I had gotten off the train early after two days and two nights of travelling. It was still very dark and there appeared to be nothing moving outside. I was the only passenger to disembark, and even the night agent showed some displeasure at being roused from his routine. I took the opportunity to use the restroom to make myself presentable. Clearly, I thought, it was not part of his routine to keep a clean restroom. I washed as best as I could and changed into a clean shirt and neck tie. I decided to wait until it was light outside to continue on.
The quiet early morning, together with an eerie stillness to which I was not accustomed provided a temporary space in which to think. The magic may be broken at any moment by the arrival of anyone. I began to think of how my journey started. I had been reluctant to think about this, though I knew that sooner or later I would have to put together the few facts that I had, with a large dose of conjecture. I still did not know enough. I am not the kind of person who waits for a flash of insight to cast light on an issue. I will painstakingly assemble every tiny bit of fact, educated guesses, lessons learned from experience before I try to reach some kind of preliminary understanding that would make sense. So far I had attempted none of this, because I did not know enough. I had one piece of incontrovertible fact, a post-card that arrived in the mail with a simple message. “Come. Please.” I had of course the date and place of origination and the date of arrival. There was neither greeting not signature, but I knew immediately the sender.
The hand-writing showed care and precision which I would have expected anyway. The message was trying to reveal something but I could not grasp it. Two words, each followed by a period. I might have expected, “Please come.” “Come, please?” Or “Come. Please?” It felt more like a summons with an after-thought of request, than an invitation. That’s how I felt reading it at first. But now I was not so certain. The post-card had taken eleven days to arrive. Eleven days ago someone wrote, “Come. Please.” I could not guess why. Now I wondered, had the situation changed in eleven days? Had the sense of urgency lessened? Did I still need to go? But here I am. I could not learn anything new from the post-card, though I looked at both sides repeatedly. It was just an ordinary post-card, which I would have expected anyway. Somewhere in the station a clock was striking the hour. I did not see one upon my arrival so I supposed it was in the station agent’s office.
Something stirred. The sound was imperceptible but I was certain that I heard it. Though I could not identify it, I felt it was close-by. I am not one to fear the dark, but I felt myself growing apprehensive. A side door to my left opened noiselessly and a small child entered, carrying a loaf of bread in one hand and a green thermos in the other. She appeared to be not more than six years old, clumsily clad, but clean. She passed in front of me and went directly to the station agent’s office. One minute later she left the same way. The station reclaimed its silence, and I my thoughts.
A creeping tiredness was beginning to overtake me, and my thoughts began to fade. I needed sleep. I needed rest. I needed food. Suddenly, the post-card flashed upon my mind as if to remind me why I was here. Instinctively, I reached into my pocket to retrieve it then decided not to. For a moment I felt that my mind was not illuminated. It was an expansive dark region from which an idea was trying to break free. I wondered if this were the same idea that was trying to reveal itself to me earlier when I first read the post-card. Nothing came to light. I decided that I was too tired to think, closed my eyes and shut out the rest of humanity from my world. A man alone, asleep at a railroad station, and for whom nothing else existed. In an alternate universe, perhaps, the very first day of creation.
They came for him very early in the morning. It was pitch black outside; he could hardly see his fingers on his outstretched arm. There were three of them. He had heard stories of them, that they always came in threes. He had never believed any of it, thinking it was just local legend meant to frighten children into good behavior. Now that they had taken him he was ready to believe, but not quite yet, being a sceptic of all things. They still had not uttered a word; they just took him by the hand and led him away. No one was there to witness this. He tried to protest but his voice was silent. He was not really afraid of them for he was still not sure that they were real. He went quietly, hoping to find out more, but wanting to continue on his mission even more as planned. They entered a small building, only one storey that seemed to be a complex of law offices and suites. He had taught law at one point in his life and had always claimed that he could smell a law office a mile away. He felt comfortable in these surroundings.
They led him to a non-descript suite of offices and pointed him to a chair, still not a word was spoken. There was nothing here that indicated that the suite was ever occupied, not even a house plant to show that someone cared. The three left him alone for a long time. He tried to figure out what was going on but no idea came to him. From an adjacent office a guard appeared, looked at him briefly and left. He supposed it might have been a guard, and it might have been a woman, but he could not be sure. The three appeared again with a fourth, who was wearing a robe that reminded him of a judge. He was not sure that the three were the same ones who had taken him. They exited the same door he had entered earlier, and he was alone again. He wanted to explore the offices to gather some kind of information so that he could understand what was happening with him. He could not move. Fear suddenly overtook him. He summoned all his strength but could not move even a finger. His fear increased. He knew he was not afraid of them. They had showed him no ill-will, nor demonstrated any act of violence against him apart from taking him into custody. He was afraid of himself, afraid for having lost control of his body. Now he was completely vulnerable. His thinking slowed as he tried hard to think his way back into control of his body. It was useless. His fear intensified. He thought, my emotions seem to be intact, unaffected by my current situation. Somehow he knew that it was not he who was thinking this. His own mind seemed to be under the control of someone other than himself. If I cannot think my own thoughts, then who am I? That idea vanished as suddenly as it arose.
Another unit of three entered the office and took seats directly opposite him. Or so his eyes told him. Whether they were seated or standing he could not ascertain. He was sure only that he was no longer alone. He felt a tinge of hope as he realized that he was able to read their thoughts; or was it their minds? He was encouraged by this sudden realization and wanted to hide it from them. He now knew that the units of three thought as one. He still was not sure whether he was thinking these thoughts or someone else. Occasional flashes in his mind made him wonder if he ever really existed. Now he knew. The unit of three was thinking this. They were questioning his existence. It appears that I am before a tribunal, he thought. Indeed, you are, came the reply.
