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￭ In our image and our likeness
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2009-07-01 | |
Silence. Pitch black and no sound. I hear myself breathing.
Iâ€™m blinking trying to figure out something around me. Iâ€™m raising my hand and even though Iâ€™m flashing it before my eyes I still donâ€™t see a thing. Iâ€™m trying to get up but the vertigo in which my head is spinning is forcing me back on the pillow. Iâ€™m groaning in pain; itâ€™s like every bone in my body was hammered. I take a deep breath trying to smell something that I can identify but that only scent I can smell is a fowl one. My mind starts spinning again and Iâ€™m plunging into a dark and endless abyss.
Iâ€™m falling asleep again.
I became conscious again. I am awake. This time, a bright white light hurts my eyes but I am able to see the flashing of my hand in front of them. Iâ€™m slowly trying to get up still feeling pain in my body. Iâ€™m getting out of the bed finding a pair of slippers next to my bed. Iâ€™m putting them on and start walking around. I look outside the windows and all I can see is an overcast weather and some trees that seem to go far away, far beyond the mist that surrounds them. I turn around and took few steps around the room. Seems like a hospital room, all is white, even I am dressed in a gown but it lacks the omnipresent devices that beep and show parameters.
I see a sink with a mirror above it and curiosity gets me. Silently, Iâ€™m moving towards it. Iâ€™m looking in the mirror and a cold thrill goes down my spine. I donâ€™t recognize the face in the mirror. The reflected image says nothing to me. At first I think it is a creepy joke but the image in the mirror blinks in the same time with me. I slowly raise my hand in hope that nothing will happen with the image but I desperately find out that itâ€™s moving the same way. The image in the mirror is pale and heavily bruised. One eye is barely opened and scabs are covering the skin. Iâ€™m touching the skin on my face to feel it but it scares me even more to realize that there is nothing on my skin. The fowl scent I smelled not long ago becomes present again. I shiver and in a burst of fear everything becomes dark and I collapse.
I open my eyes to find myself on the floor. I get up, feeling only mild pain in my bones. Iâ€™ve slightly remembered why I fainted and fearful Iâ€™m looking again in the mirror only to find the same crippled image. In horror, Iâ€™m covering the mirror with a tower and desperately, Iâ€™m trying to remember who am I and whatâ€™s my name but I find out that Iâ€™m not successful in remembering anything. I look around again in search for clues and familiar objects. Nothing. Not even a tag on my white gown. I stay silent trying to capture any familiar sound. Still nothing. I hear sort of a buzz but it doesnâ€™t tell me anything. I walk towards the white door and grab the knob thinking it might be locked. Itâ€™s not; the door opens with a light squeak and I step outside the room. I find myself bathed in a cruel and cold neon light, on a long, windowless white hallway. I look up and find out that the silent buzz was coming from the lights on the ceiling. In the distance one of them is flickering. Itâ€™s the only sign of activity and I decide to go towards it.
As I slowly walk I notice old and decrepit wheel-chairs along the walls. One of them lacks a wheel and I notice the worn-out fabric that is covering the seat. It has some brownish stains and one of the handles is missing. For a split second I had the impression that I hear a distant scream but it fades fast and I couldnâ€™t help thinking that perhaps it was only an illusion of a tired mind.
I walk and walk and I finally find myself in a larger space with some people either sitting or walking around. A woman dressed as a nurse is approaching me:
â€˜How are you today?â€™ she asks.
But no answer comes from me. I look at her with a curious and desperate look on my face. She has no name tag but she indeed looks like a nurse. The look in my eyes mustâ€™ve told her something because I see her eyes turning compassionate.
â€˜Poor youâ€™ she says â€˜let me take you to your placeâ€™. She takes my hand and drives me towards a chair next to the window. As I sit down, I hear her voice again:
â€˜You still donâ€™t remember anything, do you? Well, youâ€™ll figure out in time what happenedâ€™. The silent question in my eyes is louder than ever. â€˜We found you roaming around and it seems you are amnesic. Now relax, and take your time to remember. Donâ€™t worry, everything will be alrightâ€™ she says with a reassuring smile.
I sit down and look outside. In the distance I see the same trees embraced in a misty fog. It seems chilly and I shiver.
