I laid on my back staring at the sky. It didn’t matter if I turned my head left, right, or up, the view of the sky was inevitable. I closed my eyes, opened them again, and smiled at the view. It was exceedingly calming. I felt like I was floating in some other world, wrapped in a blanket of happiness. In a blanket that protected me from everyday worries, pain, and dark clutter.
I once met someone who shed light on the constellations and knew how to spot the Great Bear. Three bright spots connected with a fourth one. Ever since, I have been able to show it as well. I have also met someone to whom I showed the Little Bear, and he was trying to convince me that it wasn’t it, that I was only imagining it. Sometimes one just has to let others stay confident in their own right because they aren’t really perceptive of someone else’s opinion. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to kill the pleasant atmosphere for the sake of the stars in the sky. I know what is true and who I trust more. I also have met people who felt that different stellar constellations determine their personality and behaviour. People who believed in astrology more than they trusted astronomy or did not even know how to separate them. Still, I was fonder of them than of those who trusted no one and who didn’t know how to separate the trash. I laid like this for many days—just staring at the infinite sky and letting my thoughts deform into daydreams, which made the stars glow even brighter. As I heard a beep in my left ear, I knew that after the fourth one I would be addressed by a female voice. I was also aware that I would get dazzled by the whiteness, so I closed my eyes in advance trying to hold onto the view I had been looking at for so long.
“In ten seconds, we’ll turn off the view in front of you. Please return to the present moment,” the gentle words caressed my ears. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five… a little longer interval… four, three, two, one.
“Happy New Year!” I exclaimed and heard a muffled laughter around me.
“Cheers!” I heard someone with a deep voice replying sarcastically not far from my face and then I felt him take off my glasses in a careful and light manner.
“We need this the most!” I answered while celebrating the fact that there was finally someone with a tiny bit of sense of humour, dispelling the usual seriousness and outrage of the staff in white coats.
“Would anyone else like some more champagne? It's superb!” I shaped my lips to produce pop and then a “shhhhhhh” that was supposed to sound like pouring the alcohol into glasses. Although the pop sounded way better, they both drew some more laughter.
I loved entertaining other people because otherwise it would be damn boring and especially since everyone was too damn lazy to entertain me. When I felt I was safe from the blinding whiteness burning my eyesight, I opened my eyes. He stood to my left, his arms crossed over his chest, holding my file in one palm like a piece of the most stinking trash. His dark hair was tousled, and despite his pursed lips, his blue eyes gave him away - he was having fun. Sometimes realities seem truly unreal.
“Welcome to the party!”
“Were you at a festival?”
I gave him a weary look and rolled my eyes, though I could say I couldn’t get tired of looking at him. “You know very well what I was watching.”
From under the metal bed, which creaked every time I moved even a bit at night, he pulled a small round metal chair and sat on it. Based on his movements, it was obvious that he had done so today at least thirty times in an hour. At an audition for some telenovela, they would certainly, without hesitation, hire him to play a doctor. Viewers in front of the small screens would die to be in my place. Well, I was dying in my place; I don’t know why anyone would envy me or would want to be here voluntarily.
“Ila, your condition is not improving.”
“Prrrrrhh. Tell me something new!”
As he looked at me, he was genuinely concerned in a way I wasn't used to.
“You’ve been staring at the stars all day for quite some time now. Are you sure you wouldn't want to try something else? An atelier? A Botanical Garden? Dunes? Forests? Any of the museums…”
Back when I was still in the temporary illnesses unit downstairs, when they did not yet know that my condition was chronic and incurable, I tried different programs and frankly had a lot of fun with them. I have spent some time watching the play of clouds, hovering in space. Nowadays, nevertheless, I am only able to break the monotony of the stars from time to time by staring at the fire.
“What would you like to see before you die?”
He took a deep breath. “I don’t know, I have never thought about it…”
Because you didn’t need to. The device in the right pocket of his white coat began to beep and shake. It was clear to me that the precious three and a half minutes allotted to me ran out. I could see him hesitating whether to devote a bit more time trying to convince me to actively use the program or to continue to another patient.
“I think…” the device started whistling louder and shaking even more.
“Can I have my glasses back?” I stubbornly asked him.
He got up and slowly pushed the chair under the bed. “Ila, no - not today.”
I looked at him with astonishment. “But it's evening?!”
“That's right. It's evening and you have to sleep,” he replied calmly.
I objected. “I fall asleep easier if…”
“No. Your brain activity indicates that you are not sleeping. You never sleep, you just stare. They suck you in like black holes. You know they're not real and you lack sleep.”
I knew this was the case, so I couldn't be mad at him, even though I wanted to be. Before he left, he pressed a button on the machine next to me, and the food slowly began to flow into my body. "Bon Appetit!" I said to myself and looked around. For some, such as myself, the round was over, and they were putting their glasses back on with anticipation, pressing the buttons alongside their beds. I was trying to figure out which colour stands for which program. Of great help were their barely noticeable twitches of hands and body and gentle but blissful smiles. They were killing my mood. Soon they became so unbearable to watch that I closed my eyes.
I was awakened from my half-nap by the light clinking of metal and the sliding of wheels on tatty blue-grey linoleum. I heard a deep exhalation and the cracking of vertebrae, and then I smelled the black coffee. For a moment, I thought I could just pretend to be asleep, but then again, I wouldn’t want to spend my last moments pretending. I opened my eyes and the machine next to me whirred almost inaudibly. I scanned the room with my eyes and saw everyone with their glasses on contentedly hovering in their chosen worlds.
He cleared his throat. “I don’t think I would want to die in the middle of a dance move, looking at antiques, nor painting a new masterpiece—I don’t like it when things are left unfinished. When they are incomplete.”
I had to smile. “But darling, you too are incomplete and there are more things left unfinished than finished in this world.”
He smiled too. “Have you chosen your afterlife yet?” He asked hesitantly.
“I will not choose it.”
“See, I don't believe in these things. In fact, I want everyone to live their own lives and I know that no one can live a life of another person. If anything, it can all be just an approximation, some funny, superficial game…”
“So you're not going to put your life in the afterlife base either?”
“Of course not,” I assured him firmly.
He muttered something incomprehensibly. I wanted to get up on my elbows to get a better look at him, but the device started beeping. When he stood up to stop me, he almost spilled the coffee.
“Don't move!” he hissed.
“Okay, okay!” I whispered and gave up my attempt.
He hastily took the tubes from the side and placed them back onto my chest under the loose nightgown.
“You think the rib cage is called a cage because of all the memories confined there?” I asked him.
He paused. “Hmmm, I wouldn't want the memories of you to escape.”
I remained silent for a moment. “That's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
He sat back down.
“You really wouldn’t give me the glasses? I would love to watch shooting stars today. I promise I'll make wishes - something good for everyone.”
I couldn’t tell if he was shaking from laughter or just shaking his head, but he didn't move from his chair and my glasses kept hanging on the stand. For a while, we just kept quiet.
“I’d like to get lost in words,” I said at last.
He took the device out of his pocket, typing and browsing, and as he looked at me he asked “Literally?”
“As literally as possible.”
Translated by Eneja Urnaut