Why am I here?
You are not here.
I am in the office. You are in the office.
Some might think that.
We are here together.
Together is absurd. Impossible.
I am sure I can see you.
We are not here.
You said I am not here.
No one is here.
I am here. I can prove it.
There is no here!
I have seen this building. I entered it. I am seated in this office. You are with me in this office. I can see all this with my own eyes.
Then your eyes can see what cannot be seen.
My eyes are certain. What I see is here.
You are not here. No one is here. There is no here!
The unit of three left abruptly, taking their thoughts with them. He was alone again, wondering just where he was. From the adjacent office the female guard appeared again, looked him over briefly, and left. He thought he heard a sound, but it was only he screaming. His eyes had seen; his ears had heard; his feelings were felt. He was sure of this. But why was he before a tribunal that was questioning his existence? He wanted answers, and now he had a sense of desperation.
A unit of three entered the office from the direction of the adjacent office. They indicated that he was to follow them. He did so without realizing that he was again able to move about. They seemed to be taking him to the far end of the complex, and he wondered why it was taking so long since the building was rather small. Came the reply, you have not yet exited the office. We await you. This was troubling because he was sure that he was no longer in the office. A voice was telling him, leave the office now. Do as they say. He realized that it was his own voice but he was not in possession of it. Someone was using his voice to speak with him. With little effort he followed the unit of three. He was beginning to feel that he was not in custody any longer. He could move about freely. This was coming from the mind of the unit of three. He was hearing their thought. For the first time he felt assured. He followed them into a waiting area that had a set of escalators toward the rear. This confused him, because he was sure that the building had only one storey. He clearly noted that upon entering earlier. He could not say how much earlier because he had lost track of time. As with the office, the waiting area was bare, except for chairs and small tables. There was no sign that it has been used recently or ever. A thought occurred to him that everything here was completely new, and he thought again that none of this was real. The unit of three motioned him to sit, and he did. They exited the waiting area via the escalator. He was alone again.
He did not have to wait very long. But if nothing here is real, he thought, then also time is not, and may not even exist. He dismissed the thought from his mind, but it persisted as if it really wanted to be thought. If nothing is real here, then he himself is not real. Was this the reason they were questioning his existence? If nothing were real, and if he were not real, then he would be at home here. Thus he reasoned. But what does it mean to be at home if nothing existed? One simply could not be! If his logic were sound, then he himself did not exist. Of this he was certain. He would back track his logic to make sure he did not miss something. However, that would have to wait, for, descending the escalator were three persons, certainly not a unit of three, but distinct persons. They were dressed similarly to the unit of three, but they had a completely different bearing. He was sure that he was the object of their arrival. But he was completely wrong. They passed through the waiting area and disappeared in a hallway at the other end of the building. Almost immediately they appeared again in the hallway, this time accompanied by a fourth person. As they approached the waiting area he thought he recognized the fourth as the judge he had seen earlier, but without the black robe. Again he was wrong. This fourth person was clearly female.
The quartet approached him purposefully. The female sat directly in front of him while the three stood behind her. No one spoke. He tried to read their minds but these were different from the others. The female said, please give me the post-card.
I will not comply.
You have no reason not to.
I am not represented.
This is not a trial.
It is an interrogation. The same.
I must have the post-card.
I must decline.
The female rose abruptly and departed, leaving the three others standing in place. He thought, if this is a battle of wills, I have won the first round. He was now even more determined to find out what was going on. He did not have real facts to go on, and what he knew did not amount to much. To his left, another person was descending the escalator. In appearance he was entirely different from the others. A sense of benevolence gathered around the new comer as he approached. He acknowledged him with a slight nod.
You may leave now, but first, you must surrender the post-card.
It brought me here, there must be a reason.
It has served its purpose.
I must know why I am here.
You were invited.
For what purpose?
To surrender the post-card.
It is the only evidence I have.
Evidence of what?
That I am having this conversation.
You have already had this conversation.
A wave of emotions encompassed him. He felt at once nauseated and exhilarated. Something deep inside him stirred into wakefulness. It was invigorating and terrifying. He tried not to show this. There was movement within and stillness outside. Between movement and stillness a harmony was struck. He felt calm enough to continue the conversation.
I remember no such thing! Defiantly.
You had coffee in the court-yard. You left abruptly.
He tried desperately to remember the scene, coffee, court-yard, conversation, but could not.
You said you could hear her calling out to you all night.
Suddenly, a sound reached his ear, tiny, distant, hers!
She has never stopped calling out to me.
You may leave now, but you must first give me the post-card.
He reached into his breast pocket and retrieved the post-card. Reluctantly, he handed it over. He felt as if he has just delivered his soul into the hands of strangers. They all turned and left him seated where he was. How long he remained there he did not know. For here, time did not seem to exist.
Somewhere in the distance a clock was striking the hour. I opened my eyes and slowly gazed all around. I was alone, in a railway station somewhere. I did not know why I was here, or how I got here. I assumed that I was here to take a trip, but I was not sure. A train crept noisily into the station and stopped. I reached into my breast pocket for my ticket, handed it over to the station agent, who smiled benevolently, and boarded the nearest carriage. The train slowly pulled out of the station. I adjusted myself into a comfortable position. The train picked up speed and headed into the darkness. The dim light of the carriage flickered then went out. I was the only passenger on board.