The pages that follow were found by me in a sorry state of disorder, amidst a number of other worthless papers, spotted with tropical mildew, ready for the fire, in the basement of a bookstore where I worked for a number of years as a classifier. What follows is the personal history, and last-minute confessions, of a man and his ways. Before presenting this book to the Greek world of letters, I feel it necessary to publicly thank, in these very flat lines, Mr. Realon Delorean, an old nurse and also a dignified official in the peace corps of a foreign land, for assisting me in translating this manuscript from the original Flemish in which it was written. Here and there, whenever I deemed it appropriate, I made a few slight corrections, additions or deletions. Finally, I would like to reiterate my futile attempts, for years now, to discover the real name of the writer of this manuscript by contacting certain colonial officials and others in northern Europe. Barring a miracle, his name will never be discovered. I would also like to point out that I plan to publish more of his works, which sit in my desk’s drawers, all scattered.
I am writing from Central Africa, on June 27 or 28, 19 . . . , at 3 a.m., with the early morning ravens. I am in my private library, which has the capacity to house an entire army, in my own villa, situated in the outskirts of the town on the estuary of the Wouri River, where I have been living with myself for seven years now.
I, the following undersigned S. P. . . , an ex-antique seller, hotel owner and, in the past, never a prominent inhabitant of Gandy, responsibly declare, having taken into consideration the legal consequences of lying, that I am psychologically on the verge of destruction; that financially, I am falling apart; and that my health has deteriorated irreversibly. I attribute the last one not so much to my old age, but to insomnias; to the stress caused by memories and remorse; and to my rheumatism. I merely need to refer to the fact that at this moment of writing I am wearing gloves that come up to my shoulders and it is with great difficulty that I am holding the pen.
At this early hour, during which for all I know I could be writing my denunciation—I provoke those interested to take advantage of this opportunity—I also proclaim that two recent incidents have rung the final knell inside my soul and that I can see nothing remains for me but death.
Standing before my only witnesses, the bats, the mosquitoes, the wasps, the horrible creaking of my furniture which I have recklessly brought with me from Europe, and lastly in front of the rain, which has not stopped for a while now, Ι additionally proclaim that I have no reason to exist; and that, God forbid (ironically spoken), if one day my servants found me face down on the floor with my white undergarments soaked in my own blood, or if I died of poisoning, or of any other cause (plenty lurk in my mind) this will be of my own doing. If, however, it is someone else’s responsibility, so much the better. Needless to say, none of my servants should be blamed, despite the fact they would have the right to attack me; frankly, I have annoyed them a great deal with my idiosyncrasies. However even if the ingenious policemen, who come to the colony in order to eat six times a day, were to solve such a case, I vindicate my murderers in advance. For, not only am I deserving of it as I will soon prove, but I am in desperate need of some kind of redemption. I should not forget to sign at the end. I will take care to place this manuscript in a discernible position, on my bedside or in my glass bookcase, so that it is found without failure. No, better I should leave it in my safe deposit box along with my bonds. I could also send it to the police in a sealed envelope and request that it only be disclosed after my death. In any case, I will make up my mind.
Neither should my death be attributed to any of the enemies I obtained in my country after the war. It would be impossible for them to discover me in this shelter I’ve retreated to. I have changed my name, I live in a colony which belongs to a different country, and who could possibly decode all these clues in order to find me? Having paid off some people of reputation who know how to keep their mouths shut, I have ensured discretion. Those who arranged my escape are far from knowing who I am and even my childhood friends are ignorant of my current state. Some are under the impression that I died during the last few days of the calamitous war. If only they knew! Incidentally, it would be unforgivable if I failed to direct my warmest blessings to my almost unknown friend, Mr. Ph. . ., whose compassion, and the rather moderate amount of money I imparted to him, helped my enterprise; he provided me with the appropriate paperwork. Well done, sir! I have learned that he has since withdrawn from public life and now enjoys a tranquil vivre in his blooming garden, which I was informed he has decorated wonderfully.
Essentially, I have ceased to be afraid for seven years now, since the moment I stepped on the ladder of the ship aboard which I had a delightful trip. The only one who knows who I am is here. But why do I distress myself with these thoughts? Why am I distracting myself with such issues when as I mentioned above, what concerns me the most is finding a resolution. My benevolence is limitless, since I am about to redeem my murderers in advance. I’m such an idiot.
In order to prove my aspirations, I underline my wish to be struck by death in one of my lonely and frenzied wanderings in the innermost parts of the jungle; I undertake these walks in my agony to kill time, tire my body, and eventually fall asleep at night, but these are nothing more than pretexts. Lastly, I wish I die of sunstroke, but it is rather unlikely, for I am used to hunting in the shadows.
