by Andrei Mocuța (Romania)
Translation from Romanian by Nigel Walker and Gina Liliana Cotoarbă, MTTLC student
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Hotel Pasteur, Bagnolet
As expected, the hotel room was a very modest space, placed right at the end of the hallway along with other five chambers. The room had the shape of an isosceles triangle with a small kitchen, an old bed, a prewar wardrobe hung with a huge mirror on each of its doors, and three windows. The toilet was shared on the hallway, and the showers were somewhere on the first floor. The walls were light cream-colored, coated here and there with a pink or brown spackle. On the ceiling, way up, on the left side of the isosceles triangle formed by the walls, a spider seemed to be lying crucified between two nails and was spinning its web in silence. Down, at the base, on the non-congruent side of the room was hanging a calendar of the current year illustrated with four color images, each representing a season. All the images had something in common: a tree. A cherry tree in blossom for spring, three palm trees growing from one root for summer, an equatorial tree in a dry land for an early autumn and some fir-trees buried in snow for winter. The wooden parquet, old, also from the time before the war, looked like a raft floating slowly on calm waters.
While I was heading towards the top of the triangle, the space got narrower. There, on the right side, a few steps short of the apex, was the first window, the smallest one. It was all hidden by an elegant curtain, made of thin material that once had been white, now dusty and filthy because of the bugs shit. The curtain’s frail remains showed a scene from the jungle with a lioness calling her cubs. The image repeated three times on the linen till the point where it was suddenly cut. Behind the curtain, on the tiny window, I saw a picture from the cartoon The Lion King, a multi-colored scenery in which the lioness moved along and called her four cubs from the curtain. And, in obedience, they rapidly approached and followed her in a line. I looked even deeper and I spotted a lively cardboard world, careless, a lively space with no relation to the present. I felt so good there, among colorful animals, parrots with rainbow toucans, with enormous beaks talking like humans do. Or maybe it was I who understood the bird language. I was careless, my illness had gone, or at least I could send it away with the tiniest motion, a cutting up of the colored paper or a correction with my eraser. It was merely about some touches of a pencil and felt tip pen, combined in such a way so that it could dazzle you and make it part of this illusory geometry.
I went even lower on the side of the triangle, and I found myself in front of the second window, the biggest one. As to the first window, here, too, the curtain was woven of the same soft and thin material, through which you could see what was on the other side of the window. The representations on the texture were now different, let’s say, more adapted to the season. A diversity of fruits: cherries, apples, pears, plums were arranged one after the other till the place where the white material ended with tiny strings. A dove was flying in front of the window scanning with her round red eyes my movements from the cave. She stretched her wings and soared gently, giving me an invitation to fly. All these, along with the decorations on the curtain, gave me a strange sensation of deja-vu. The room, and the space beyond the window became a familiar place that reminded me of the beginning of my childhood and of my English teacher’s room from my native village. He was a friend of my father’s. All the things were placed as they had been in his summer chamber: the bed, the closet with mirrors, the sink, even the soap dish.
I pulled the curtain aside and let the sun blind me and clean my face tortured by colors. I looked up until it hurt and I spotted the swallows’ nests under the roof of the house. I moved my bottom on the edge of the window to clearly see a swallow that was chirping very loud, being unable to push aside a vineyard twig rolled on his left leg. You could hear a smooth buzz in the distance as if from a swarm of bees. Between two wooden pagodas which must have been used as beehives for the bee queens, came the English teacher with a hat on his head, and a gauze linen hung to it, covering all his face. He looked like a mourning widow at the head of a funeral. He put his masque aside, revealing his calm look lightened by his two sapphire eyes. Two bees were still furiously struggling, not knowing how to escape from his very long beard. I rested my eyes for some moments on the bee breeder’s orchard. A mosaic of all sorts of fruit trees spread over the green of the garden. It was a labyrinth where you would have loved to get lost, a mechanism with no obstacles and mysteries. A little bit in front you see the vegetable garden, where the bee breeder collected tomatoes, cabbage and onions in a basket.
”I came from the market”, he liked to boast every time he brought the basket with fresh vegetables in the house. He was living with his mother, who was spending almost all of her time gardening, which explained why their yard looked like a corner from heaven. On the other side, she had the gift of divining in the coffee grounds; she once experienced the miracle of seeing Christ’s face with the Holy Grail on the bottom of the coffee cup. She decided not to tell the priest and to keep the cup safely in a cardboard box, one of those boxes where they used to keep the old crochet tools. You could hear the ring of a bell coming from the street along with two cheerful voices. The gate painted in ochre and a little bit faded because of the powerful summer sun shook for a while, and then opened. An old man and a boy who was devilishly pulling the rope tied to a goat entered the yard. The boy was red-cheeked, exhausted, and the grandfather was trying to get him out of this imaginary fight with who knows what dragon or ogre. The poor animal always had to accept his role of the defeated. The goat’s name was Tatiana and had two kids, which were supposed to get sacrificed by the grandfather one day, when the grandson spent his holiday at the seaside with his parents. When the boy calmed down and defeated the creature, the mother of the English teacher approached him and, as almost all the villagers who loved talking, asked him:
Hey, lad, where do you come from?
