—One clean shot, and this will all be over, Covash hears himself saying.
Aiming his rifle into the distance and caressing the cold trigger that marks the end of the road, one might think that Covash is in a position of security and control. After all, he is the one who will make the final decision. But he is aware that his end is also drawing nearer. The days full of intensity and expectation are about to draw to a close. One shot, an escape, and he’ll be imprisoned by everyday life once again.
―Tuckshhhhhhh…the unerring shot that ushers in the end of all that is certain for Covash. The escape sets his heart racing, sending signals to his body, which roars with calculated intensity.
A few seconds later, he leaves the roof door behind and goes down to the eighth floor, to a waiting apartment. It sits there empty, for sale at an excessive price and redesigned as a perfect hideaway. Quickly moving the tiled wall in the bathroom, Covash goes back to where he came from, to his mental prison. Hidden behind the false partition, he’ll spend as many days there as necessary. In this small, dark room he has water, food, a torch, two books and a place to dispose of his personal waste. The only people who knew about the room were the men from the construction company, Bicomagnus, who built it. Sadly, they had died quite suddenly of food poisoning, eating langoustines one evening to celebrate the victory of their local football team. The Coalition knew too, of course. They had gone to great lengths to make what was an international incident look like the work of Islamic extremists.
Opening the book again on page 29, Covash reads:
“We can achieve nothing that will transcend the fatal game of appearances.”
He hears laughter in his head, along with thoughts that murmur:
—Camus, I wish I was a writer, so that the meaning of my life could be directed by a pen.
After a few minutes, voices are heard entering the house next door, questioning, taking it all in, making threats.
Crash! The door to Covash’s apartment finally gives way. The police run in, shouting as they enter.
Covash listens with curiosity, knowing that he won’t be found. Even so, something inside him can’t help imagining breaking through the cavity wall and butchering the unsuspecting policemen. How entirely unprepared they would be for the bloodthirsty beast. But he is locked behind the bars of his own cowardice.
—Why am I unable to choose when I die? Covash’s mind questions.
After a few hours of shouting and doors being forced, all that remains are the sirens. His watch reads 22:00, with its red digital display, and quiet finally arrives as night falls. But he knows that although the chaos can no longer be heard, peace has not truly returned. In one or two days the building will be cordoned off and secured. And in the silence, his mind won’t let him rest.
09:00 The apartment door is opened. This time, the voices are quiet and controlled, denoting a certain professionalism. Covash’s heartbeat tries to quicken, but with the sound of an Om, his mind is silent again.
09:23 The door closes. Covash returns to reality.
Hours later he dares to make a sound.
Click! He opens a can of chickpeas and has his first meal in 14 hours.
Page 50: “…absurd…it is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together.”
Suddenly closing the book, frustration tightens the muscles in his stomach, and his mind whispers to him:
—You can’t keep reading, you’ll go crazy. You’ve been in the dark for the last two days with nothing but your mind for company. This is not a good time. Too many doubts. If only I knew how to live another way. Too many years trapped in cycles leading nowhere. Everything ends and everything begins again, and I’m still the same. No, no, I must focus, stop thinking, meditate, Om…Om…What’s the point!? Om…Om…Om…Why do I keep lying to myself? Quiet! Om…Om…Om…
Second day, fourth can. Security in the building is minimal. Covash doesn’t know it, but this would be the perfect time to make an escape.
20:40 Third day, page 54: “Suicide, like the leap, is acceptance at its extreme. Everything is over and man returns to his essential history. His future, his unique and dreadful future—he sees and rushes towards it. In its way, suicide settles the absurd.”
—Suicide? If only it were so easy to end it all, to think about it and then do it. No, there’s something else; something I have to do. I can’t kill myself. There’s one final piece of the puzzle that must be found.
21:00 Covash listens to his messages. There’s an important one:
“Let’s go out for a drink tonight. Won’t be that many women who are up for it, but the main thing is that we get laid. I’m not going to Greece this weekend in the end. Come and see me at my place. See you later!”
He leaves the hideout with a rucksack full of excrement, rubbish, cans, the torch and the two books. Wearing new clothes and carrying an identity card stolen from flat 5J, he leaves through the main entrance. A policeman looks at his ID, and seeing that it checks out, he let’s him pass.
“Off to the gym?” asks the policeman as Covash heads for the door.
“Yeah, a bit of boxing will do me good after all this tension”, he responds with a cursory smile.
Hotel Le Meridien. Five stars.
“Mikael van Reis”, says the receptionist.
“Room 508 Mr van Reis. Here’s your safety deposit box.” He opens it and takes out a sealed envelope.
When Covash gets to his room, he opens the envelope and finds a boarding pass. The flight leaves in three days. He leaves the envelope on the dresser and heads to the bathroom.
After showering, he falls fast sleep in his perfect hotel bed; the bed of his dreams after five days in the hideout.
Minutes then hours pass without leaving a trace. On the morning of the second day Covash wakes up feeling like life deserted him as his eyes slept. Cyclic thoughts possess him. Tears threaten to fill his eyes, and once more his heart feels empty, sad and lonely. —There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do. What’s the point of keeping on with this lie called life? Moments of fleeting happiness and eternal disappointment. What’s the point of living? Everything goes back to where it came from, to emptiness, contradiction and meaninglessness. Today, tomorrow, in a month, it doesn’t matter. Everything ends up the same. Why prolong it?
As the last question rings through his mind, Covash starts to cry. He picks up the gun that’s been waiting for him on the dresser and removes the safety. He holds the cold barrel to his temple. Memories, wishes and futile hope fly through his mind as he squeezes the trigger and resolves to complete the circle of life.
