crossing the street toward a bus stop. I had bought cigarettes at a kiosk and taken a few drags off the last one from a pack that I had just crushed into a ball and thrown into the street. I reached the corner and leaned against a gray wall. There were two or three other people there, waiting for the bus. I was thinking that Ana and I were going to the movies that night. And that’s where the memories stopped.

My hands found a wall, and keeping against it I began to shuffle slowly around the room, looking for a window or a light switch. It was a rough wall, maybe whitewashed.

I got to a corner without finding anything. I continued my search along the new wall, and after a certain distance my fingers found a door frame, then the door itself, and finally the handle.

I didn’t try to open it right away. It calmed me to know that there was an exit, yet I worried whether it would be appropriate for me to use it; I imagined people on the other side sleeping, or doing something that my presence could disturb; I also wondered if, for some reason, maybe I shouldn’t be seen at all: I searched my memory again, but there was not the slightest trace of where I was, nor why. I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I tried to control myself. Maybe I could have paused there for a little while longer, giving me time to keep searching my memory; but I had urgent physical needs: hunger, cold, I had to urinate, and my bones needed to rest on something soft. I also wanted to smoke, and the pack, presumably the same one I bought at the kiosk, was intact in my coat pocket; I opened it and took out a cigarette that I brought to my lips, but I couldn’t find the lighter. I grabbed the door handle and turned; first I pushed the door inward, then pulled it toward me, but neither way worked.

I put my eye to the keyhole, but couldn’t see anything. An intense fear crept over me. I tried the handle again, I shook the door. I beat on it with my fists and kicked it; nothing.

I heard an involuntary little cry escape from my throat. With my fists and jaw clenched, trembling all over, I continued my journey around the room, hugging the wall, dragging my feet, arms out.

I found another corner, and the new wall felt just as bare to my fingers as the rest of the room.

My memory kept working, and new details emerged from this latest search: the face of the man at the kiosk, his drooping mustache, the gaze of his watery blue eyes; a tree near the corner, with shimmers of gold on its dry leaves, and a leaf that fell, just shed from its branch, while I crossed the street; the exact number of people waiting for the bus at the stop: there were three, two women (one with a maroon coat, the other wearing a read blazer, both with their backs turned) and a short man, leaning against a tree, one foot on the ground and the other against the tree.

I reached another corner of the room, and very close to it, I found a new door – seemingly across the room from the other one. My hands shook as I turned the knob: I pushed the door inward, and this time it opened.

I found myself newly in darkness.

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