Four walls held a weary soul inside. Trapped, enclosed and deprived of his own liberty, he stood at the foot of a battered bunk bed. The pillow had a hole in it, the sheets were drenched with sweat and bedbugs dawdled over the stinking mattress. The stale smell of perspiration filled the whole room, resembling the one emanated by some rotting carcass left on the roadside of a desolate motorway. He rolled up another cigarette. Every breath he took was a spoonful of poisoned nicotine which was heavy to swallow. Cold sunlight seeped through the rusty bars which held up a crumbling whitewashed portion of wall. The sky was falling to pieces and Atlas had to carry it on his back as though it were a boulder lying heavy on his Titanic conscience.
Greek Mythology. Every respectable writer tends to steal something from the Classics to enrich their modern works. Thoughts flowed in his mind and seemed to dissolve in that filthy room. The reference to Atlas was simply wasted or inappropriate there. Literature was a mere memory gradually fading away in oblivion. There was no such a story that could melt his heart in that claustrophobic cell.
The broken clock stroke 11 pm. Its hands followed dully their set course like any other day. Planes flew overhead, the sound of their throbbing motors sounded muffled, thus barely reaching his eardrums. Travellers and voyagers were eager to get on their plane, celebrate their liberty and satisfy their wanderlust. He imagined them staring at the wide nothingness below in an arrogantly superior manner. He felt mocked by their privileged existence led in luxury and comfort.
By now, he had clasped his hands round his ears. The noise of life and the sound of freedom had nearly deafened him. He kept banging his head on the dusty desk by which he stood. The ink was finished, the yellowed pages no longer permitted further writing and the bottle of Scotch was empty. There he was, confined to his own solitude and forced to creative inactivity. The other prisoners banged on the walls, screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs like some maddening drunkards or hopeless lunatics. He took a deep breath and swallowed all the insults that were about to spring from his mouth. The curses rested on his tongue, stoking the fire of rage within. Tears streamed down his cheeks, forming puddles under his eyes. His throat was swelling, a lump was stuck in there. It made it hard to breathe as the weeping ghost didn’t mean to leave him alone. He wished he had never met those abominable creeps who liked to call themselves his own neighbours. He could not help but despise the day he had moved to what looked like an impregnable fortress from which he could never break free.
Why was he to put up with all of this?
Why was he found guilty by the court?
He neither sacrificed the life of another man nor unjustly forced any girl to sleep with him.
He never got blood stains on his hands, for he didn’t do harm to anyone. Nothing has ever made him feel like a despicable culprit. Yet, Ulysses was punished in the Inferno for his insatiable thirst of knowledge. Icarus dared to fly too close to the sun and he eventually fell from the sky into his tomb. Pandora opened the jar and all the evils came out, leaving Hope within. He felt exactly like the first woman ever created by the ancient gods. Left to his own devices and loneliness, he was to endure that painful reclusion in there. Shame, solitude, resentment, woe, regrets, penitence… they all collected round him. Hope was far from him, hidden somewhere out of both his reach and sight. Heaven was unreachable, a promised land he was no longer welcome to enter. Praying was of no use. There was no hand he could hold, nor saviours to rescue his wretched interiority. The gods were deaf and blind to his requests. He could not atone for hubris: there wasn’t anything he could do to purge his sinful soul. He could see his name included in the “bloody book of law” he had read of in Othello.
The whole business was not fair.
He never craved power, let alone money or riches.
Yet there was such a compulsion that hardly ever put his restlessness to rest.
A literary obsession was the only drive that had pulled him along throughout the years. Books, volumes, journals, collections, works… they all constantly invaded his mind and besieged his heart. Collecting them, stroking their clothbound spines, turning over page after page until reaching the finale of a gripping, gloomy, poignant, heartbreaking and disturbing piece of literary artwork. Rivers of words flowed parallel on each page. He yearned to dive into them and let the currents of letters drag him. If only he could drown in those wordy sentences or in those rhyming lines. Even the odour of paper was enough to soothe his limbs and give him extreme extracorporeal pleasure. Fiction had the power to conquer his mind and haunt it everlastingly, getting stuck inside every time he jumped into an immortal classic. Poetry elevated his mortal being to some heavenly symphony of sentiments put in verses. Drama spoke to his soul, the words themselves throbbed in unison with his heart pounding to the rhythm of the iambic pentameter. The ideal and the real, body and soul, earth and heaven coexisted in each book he cast his eyes upon. Hubris and nemesis reminded him of the ephemeral evanescence of human life. Perhaps all of that bookish education was a mere excuse to dilate the course of time by trying to find answers to his existential doubts and dreaming to conquer thorough knowledge. Years and years spent leafing through dusty masterpieces were now taking their toll on him. The craving for new stories to unfold and new fictional characters to reveal in their complexity had prevented him from the earthly pleasures of life. He had no friends nor family to stand by him. There were neither children nor students to whom he could pass down his own knowledge. Being infatuated, falling in love, settling down and having children were all things he only read about but never experienced on his own.
Keeping away from the attention of boringly mundane peers was his ultimate goal. Only books could give everything he wanted from life: intellectual depth and a revealing insight into the machinations of the universe. Only one soul could bear the segregation he deserved in that dilapidated hovel of apartment.
He was alone, caught in the eddy of his own uncontrolled yearning. Words led to sentences, sentences to paragraphs, paragraphs to chapters, chapters to volumes… so the currents pulled him along to his own reclusion as a stealer of other people’s stories and identities.
So he was banished from society, remaining pleasantly nameless and flat in the book of his dull existence.
Di Italo Ferrante