It was just passed eleven thirty at night when the police broke down the door of Adam Abramović’s apartment in Zagreb. Neighbours called the authorities after a loud noise from within the walls of the Croatian man’s residence woke them up. One of the residents reported that “following an unusual silence, the velvet night was blasted to smithereens by an abrupt explosion”.
After several heavy knocks on the door, three police officers armed with black pistols burst inside the apartment from a darkened stairway, barely illuminated by a white neon light that was pulsating spasmodically. Outside, a few dogs were barking in the distance.
The lights were on all throughout the apartment and the officers looked around, carefully making their way into the bedroom.
The sight that welcomed them made them lower their guns. A dead man on a bed with green and yellow covering soaked in blood. He was wearing street clothes: dirty blue jeans, worn out and stained by oil and alcohol, a crimson sweater underneath which a white colour shirt with the collar soaked in red liquid, and a pair of black leather boots.
The right side of his head was blown off and pieces of brain and skull were scattered everywhere. Next to his neck, a substantial mass of brain that looked as if a bowl of minced beef had been poured on the bed. His left eye was still open, gazing without moving into the netherworld.
In his hand, Mr. Abramović was holding a silver Desert Eagle. It was clear what happened. The police put their guns away and looked at each other.
‘Go tell the neighbours to calm down, everything is under control,’ the one in charge told his colleagues who obeyed the order and left to explain to the entire apartment bloc that there was no threat and that the residents should go back to sleep: tomorrow the economy was needing them fresh and full of energy, not plagued by an irrelevant suicide.
On a table next to the bed on which the dead man was sleeping, was a note sprayed with hundreds of tiny crimson dots of dried blood. On it, in calligraphic handwriting, entitled Forty Years of Sodom were the final thoughts of the deceased.
The officer in charge picked it up and turned it around: on both parts it was covered in minute writing. He began reading it, quietly, calmly, in his mind:
Forty Years of Sodom
Since I was a child I had this sense of inevitable end. I sensed death being very closely to me. When I was playing with other children outside under the summer trees, in the warm sunlight, when I was having dinner with my family, when I went to see my grandparents and especially when I went to bed. Night was always a spectacle of the end, a preamble of what is truly real: death.
Wherever I was going and whatever I was doing, I saw things ending rather than beginning. I perceived the slow, invisible but very real decay of the world, of my body and of my self.
Death surrounded me so often that it eventually became my only friend. I longed for its presence. In the moments when I felt like I belonged to this world of matter, in those seconds of what many seemed to call happiness which, as I grew older, became normality, in those moments of being all too human, I felt so alone, abandoned by the only energy I knew to be familiar. When the sense of the end approaching was taken away from me, even for a few flashes of time, my entire being was collapsing into an abyss of sorrow and loneliness suffocated me. Only when I knew, with certainty, that I would eventually die, that everything would crumble into decay, that I felt at peace.
I was taught in school and throughout most of my college years that a lot of what people did was in order to survive. Some of my teachers explained to me that wars were fought so that some could kill others in order to survive, that some could take away what others had so that they could survive; that children were the by-product of this instinct too, myself included. Even my parents made it clear that everyone had to do something, referring to work in society, in order to survive.
Those who questioned this behaviour, which to me has always been peculiar, this desperation with survival when death was the inevitable conclusion to all life, were looked at with great suspicion, even categorised as mad or worse, as suicidal. Suicide was the great sin of our world: how dare anyone leave society when they wanted, on their terms?
It all felt so wrong to me and, even if I knew death more intimately than anyone in my family, or from my street or classroom, even if I looked at death with romantic eyes like a boy paralysed by the beauty of his first girlfriend, I too wanted to live.
And so, I never found my way: trapped between my beastly nature that demanded that I survived, my human nature that, from time to time, spoke its will through desires of establishing a family and building a name for myself, and my true nature – my soul yearning to be one with the cold night between the stars.
In my university years, when I studied philosophy, hoping for an answer for why I was the way I was, I realised that most philosophers, even those with the darkest of ideas, spoke about human life with great candour, if not with respect. It was perhaps the instinct of survival that left a print on their thoughts. Few dared to dismiss the greatness, be it in tragedy or glory, of human life.
I wasn’t a misanthrope, however. Despite my grim outlook on life, I tended to look at people with empathy and, to my surprise, hope: I believed not in the goodness of men – that was an infantile view which too many philosophers and theologians have entertained at the cost of substantial suffering that followed when such idea was put into practice – but in the ability of men to break the mould of mediocrity, the pest of reality and the trap of existential questions.
