(An excerpt from the forthcoming novel “The Suicide”)
Mr. Dika decided to kill himself.
Mr. Dika could have no idea, not the slightest idea, nor could he know or understand how much that decision would change his life.
He decided to kill himself by sheer chance, so unexpectedly that even he was caught by surprise. Never before had Mr. Dika thought of killing himself. He actually never thought about death in general, philosophically speaking – as he would usually say sarcastically when mentioning or even just thinking about that word – philosophically, whereas concerning his own death, he never thought about it, nor did he have either a conscious or unconscious drive for it. He was not even aware of the phrase “death happens to others.” Generally speaking, Mr. Dika had built in himself an interior shield of protection against the word death.
But, as often happens to such people, it took him only a moment to be seized, overwhelmed, and weighed down by the idea of killing himself. He had a fear of heights and at the moment he was seized by the idea of killing himself, he saw himself falling from a high tower onto the rocky crags below. He saw himself twisting in the air, his coat, his trousers, his hair, fluttering – and sensed no fear at all. On the contrary, he felt that it was a bright exit, a way out of his life.
The decision to kill himself came upon Mr. Dika in a single moment of a spring day, a holiday, Easter, which means it happened on a Sunday. The morning was extremely bright and calm, without wind, with mild sunshine and the first flush of foliage. He stopped at a small parking lot in front of a newsstand, and after coming out of his car and closing the door behind him, which slammed like a burst of an explosion, he realised that there was some underwater silence in the air, that nothing moved in it, that there were no cars in the streets, that there was no one in sight, and that even the newsstand stood closed in front of him, barred by a green iron grid. Behind the newsstand, submerged in some translucent, almost unreal mist, pierced by the slanting rays of the sun, the City Park stretched.
Without knowing why, Mr. Dika entered the park. He had not been there for more than fifteen years. “Nineteen,” said Mr. Dika clearly to himself. Then, exactly nineteen years ago, one spring evening, was the last time he had been in the park. “Maybe it was also on Easter,” he wondered and moved along the central alley that led towards the monument of the Hero. However, he had a bad, rather unpleasant feeling that he was in some completely unknown place, as if he had found himself there for the first time. And the place was really different. After those nineteen years it looked so different that he could barely recognize it: the ancient trees were no longer there, nor the white gravel spread along the alley, gravel that used to crunch under his shoes. Now, he walked on cracked asphalt and, he noticed, he walked as if barefoot. Suddenly he realised that the silence, the absence of people and voices, the inability of sound to spread in the air, had something ominous and threatening in it, and Mr. Dika became scared. He wanted to turn back, but he was already deep in the park and it appeared to him that it would be easier, faster and safer if he went on and cut across the lawn towards the stadium that, with its light stanchions and outside corridors, rose before him like a cathedral. He moved faster, and there was no one around him: no children, no dogs, not even pensioners or beggars. Soon he found himself surrounded by the willows growing on the banks of a pond that stank of rotting foliage. He strode through the rushes looking for the small humped bridge that, as he remembered, had to be somewhere near. He rushed through the thick grass by the pond, his feet squished on the soggy earth, but the bridge was nowhere to be found. Then he peeped through the curtain of willow branches, and the stadium was not there either – only a yellow, bare hill. He was seized by sheer panic and started to run, faster and faster, but his legs failed him and he fell. Then he rose in astonishment and noticed that no matter how hard he tried to flee, something dragged him back to the pond. He took a sharp turn to avoid the slushy bank of the pond and found himself in a clearing enclosed by ancient, ages-old trees and a wall of brush, ivy, vines and briars. Mr. Dika found himself surrounded and lost.
Then, in a sudden powerful rush, he sensed the essence of all his being. The deep quiet that surrounded him, the calm of the air and the trees, the bottomless silence seized him too; he found neither voice nor echo in himself. He felt like hovering in some all-embracing, endless void that entered all the pores of his being, and he merely stood there, feeling nothing, sensing nothing, nonexistent.
“What sort of a man am I?” he asked himself with some ominous clarity in the question that he had never asked himself before, and now he felt that it had been imposed on him by the silence, the loneliness and desolation that surrounded him. And the answer that he received seemed as if coming from there, from the empty and desolate world: “You are a hollow man, you do not exist, you are nowhere, and if you are nowhere, it is better that you cease to be any more.”
Yet, this was not the fateful moment when Mr. Dika decided to kill himself. That moment came with an insignificant, completely negligible event.
He heard a swift rustle among the leaves of a tall maple tree, coming from the top of its enormous crown, something like a bird flying off. For a moment Mr. Dika thought it was a bird, but something was not right. From the beginning of the moment Mr. Dika knew it was not a bird: instead of fading away in the heights, the sound descended toward him. And before he managed to raise his head, before he even focused his eyes at the tall branches, something splashed at his feet. Yes, it was a bird, but at the same time, it was not. Just a step away from him, in the middle of a broken eggshell and a glob of protein slime, he saw the writhing naked body of a newly hatched fledgling. Its legs, fully-grown with ring-like knuckles and shaped nails, as big as a bird’s, were wriggling in spasms of death, as if trying to push it away, as if trying to lift its fragile, mossy body and run away. “That’s it,” thought Mr. Dika and decided to kill himself.
“Maybe that’s not exactly the moment I decided to kill myself. Maybe I’ve only deceived myself, as when someone arrives at such a sudden decision, it means that he always wanted to do it. That’s it. At that moment I only discovered that I always wanted to kill myself, just that it never occurred to me to before. That’s why everything that has been said about me so far is wrong: that I never before thought about death. We all think about death but merely pretend that we don’t. Some do it better, some worse. I was perhaps one of the rare ones who never pretended to look as if they never pretended to think about death. But it’s only a matter of wearing a mask or false beard, hiding behind a screen, putting on other people’s clothes, using make-up. But even among the best of pretenders, a moment comes when everything crumbles and is wiped away.
No, really. The moment when the face of death was revealed to me wasn’t so decisive. It seemed so definite and so easy. It called my name and I responded, I uncovered in myself a readiness to die, a willingness to accept death. ‘It’s true,’ I thought. ‘That’s it.’ I turned back and started looking for the way out of the clearing. Then I heard a cacophony behind me. I looked back in terror and saw a dozen ravens, large, shiny, black, pecking. When I turned, they stopped croaking and pecking and looked at me motionless. Those who were turned with their tails toward me twisted their necks in my direction and looked straight at me as intently as those who were facing me. Their eyes were full of both challenge and threat. They resembled an inquisition’s black-mantled council that passes only death sentences, executes them and then tears the bodies of the victims apart, scattering their parts about. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘no one is going to peck at me after I die, nor scatter my entrails about! Before I kill myself I’ll fix everything with those gossiping, spying at me, throwing dirt at my name,’ I told myself and felt relaxed, at ease with death, especially after my firm decision to settle accounts with all the scum gathered around me during my life, so that they will not gather around me after death. I decided to scare away all those vultures, other birds of prey and snakes, watching and waiting for me to make a weak move and then jump at me. And man is the weakest after death. I just couldn’t let that happen.”
Certainly, Mr. Dika himself best knew what happened and how things happened. But the decision he made to clear away everything before he killed himself made his life much more complicated: he wanted to do it as soon as possible, but at the same time it grew before him as an obstacle, so he had to postpone it further and further.
Translated by: Zoran Ančevski