I proclaim that the long trip I had been dreaming of since I was a child in my country at the often-visited family villa by the seaside with its summery fogs, did not ensure the tranquility I was seeking; and I was late in understanding that I bear my heartbreaking woe with me everywhere I go. In retrospect, my hours seem to go by as fast as the numbers on a manometer— even though they seem endless when I experience them— but in effect they are wasted on sleep during the day. I have reached the point where I permanently rent a hotel room in the city center in order to use it whenever I feel like. Many times at night as I mumble lying in bed, I feel in the darkness the top of my conical mosquito netting calling for me, as if what is inside me is about to fly and leave my empty body on the mattress. In the past, this same sensation drifted me away into the sweetest sleep . . . If only the same occurred now. If only I died in such a way. But I know that if I decide to go to bed I will begin to mumble who knows for how long. Something holds me nailed to my desk-chair.
One more note: no matter how much I try, it is impossible to get used to this landscape. In my youth, my job as an antique seller brought me to remote Indochina where I lived for more than a year. Despite the unchanging environment there, I never felt bored. Whereas here, I’m not sure what has afflicted me. My mind is always traveling elsewhere, to places dear to me because there is nothing to connect me with this landscape. I will feel this way until I die. I know where I will be buried. In a moldy cemetery (the stones mildewed with humidity), where we turn for the hotel. I am compelled to pass by there when going for my regular walk. How ironic! Since I was a child the thought of knowing where I would be buried sounded irksome. I could remain inert all day contemplating this very thought and in order to escape I would envisage glorious battles in which a bullet would strike me dead; I imagined deadly accidents while climbing a mountain, misfortunes with the train—as long as I were buried at a place I had never seen in advance, long before the thought of death had overtaken me. If only I had the means to always remain on the run in an attempt to become ignorant of the place of my burial.
I would like to add a ridiculous detail about the cemetery: it is impossible to pass by it without tapping my fingers in a puerile manner on the rusty rail. I keep telling myself I should quit this habit before I am ridiculed, but I always seem to forget the second before. Well, my acknowledgment of such futile bizarreness is proof I am not completely abnormal—I am always afraid of this. In between the graves, in the passageways, all sorts of hellish weeds have grown. It’s how I imagine the gardens of the underworld. Many were the times when I stopped to look inside. Let us hope that I won’t die during the rainy season; I am thinking of the rain my body will be soaked in for weeks and I tremble. I detest the moisture of the ground the most, as it will penetrate in teardrops the wood that will encircle me . . . Let alone the humiliation my friends will visit upon me, while gossiping about me, drinking their whiskey at the lounge of the Atlantic (the name of the hotel).
It is only natural that you would express disinterest while reading these lines especially since you do not realize the dynamics of the situation. However, moments like these urge me to perpetuate my martyrdom. These are my everyday thoughts. I am even conscious of my attire. My white clothes, always well-ironed (it bothers me now if they are not) and my pith helmet, which I brought from my country as if there would not be any in the thousands of stores here, convey a ridiculous appearance; I am aware of it; I am ashamed of myself and my degradation. This is all I keep repeating to myself when, fresh out of my cold showers, I contemplate in front of the mirror how I should change. My shorts, my meager legs with their pockmarked complexion, on which hair is scant, and my stomach which overflows despite all my efforts to keep it tightened, complete my caricature. On the streets or in the hotel, I walk in such a way that betrays my effort to conceal from the rest my deplorable condition. Let alone that all my teeth have decayed. When I attempt to grin, once every thousand years, I do everything to hide them—which is even worse than showing them. Many times in my nightmares, I have dreamt they are all falling apart at the roots like a house built on a faulty foundation. The general, a recent ex-friend of mine, blames it on the water. He has already lost all his teeth and wears dentures which his tongue plays nervously and constantly with, or he takes them off at parties and shows them around, thus resembling a toothless chameleon. Anyone could recognize them as dentures from afar; if you observe his smile, you would think you are interacting with a young man, but it is in fact incongruous with the rest of his aging features.
With my eyes having developed bags due to insomnia and despair and with my chin sagging, I look like a bulldog. Am I not in a favorable position since I acknowledge all this? Others merely bury their heads in the sand.
Time passes and I do not seem to fall asleep. What is really tragic is that there is no one who could relieve me from this trauma; nor do I possess the vigor to do so. And this is the worst possible punishment. The devil take me if I know what I am muttering about. If only I was enraptured by some sleep. Whiskey has also taken its toll on me; the scorching heat has exhausted me. Tonight I have not eaten anything; I chased away with curses the servant who was bringing me my food in a tray. If only I knew my fate. How long will this last? Who will appear to release me? Alas, I do not know . . .