But a short ride on the bus disproved the entire glamour of such nonsensical abstractions: it turned out that the human soul was another invention, for what I saw couldn’t have been the creation of God. God does not make such mistakes, only biology can misstep so tragically.
In that metal tube on four wheels, I saw what terrified me more than all the catastrophes caused by the cruelty and folly of man: the animalistic mediocrity of our society.
Men and women, of all ages, sitting on those chairs, with long faces, dressed in the same materials, wearing similar colours and shades, with their bodies deformed from a profound lack of exercise and poor eating habits, were all jiggling silently as the bus turned corner after corner. However, nothing could prepare me for what I saw next.
When this woman, who got in with her small infant in a carrier, raised her eyes towards me I saw the same indifference that I saw in the eyes of cows grazing on the field and the same ferocity I spotted in the eyes of those grizzly bears I encountered through documentaries.
What was more shocking was that even if this woman’s eyes were well-placed in her head, her gaze was cross-eyed: not because of any biological condition, but because there was nothing in that skull to produce an intelligent gaze. Her eyes did not lead me to her soul, allowing me to drink from the eternal and common existence of all men, but to the baren existence of a thoughtless slave.
I then realised that I was surrounded by these slaves everywhere I went; they all seemed very comfortable with their condition, and that terrified me to my bones.
Still, I wasn’t a misanthrope; but that episode made me feel more strongly the need to be closer to death and escape the peculiar savageness of modern society: how could anyone have any faith in mankind when there were so many people like that woman who, to add insult to injury, also had a child, passing on her genes and character…
I can say that the bus ride was a turning point for me. After that day, I became more and more solitary, slowly accepting my true nature and increasingly sinking in the tragic boredom of human history in the hope to find a time when we, humans, were more than what I saw on that public transport vehicle.
However, after a survey of our actions throughout the ages, I eventually came to the soul crushing realisation that all those mighty words that defended civilisations were in vain, that those nameless, poor people, who were slaughtered in the name of order, or of change, were butchered in vain, and, worst of all, that those who promised liberty and beauty delivered carnage and corruption: the many that died in the so-called revolutions, hoping for an improvement in their contract with the broader society, were given nothing but illusions paid for with their bones and souls.
Oh, how these soldiers were getting old without the promised betterment of their future ever materialising and how the newer generations were spawned into this cauldron of toxic comfort and moronic entertainment…
‘Oh death, where are you when I most need you – have you forsaken me as well?’ I wrote in desperation at the back of a book in a library after I concluded that the only sentiment with which I can look at humanity was one of profound pity, for its entire rhythm of existence was repetitive and dull, and yet nobody else seemed to really grasp that.
Following my university, I refused to work. I told my parents that I cannot contribute to a world order that was at best indifferent to the individual and at worse was hostile to it. They understood me but they couldn’t do anything to help with the entire situation: the world was what the world was, my parents told me. That was true. However, their position changed nothing: I could never trust that the world around me would someday come to terms with its hypocritical state of affairs and realise that its progress was in fact decay. I felt isolated even inside my head.
I wrote poems, most of them about death. They were not dark and certainly not suicidal, but rather romantic and full of rhetorical questions. Some of these questions answered themselves while others never did. But, as I moved further in life, without money and without an outlook, my natural feeling of closeness to the inevitable end slowly became a desire, forced by me and by my surroundings. Reality became more invasive, and I became more acutely aware of its presence. However, my existence remained tangential to it.
I then met Marie in a park, on a summer day, under a grey and orange dusk. We spoke about justice. She told me that this world, dull as I thought of it, at least had a strong sense of justice, that each individual got, in the end, what they truly deserved. I refused to accept such nonsense. I presented her with my view on the criminal justice system which grinded to pieces the hearts and minds of men and women who dared to take action against this incredible rot of cultural degradation and political corruption when warlords walked free with plenty of wealth and power under their hairy belts.
‘Marie,’ I said, ‘a man imprisoned for life for sounding the alarm against the butchers of our souls had as his greatest desire to not lose his memories of mountains and trees while those who made the laws buried alive mothers, fathers and children for money and subversion. Justice that does not come from divine law is a whore sold to and bought by those with money and the right surnames.’
‘Please, please believe! Just for the day,’ she started, begging me to repudiate my views on mankind. ‘In vain they did not suffer. Looked at the mothers crying for their buried children, in cemeteries, in offices and in delicious pornography,’ Marie continued. ‘Although our hearts are broken, we have to wipe our misery. Let me share in your pain,’ she said, touching my hand.