I donâ€™t know how much time Iâ€™ve spent looking blindly outside the window. It seems like the sheer fabric of time is torn apart and simply has a different dimension. I hear a soft sound behind me and I turn my head. Itâ€™s the nurse:
â€˜Come onâ€™ she whispers softly â€˜itâ€™s time to go outsideâ€™.
I feel better now and Iâ€™m trying to get up. She grabs my arm and helps me.
â€˜Youâ€™re still weak. Iâ€™ll take you thereâ€™.
I move slowly, dragging my feet one after the other. She walks me through some unknown large hallways and I start noticing more details about the place Iâ€™m in: here are some shelves with what looks like towels, over there is a wheel-table with a rusted wheel, a nurse is helping another one to stand up, and more and more people around. A surprising detail is that no one has any nametag; even the doors are not tagged. Most of the people are old but I also see youngsters and kids, and they are all wearing gowns or hospital-like robes. Some have the same lost look in their eyes and for an unknown reason, the sadness in my heart deepens. I feel lost and I realize again that I donâ€™t know who I am, where am I coming from. I donâ€™t know how old I am and how did I end up there. I remember the horrific image in the mirror and Iâ€™m touching my face again to be sure that the wounds and scabs are not there. The neon on the ceiling is surrounding us with shroud of pale light, putting a strange and ill color on everyoneâ€™s face. While walking through them I sense again the fainting smell that Iâ€™ve felt earlier.
We come to a large cross-section and I just stop. Itâ€™s something mystical about it and I feel confused. I look to the right and then to the left. On each side, at the end, itâ€™s a large door, having something written on them. On one of them there is something written and no matter how hard I try I cannot understand the letters. On the other one there is a sign but I cannot recognize it. Iâ€™m freezing in the middle and I can hear shouts and cries but so faint that it seems an illusion. The scent Iâ€™ve smelled before becomes a stench and even though Iâ€™m looking around to see a decomposing corpse all I see are the white walls, here and there covered with darker stains. The stench makes the fear stick its claws into my heart and the pain in my chest becomes unbearable. Just when I am about to faint a breeze, a fresh scent that Iâ€™ve never smelled before drives away the pain. The nurse is patiently waiting but the question in my eyes remains unanswered
â€˜Itâ€™s not your time yetâ€™ she says and with a firm grip she helps me walk away. A large, green Exit sign is the only sign that really shows some direction and it points out to some grayish large doors. The handles are polished by usage and after the nurse is pushing them we find ourselves outside.
The weather is the same as Iâ€™ve seen it from the window: gray, chilly, dense fog, chasing clouds in the sky. In the distance I see the same misty trees which seem to be part of an endless forest. The nurse is walking me into something that resembles a small park in which are scattered few shriveled wooden benches. She helps me sit on one of them and covers me with a blanket.
â€˜Iâ€™ll leave you alone for a while, the open air will help you recoverâ€™ she said. â€˜You can walk around if you like but please donâ€™t go far. Iâ€™ll check on you later and help you on the way back if you still feel weakâ€™. She turns around and leaves me alone.
For long, I have an empty look in my eyes, not even knowing what to think about. From time to time, flashes of the crippled image in the mirror come to my mind and I canâ€™t help shivering. Itâ€™s quiet in the small park and there is no other sound than the wind chasing the mist around the trees. Up in the sky, the clouds are running fast but there is no sign of them clearing out. Iâ€™m getting cold and I slowly get up to move around a bit.
Looking at the building that I left, I try to recognize any detail that may be useful. But nothing. It is a building that seems it was there for a long time and the rusted spouts, the bars on the windows, the shriveled paint here and there on the walls, a chimney that seems that itâ€™s fueling the clouds with the smoke that itâ€™s throwing are just silent. My mind is empty and even the simple effort of trying to remember anything makes me tired.
While walking, I meet with someone that looks like one of the patients, if the building is a hospital of some sort. Heâ€™s sitting on a rusted bench, all muffled up in some blankets, and heâ€™s looking far away in the distance. Heâ€™s almost bald and the few threads hanging to his skull are all white. He notices me and turns his head looking at me. Iâ€™m surprised to see that his eyes are vivid and alive. The wrinkles on his face are making up a smile while heâ€™s showing me the empty place beside him.
â€˜Come, sit downâ€™ he says.
I donâ€™t know why but something in his eyes or in his voice comforts me and lures me on the bench. I sit down and I feel peace. Itâ€™s quiet again but now, itâ€™s a different kind of silence.