―Tockshhhh…! The bullet passes through his mind’s resting place, blocking out all cognitive function before making its triumphal exit, ripping flesh and splintering bone in a splatter of red and grey. Covash can see himself dying, and his mind questions the return to reality:
—What is it that binds me so tightly to life?
Full of indecision, he leaves the hotel room and goes out into the street. Waiting for the green light, he watches a lorry approaching at high speed. His mind returns to the task of choosing his destiny and confronting it. But something holds him back: there’s an involuntary force that prevents him from dying. Another day awaits, a new goal, a new certainty to provide his life with meaning, even if it only lasts a few months or days.
Night falls. This time he’s ready. He has enough pills to kill an elephant.
Lying in bed, he opens the book at page 109 and reads: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”
The minutes pass, and eventually he can read no more. He leaves the book on the bedside table and closes his eyes.
00:00 Covash takes the boarding card out of the envelope, and is surprised to find a purple plastic card at the bottom. The name Macaria is written on it in red letters, along with a note that says:
“Don’t forget to live it up! Come to Macaria and enjoy what you’ve won.”
—Just in time, he hears in his mind. —New clothes, cologne, a full wallet…pretend to be normal.
After a quick sandwich at the hotel, he takes a taxi which leaves him at the entrance of the Macaria. Looking around, it seems like a high-class establishment. There are beautiful women everywhere, sports cars and lives that seem to have been destined for greatness.
—Great, a place full of people, just what I needed. A night of hypocrisy, arrogant gazes, false gestures, empty conversations and pretence.
“A juice please”, he asks the waiter. This is his freedom: no alcohol, no caffeine, just something sweet and simple.
He glances at the tables looking for something. Recognition and a discrete approach. Without anyone noticing, Covash picks up an envelope. Holding it in his fingers, he reads the encoded inscription.
—A new objective. This is faster than I expected. Another goal to give my life meaning. Must be my lucky night, he thinks, forgetting his troubles for a moment.
A tall woman with a feline beauty approaches and inquires:
“You’re not from round here, are you?”
“No, I’m Dutch.”
“Are you a cop looking for a suspect perhaps?” She laughs. “Relax, I’m just making conversation. I’m Estena, but call me Esti, please.”
“Pleased to meet you Esti. It’s Mikael. You come here a lot?”
“Often enough. Often enough to know when there’s someone new here at least.”
“I don’t like these places much. Too many…argh!…Hey, you, watch where you’re going!” Covash says to a man who has stumbled into him.
“I’m so sorry. I was pushed.”
“How odd. I feel as if…” Covash reacts by touching his back, and looking at Estena, who interrupts him, saying:
“There are drunkards here everywhere. But I can see that you’re not a drinker.”
“No, it’s not my style. I like to stay in control.”
“No coke? Nothing?”
“So, you’re into drugs then?”
“No, not at all. I prefer to keep a clear head, like you.”
“Tell me Esti, what do you do?”
“I’m a broker.”
“That sounds pretty serious.”
“It’s not actually as serious as it seems. I look for benefactors and recipients, and make money from them both.” They laugh together.
“Good way of putting it.”
—Is it her? His mind whispers.
Between questions and looks full of intent, Covash feels relaxed, talking and dancing with Estena. She inspires him with her innate confidence and eyes full of determination. She seems unexpectedly switched on and smart and has a sharp sense of humour. With an insinuating gesture and a final kiss, Estena invites Covash to spend the night at her place. It’s a perfect plan, and the car’s soon up and running.
Quiet and satisfied, Covash is full of anticipation and desire. Never has he connected so quickly with a woman. If he believed in love, he’d say it was just about to happen.
Back at home, Estena offers him a brightly coloured red drink that has a strong bitter taste.
“Hmmm, pretty strong. What is it?”
“It’s a triple.”
Covash lowers the glass and looks suspiciously at Estena, who laughs at him, saying:
“Don’t worry, it’s not alcoholic, and there are no drugs in it. It’s a combination of vitamins and ginseng. You’re going to need it tonight; if you want to go the distance that is.”
Covash takes another look at the drink. He’s still suspicious. Estena finishes hers off and throws the glass on the floor. She stares at Covash with a picaresque smile, and with a quick movement unzips her dress, letting it fall to the ground. Her voluptuous body is completely naked.
“Are you coming?” Estena asks him.
Covash stands there in silence, hypnotised. He tries to remember the last time a woman so beautiful had wanted him without wanting him to empty his wallet first.
“Come on. Cut it out!”
“Do you think I’m going to poison you or something? Finish off your drink if you can. I’m telling you, you’re going to need it.”
With a wink, Estena moves towards the bedroom. Covash smiles and looks at the glass. He finishes it off in one go, takes a couple of steps and feels his body lighten, almost losing all sensation of weight and coherence. His legs weaken, and the colours and lights around him suddenly become more intense.
—Am I hallucinating? His mind asks, confused, with his eyes pinned on Estena.
He stumbles and almost falls over, then supports himself on the wall, unable to make sense of what’s happening. Estena is leaning against the door waiting, and Covash asks her:
“What else have you given me?”
At the sound of his own voice, he is almost able to pull himself together, but he’s lost all coordination. He is about to lose consciousness when he hears distinct fragments of the puzzle whistling through his mind:…a client with cystic fibrosis…you’re the perfect size…
The door is open. Covash falls over. Looking up, he’s astonished to see a bed, and what look like doctors. The penny drops. The drug dissolves all trace of will, and Covash exhales his last breath, completely unable to withhold it.
©Demian Melhem Quesada
Translated by Luke Woodward