The child pouted and answered her rudely:
How come you do not know who I am?!? I’m the mayor’s son!
I moved away from the window and continued my geometrical game, getting closer to the other congruent side, the left one. Down, at the angle formed with the incongruent side, there was the last window of the room. This was placed very high, and I needed a chair to study it in detail. The window was a perfect square, hidden by the same flimsy linen, a little bit thicker than the spider’s web. However, this curtain had neither scenes from cartoons, nor still life with fruits. It seemed to be an extremely complex mechanism that had never been discovered before: a time storing machine (the machine could both store the time and make it pass with the speed of a snail). The image of the two dolphins standing still in the air before diving into the water made me confused. What sort of a devil mind could keep them prisoners, frozen like that on the dirty curtain, deprived of the world that was waiting for them in the depth?
The room was spinning around, and the walls that once were cream-colored were more and more trapped by dampness. They were soaking with water, while the waves from behind the window started to strike the glass angrily. Nature reacted against this diabolic mechanism trying to destroy it. I dreamt that myself and the whole building sank in a clean and cold water that I could breathe. At thousands of meters underwater, with my rags waving in the liquid currents, I was facing gravitation through the spectral and diffuse light to reach the ceiling, now turned yellow. Now, the texture with the two dolphins was floating along with the currents. The sensation of steadiness didn’t seem so obvious anymore. On the sand at the bottom of the sea, the colorful crabs were crawling along in chaos, and tiny fish came suddenly in front of a window. The wooden parquet started to rise forming an irregular arch and the wardrobe’s door opened at regular intervals, squeaking, but unable to be heard by someone. The mirror on the wardrobe’s door reflected the diffuse light in all its angles and this settle of accounts from the underwater world. From up above, from the colorless ceiling, hangs the plaster cast chandelier like a coral flower, and inside the glass cups, the milky lamps became seeds on the point on exploding and liberating thousands of tiny beings. The bed was floating in a drift, striking the frail shaking walls at each slip, producing waves that were shaking my body in a perverse way. The bed sheet fluttered in various ways, taking different shapes like a submarine specter frightening the many shoals of fish that were swimming around. I entered through broken doors of swollen wood, encrusted with shells filled with dirty sand and dim water. The folds were putrid and ruined, corroded by decline and melancholy. Inside the wardrobe, having its tentacles caught in the coat hangers made by soft wires, a baby octopus had made his nest, and in the pig iron sink a sparkling dust was glowing.
I used to wake up in convalescence, in a state of slackness, frustrated like a man suffering from amnesia, who could no longer remember who he was. I wanted so much to understand the mystery of the curtain’s drawings and to annihilate the solar light that was feeding them from behind the window. As after a universal disaster, the world was reduced to a few bed sheet folds fluttering around a tiny bottle of holy oil forgotten there, and a strange sparkling of the mirror. Melancholic, I remembered how my grandpa had taught me from an early age how to draw crosses on the walls to chase away the bad spirits and the curses in the house using the curing oil. I often used to stay on top of the bed covered with rough blankets and eiderdowns to watch my grandpa’s precise gestures who, each month, used to trace a cross in front of a thick knitted work, that hung from the wall with four nails, having three blue tassels at each edge. The woolen fabric was a pretty childish representation of Virgin Mary, her face and features being rough and unequal. The face and the hands were embroidered with orange, the clothes and the printed silk were grey, and in each of the corners in the superior part were Greek letters, on the left Alpha and on the right Omega.
And, as if I were dreaming, I found myself modulating with the same calm movements on the wall above the head of my old bed. When I was done, I put the bottle aside, I wrapped myself to my neck in the white bed sheet so that I could breathe, and I lay down on the squeaking bed. Set on one side, I could see myself from head to toe in the mirror on the closet. Patient, the convolutions of the cerebrum had created rooms and characters, landscapes and false actions, abandoned somewhere at the half of the distance between the two Egos, the one laid on the bed, and the one from the mirror, growing their volume until they became ruined and almost empty like the yellowish scalp of one of the knights of the sad figure.