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The Place, Part I, Chapter 3

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

My timidity held me back, and instead of bursting into the room I rapped on the door with my knuckles. I heard a quick noise from the other side, as if someone moved a chair or stood up from one quickly. I waited a few moments, and when there was no answer I knocked again.

This time, heavy, hesitant steps came towards the door and stopped there; I heard the sound of nervous, maybe asthmatic, breathing. Several minutes passed without the unidentified individual giving any sign of doing anything but stand there, breathing noisily.

I decided my politeness had been excessive. I opened the door a few centimeters and peered into the room. An electric bulb, bare and weak, hanging from a cord from the center of the ceiling, illuminated an area that seemed to have the same dimensions as the darker rooms, but it had a number of other features. In my narrow field of vision, there was a small kitchen table with two or three plates and other utensils against the wall across from me. I saw that there was food on the plates, and my mouth began to water again.

This room was warmer thanks to an old kerosene stove that I saw next, alongside a rocking chair that sat in the middle of the room, right under the electric bulb. Some shelves sat against the wall on the kitchen table, with a greenish curtain concealing their contents.

I pushed the door a little further open. The person who had been standing there the whole time was forced to take a few steps back when the door tapped against the toes of his shoes. He turned out to be a strange individual: he was very fat, and appreciably shorter than normal. He wore big, round eye glasses, and the detail that most caught my attention was his clothing, which was quite large and disproportionate to his body, giving him a clownish look. The ridiculousness was accentuated by the attitude of this little man, who, evidently frightened and very surprised by my presence, stared at me and tried to be serious and dignified.

He had to make an effort not to retreat when I took a step forward. The muscles in his face tensed, he blinked, but he stood firm where he was. I smiled, trying to seem friendly, and mouthed a greeting that had no effect on him.

I worked up the courage to take another step, and now that I was fully inside the room, I took a look around. The first thing I saw was what I assumed to be the man’s wife, a woman who seemed to be his age, maybe about 40 years old. She was knitting, sitting in a chair to my left, next to a screen that concealed the corner formed by the wall on my left and the “entryway” wall.

The woman was concentrating on her work, with her head down, and did not seem to be paying attention to what was happening. I discovered, however, that from time to time she would lift her eyes to sneak a glance at me, and that she was also afraid.

Behind the women and against the left wall, there was a bed, not quite full size, although bigger than a single. Between the bed and the kitchen table, against the wall with the “exit” door, there was a little cook stove. I do not recall noticing any other decorations or furniture. My gaze finally lit on the plates of food. There was meat, cut into small pieces, and bread and cheese; there were also a number of not very attractive looking apples.

I began to talk quickly, to explain my situation. After a few moments, the little man’s muscles seemed to relax a little, and the woman was looking at me openly now. I continued to talk for a few moments, somewhat enthusiastic at the progress I had made, and I concluded with an exhortation to be invited to eat.

The man was silent for a couple of minutes, then cleared his throat and opened his mouth. Then he closed it. He cleared his throat again and finally said something that I did not understand.

I gave him a questioning look. The man repeated what he had said, and I realized he was speaking in a language I did not recognize. I asked if he understood anything I had said; the man answered by shrugging his shoulders and showing his empty hands.

Despite this attempt at dialog, the couple’s fear persisted, now disguised as indifference or decorum. They waited expectantly, and neither moved. It was clear that they only wished me out of there as soon as possible. I seemed to be in the position of someone lost in a hotel who enters the wrong room by mistake: Clearly I should apologize and withdraw, but for me things were not that simple.

I wondered if this actually was a hotel; that would explain a lot. But unfortunately, I thought, not everything: How had I gotten there, why could I only go in one direction, and only by barging through the rooms instead of taking a hallway? But this was no time to ruminate. I tried other languages: English, French, I used the three words I know of German and the two of Russian. The little man responded by shaking his head no. Then he voiced a sentence longer than the previous one.

Carefully, because I worried their fear could cause them to react with violence, I moved toward the table. When I reached it, I looked at the little man and pointed to the plate of meat, then pointed to my stomach. He shrugged his shoulders. I looked at the woman, who gave no sign of dissent and just kept sitting there with her timorous look. Then I took a piece of the cooked meat in my hand and brought it to my mouth. I took another, which I accompanied with a piece of bread, and I ended up eating half the meat and a good portion of the cheese and bread.

I then found myself not knowing what to do. I felt like lying down in the bed to rest; but the couple did not budge. Each remained in place, showing no signs of hospitality; they even seemed a bit upset. I thought that if I had used their fear of me to my advantage from the start, I might have been able to get into a better position. But I had not done that, and now we stood eye to eye. He had not resolved to throw me out, yet it was too late for an invitation to stay.

It took me a second to solve the problem of which door to use. If I went out through the one by which I came in, I would be getting nowhere; it would mean a return to darkness and cold. Yet it did have an advantage: the next time I was hungry I could come back here, something that would be impossible if I used the “exit” door and the man decided to close it. But I quickly decided it made no sense to go back to the same places. Feeding myself was not my main problem. My problem was getting out of this place, where I had already spent too much time.

I went up to the exit door and opened it carefully; light came from the other side of that door too. I stuck my head through the half-opened door and looked into the room; it was not empty. Rather, it was equipped in roughly the same way as this one, only it was unoccupied. I also noted that there were plates of food on the table.

This encouraged me to take a few more steps into the room. The door immediately slammed hard behind me. The little man had decided to take swift action; it was now impossible to go back.

Despite everything, I tried the handle, pushing and pulling; as I expected, it didn’t budge. I beat on the door with my fists and shouted a series of insults at the man in ridiculous clothes and his wife. I got no response.

I glanced about the room. It seemed like it I should take advantage of the light to do a careful inspection of it, but I felt weak. Almost involuntarily, I found myself taking off some of my clothes and getting into the bed, which, as in the previous room, was located against the left wall. For a brief instant I wondered whether I should turn off the light or not; I had not seen a switch, but I could loosen the bulb. I also thought about the danger of leaving the kerosene stove lit. I solved these problems by turning to the wall and falling almost immediately asleep.

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