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The Place, Part I, Chapter 2

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

I soon found that as far as I could tell, the room was an exact copy of the last one. The same darkness, the same cold, the same size; the same bareness and silence.

And when I found another door right across from the one by which I had entered, opening into a third dark room, confusion and fear overwhelmed me.

I collapsed right there, in front of this new open door, slumping to the ground as the whirlwind in my mind swirled out of control. I lay there for I don’t know how long, huddled, sobbing, my whole body shivering.

I was no longer trying to understand or remember; all I wanted now was a refuge, a comfortable and comforting place where I could be, wrapped in blankets, abandoned to sleep or insanity. But the physical conditions in that room truly were cruel. My mind refused to the very last to give in to the breakdown, and as nervous exhaustion finally gave way to calm, or rather numbness, I decided to keep moving. I had no choice. If I did have a choice, I would have gone for the other option, whatever it was, but urged onward by my bodily needs, all I could do was sit up, dust off my clothes, and mutter a few words of encouragement and hope to myself. As I did so, I tried to contain the questions that kept pushing their way to the surface, telling myself that in good time I would find answers to all of them.

I began examining this new room with the same thoroughness as the previous ones. I paused to urinate on the wall, in a corner, and the aggressive relief of this need made me feel better.

I had somehow lost the unlit cigarette I had been holding between my lips; I drew out another one and placed it in the corner of my mouth. My hand searched my pockets again mechanically for the lighter, to no avail. That was when I noticed my watch was missing, though my wallet was still in the inside pocket of my blazer, with my documents and – so it seemed – all my money.

I moved more easily now, and was able to surmise that the room was square, or almost square, and a little more than three meters on each side. I did not find any windows in this room either, nor light switches, nor furniture; only the door by which I had entered, and another, across from it, through which I must exit.

So I entered a fourth room, and a fifth, and a sixth, and kept going until I lost count. Fortunately, the numbing calm that descended on me after the collapse persisted; I continued to act methodically, as if I were performing job that had nothing to do with me. A stream of different emotions paraded by, which I would examine one by one and then let slip away without my mind getting caught up in any significant way. I weakened when the image of Ana appeared before me; at that point it did become harder to stay in control; but somehow, I knew I was doing the only thing possible, and that any weakness could in fact make me lose Ana for good. I fixed things so that her image would remain with me, but without weighing me down with anxiety. I was aware that this balance could be upset at any moment; the place seemed to go on endlessly, and hunger and the desire to smoke still clawed at me; I also knew that if I came to one last door, and it was locked, it would be the end of my sanity.

I have no idea how many dark rooms there were, nor how long it took me to pass through them all; I have the impression that there were no fewer than 10, and no more than 20, and that several hours passed, at least three or four; but I can’t be more precise, and perhaps I’m altogether mistaken.

I moved more confidently now, although I still feared running into something; this combination affected my movements, made them controlled and flexible, like those of a dancer. The physical activity warmed me, eliminating one of this place’s discomforts. The cigarette in my lips would become damp, and every so often I had to throw it away and replace it with another; hunger was flooding my mouth with saliva.

In one of the rooms I made a disheartening discovery. After I walked through the door, reflexively or maybe because I was distracted, I closed it behind me. I had the immediate and intimate conviction that I had made a mistake, and I tried to open it. I could not.

When I left that room, I did the same thing again, this time on purpose; I was not able to open that door either. I reached the obvious conclusion that there was a mechanism that allowed one to advance only in the direction in which I was going; and although I didn’t have the least interest in going back, it terrified me, this idea that I couldn’t go back should I need to. From that point on, I was very careful not to close any doors; still, there were those two that I had closed, and I felt like I had lost something valuable.

The numbness gave way to something different; although my physical movements perhaps did not change, I was overwhelmed by a weariness tinged with sadness, maybe melancholy, and drowsiness pressed in upon me like I had been anesthetized. The numbness had felt better. I didn’t like this new feeling, and I figured that soon I would be feeling very bad indeed, and that it would start to affect my actions.

Fortunately, there was a new wrinkle in my situation: On entering a room, I immediately noticed that from under the door across from me (which I had begun to call the “exit” while I was in the room and the “entrance” after I had gone through it into the next) shone a thin, weak ray of light.

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