â€˜What is this place?â€™ Iâ€™m quietly asking.
â€˜Itâ€™s a place where lost souls are being found againâ€™ he replies, â€˜where everything has a meaning in the end. One can never enter this place to leave without a reason.
â€˜Were the people Iâ€™ve met lost souls? Am I a lost soul?â€™
He turned to me and his smile faded away. The tears in his eye impaled me and I felt crumbling.
â€˜This is a question I cannot answer. Only time will tell. I donâ€™t know for how long I am here. I also donâ€™t remember who I am and how I got here. I just feel the same as you: lost, useless, fearful and scared. Iâ€™ve seen people coming and going. But Iâ€™m still here and I donâ€™t know why. I donâ€™t think I belong here.â€™ he said sobbing.
I didnâ€™t know how to comfort him and collapsed in frustration, all I could do was just to lay a hand on his shoulder.
â€˜Did you notice that youâ€™re not moving your lips when youâ€™re talking?â€™ he asked. â€˜Yesâ€™ he replied to the question in my eyes â€™Itâ€™s all in your head. But donâ€™t worry, thereâ€™s nothing wrong with thatâ€™.
I couldnâ€™t help thinking â€˜The voices in my head are telling me Iâ€™m normalâ€™. Now that was a surprise! I tried smiling but my lips turned into an unsuccessful grin. I still couldnâ€™t figure out who I was and what I was doing there. Iâ€™ve laid back on the bench and just looked away. Numbness came over me and all I could do was to muffle myself in the chilly air and watch again the wind playing with the mist between the trees. Iâ€™ve got lost.
The sinister game of chasing clouds captured me entirely and froze me on the bench. I was watching them running on their toes on top of the trees and taking all sorts of shapes: here was a dragon being slain by a knight, there was a wolf chased by a warrior. One cloud, shaped as a child, seem to fall in the mist below, which now had the color of freezing murky waters. Iâ€™ve fearfully watched as the wind was trying to push it up but it was too weak to do it. The cloud seemed to look straight into my eyes and a hole appeared forming a mouth that was crying in despair for help. I couldnâ€™t believe my eyes and my blood froze in my veins. I grabbed the handles of the bench just to keep myself down, repeating on and on that itâ€™s just an illusion, a ghost of my troubled mind, that my madness is playing games with me. The scene was getting more and more vivid while other clouds jumped in to help and I was even able to hear not only the struggle and the desperate shout for help but also the groaning and the victorious laughter of the mist, so sure of its prey. I felt my heart beating so hard that I feared it will tear my chest apart. With one hand Iâ€™ve pressed it back but I couldnâ€™t sit anymore and I jumped to grab the cloud with the other hand, to help it out of the famished mist.
I woke up with a shout. Iâ€™ve quickly looked up and saw the clouds just lazy flying around, indifferent and careless to the desperate look in my eyes. The mist was still playing like a silly dog, chasing itself around the trees. I said to myself â€˜Itâ€™s an illusion, it didnâ€™t happenâ€™. But the splinters in my hands and my heart still pounding in my chest told me something else.
I was walking, relentlessly haunted by the image of the little cloud shaped as a kid. I could still hear its shout for help, the despair of sinking in the misty void and the question that I couldnâ€™t get rid of was â€˜Did I save it?â€™ I remembered its struggle, the other clouds helping but I couldnâ€™t remember if it was saved and the frustration brought tears to my eyes. I wanted so much to save it as if my life was hanging off that cloud. Lost in this tragedy, I realized Iâ€™ve ended up in a small playground. I looked around to see the kids but the place was deserted. Few swings were hanging from a rusted iron bar, only wind playing with them, making them wail in a faint screech. The little horses on a spring were motionless and the fresh paint on them was long gone. The slides, looking like giant tongues were also deserted. On the far corner, a kid was playing alone in a roundabout. He saw me and stopped playing and he came closer.
â€˜Hello misterâ€™ he greeted me. He looked oddly familiar but no matter how hard I tried I didnâ€™t remember who he was. I tried to say something but Iâ€™ve remembered the voices in my head. I was silent. He smiled at me and Iâ€™ve realized it was the second smile Iâ€™ve seen in this God forsaken place. It was a calming smile that soaked my sorrow away.