Marie did not realise that I was not suffering. That meant that I had some sort of attachment to the world or its inhabitants.
‘The time when I suffered for any reason at all has long passed. Never trust in the motives of men, myself included. They are the motives of orphans who have become bitter due to the ages of wondering away from their eternal home.’ I left Marie after a few months, swearing never to get myself involved with another human.
Years passed and I slept on benches dreaming of that cold night between the stars, freezing under silver moons, weaking up to the first rays of sunshine, watching people pass by, going nowhere, with the same gaze as I saw on that woman’s face during that bus ride. I was happy, at least I thought so. I felt content, which made me realise that I was falling in the same trap of existence as the others around me.
So I got a job, just to oppose something – even my true nature. I worked in a warehouse, carrying boxes with stuff in them from a truck into another truck and then into another truck. For ten hours a day I did this. It gave me time to think while I did some exercise.
Then, another turning point happened in my life. I went to see a priest. I sensed the need for confession – perhaps because I wanted to sacrifice my old self entirely, to end it all: but why I sought rebirth?
For this question I went to see the priest whom I asked: ‘Father, where do animals go to die?’
He paused for a while. I could smell that beautiful scent of burnt oil and frankincense which reminded me of some mythical time of peace and harmony. ‘I am confused,’ the priest replied and asked me if I was feeling alright. I replied that I was feeling as I have always felt: like a leaf in the breeze, forever decaying in the puddle of my own ideas. I then clarified my initial question with another one: ‘Aren’t we all made by the same God?’
‘We are. But don’t forget that the human soul is above that of the beasts of the field and woodland.’ I then recalled my memory on the buss, caveating it with the ‘I am not a misanthrope’ disclaimer. After a few moments of silence, the priest started crying.
‘Why do you cry?’ I asked.
‘Because you are right.’
I left the church more disorientated than I ever was. If God’s emissary on earth was fooled into believing in the goodness of mankind, what chance did the rest of us had to see the truth? I was thirty-three when that happened. After that event, everywhere I looked I saw our dramatic failure as a species, our catastrophic fall from Eden.
A few more years passed, and I saw a documentary about Hitler and, immediately after it, one about Stalin. They were made by the same person: a nun who left her pious life behind to bring to light the carnage committed in the name of the greater good. At the end of the documentary on Stalin, her voice summarised the events of the twentieth century:
“We are eager to remember the names of mass murderers and become obsessed with them, while forgetting the nameless dead that opposed them. We are truly born in the largest catacomb of human souls our history has every produced. We must not erase their memory, for they have not suffered in vain.”
Again, that appeal to some value inherent in the sacrificial death of those nameless men and women who, according to this nun and Marie, achieved through these actions a status above the mere mortals that so terrified me on that bus ride a long time ago. Death was the element that made these people martyrs? Or the reasons for their death were the forces that uplifted their condition?
I sat down and wrote a poem, calling upon my dear friend to enlighten my heart. And death whispered back. It said: ‘That which you do not see, because you can not see, is the truth. Beyond the blackness of the unknown, beyond the edge of imagination, far beyond the limitations of reason and certainly, above all, beyond any notion of evolution. There lies the truth, where these people’s souls now swim in the pool of eternity.’
The police officer had a few more paragraphs to finish the note but felt like he needed to stop. Silence surrounded him and an icy breeze lingered on the minty walls of the room. Mr. Abramović’s body was lying unmoved on the bed, appearing more violet and fragile than before. He heard his colleagues in the stairway talking to the neighbours, telling them the message with which they were instructed.
What was the path then? The path which would enable as many men and women as possible to disavow this waste of life?
I found music to be a good companion in the last few years. But then that too lost its power. Drugs? No. I do not need to escape anything and certainly I do not wish to enhance anything. The world will soon end, I know it. I feel it. Bombs will fall from the sky as history is never learnt and therefore, it can never be escaped from.
I am now forty years old. I no longer have anymore thoughts about anything: everything is clear to me. I have seen enough of this theatre of tragedy. I spent my final years drinking and thinking, then thinking and drinking, barely having any money to pay rent for this apartment. It is time to go now.
To the officers who will find this note, please apologise to my neighbours for the disturbance.
The two police officers came inside the apartment reporting that everyone was now safe in their homes. The one in charge turned towards them and smiled.
The next day, some countries declared war on other countries. The reason was, as always has been, barbaric and stupid, just like the gaze of that woman on the bus.
Categories: Short Stories