â€˜Who are you?â€™ he asked. Hearing my silence, he asked again, his voice betraying his surprise
â€˜Are you lost? You donâ€™t look like youâ€™re lost. Your eyes are not saying that youâ€™re lost. Perhaps you just forgot who you are but youâ€™ll rememberâ€™ he concluded with a reassuring smile. I felt peace coming down on me and I wanted to hug him for this. In an instant I forgot about the creepy image in the mirror, the shady hallways back in the building, about the lost looking people and the tormented shouts and about the little cloudâ€™s drama.
â€˜Do you wanna play with me?â€™ he asked. I couldnâ€™t have a better offer so Iâ€™ve stayed around and played a while with the familiar kid, still not remembering where I met him before.
Time passed and I felt I should go back. I waved the kid Good Bye and headed towards the grim building. Along the way, ghosts made themselves present: the stench, the cries, everything came back to my mind. I started shivering again. Iâ€™ve entered the building that now looked deserted; there were no more lost people and no more nurses. It was a creepy silence that surrounded me like a shroud. I slowly walked on the main hallway, the sound of my breath being the only sign of life.
I came to the same cross-section, with the opposing doors and I felt the same fear as I felt before. This time, curiosity was stronger. I went to the door with the strange sign on it and Iâ€™ve tried to listen. I could barely hear a faint violin sound and it was so pure, and sweet that I just felt like falling down on my knees and spend my life time there. It filled my heart with a feeling of belonging and for the second time I felt peace.
Iâ€™ve headed to the other door. While getting closer, the fowl stench became more and more powerful. I looked at the carved letters above and they looked familiar now but still couldnâ€™t understand them. Iâ€™ve touched the door: it was hot. Iâ€™ve listened. Far away in the distance I thought Iâ€™ve heard painful cries, coming from tormented souls. My heart crumbled in pain while listening. The same sharp claw that squeezed my heart before was doing it again. Iâ€™ve grabbed my chest, trying to fight its grip only to find out how strong it was squeezing.
Iâ€™ve turned around and I found the old man and the kid standing behind me. They looked tired and muddy and I felt that something was wrong. In few moments I saw it: something happened with their eyes. The old man was sitting in a wheelchair and the kid had a messy hair and he was breathing heavily like he was running. They both had a silent question in their eyes.
â€˜What are you doing?â€™ they asked. â€˜Please donâ€™t go there, you donâ€™t belong thereâ€™
â€˜What IS this place? Iâ€™ve shouted. â€˜What is beyond these doors?â€™
But they were both silent. In the end, the old man said. â€˜You will soon see. Yes, yes, the sooner the betterâ€™.
They took my hands and dragged me away from the door, taking me in between them. I felt my heart calming down even though I could still smell the stench. Iâ€™ve closed my eyes for a moment to drive the tormenting sounds away. When Iâ€™ve opened my eyes, they were gone. I was alone again in the middle of the hallway, bathed in the same ill neon light that I knew before.
Iâ€™ve slowly started walking to my room. I didnâ€™t know where it was and I thought I walked forever until I found it. Iâ€™ve opened the door and looked at the mirror just to find it still covered with a towel. Iâ€™ve slowly uncovered it and fearful, Iâ€™ve gathered all my strengths to look at my reflection. My breath stopped but I was surprised to see that the scabs and the wounds were gone.
And then Iâ€™ve touched my face. They were now real. The skin on my face was peeling away and the wounds were disgustingly suppurating. One eye was indeed swollen and I could barely open it. The grotesque image I was seeing in the mirror before was now imprinted on my face. My right hand suddenly cracked in a weird angle and bruises were covering my body. I felt pain in every bone.
And then Iâ€™ve remembered. Iâ€™ve remembered I was an alpinist. Iâ€™ve remembered the accident and how I fell off a cliff. I felt the wind on my face and I remembered it took forever till I finally hit the ground in a cloud of dust, just like a sack of bones. I remembered the pain and the feeling that my entire being was shattered. And then it was black.
And then I realized what the carved words on the door meant. I realized why the fear and the stench. I realized that the tormented cries were coming from truly lost souls. It was written: â€˜Lasciate ogni speranza, o voi châ€™entrateâ€™. Oh Dante, you divine poet, you are so true: â€˜Do leave any hope, you enteringâ€™. That door was leading to Hell.
And then I understood where I am. I understood who were the old man and the kid. Iâ€™ve finally understood what was that place.
I was in Purgatory.
I was dead.
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