Being a hostage is the last situation I would have imagined myself in. But now I like it. I feel privileged. Not just anybody gets to spend time in the company of an escaped psychopath. A hunted psychopath. Being with him I feel like I am hunted too. Apparently I’m being hunted for my own protection. The hypocrites. In actual fact, let me say it again, I’m not interested in my fate; it’s not myself I care about. Not myself. Whether I get killed or whether I escape, they’ll still be in danger.
I heard my name, this time loud and clear, from a megaphone. And the razor. It was back again and its gleam made me break out in a sweat once more. Giving me a shove, the fugitive ordered me to answer. To make contact with them. He nudged me a few steps forward. The cramps in my neck creaked aloofly. He was standing in the shadows, brandishing his pistol. There was no need for that. Guided by him, I burst out of the woods, into the light, into the open. I scratched myself in the tall thistles. I smoothed my shirt against my chest, my trousers against my hips. Night had fallen and only now did I see how dirty I was. I didn’t care about that for the moment. I waved my hand in the air. Yes, I’ll co operate. I was walking parallel to the road. On my right, close by, the fugitive walked parallel to me. I was the only one who could see him. I moved forward as instructed, while the helicopter followed, hovering above. The roadway stretched to around two hundred metres from the first building. Two vehicles flanked me, without coming closer. When I was told to stop, by reflex three armed men rushed towards me. I shouted to them to keep their distance. I could see the puzzlement in their eyes. One of them told the others to do as I said. They looked fearfully behind them, as if my presence had attracted some other, greater danger.
I think they must have evacuated the area.
An officer leaped headlong out of a car that appeared out of nowhere. He almost fell flat on his face before righting himself. He signalled to the other three to remain where they were, to cover him. We were standing face to face, he on the asphalt, I by the side of the road. I could sense that the whole area was swarming with anti terrorist commandos. I stood stock still. The officer held out his hand, nodding when he saw I hesitated, suggesting that I could stay where I was. I don’t know whether he did so out of kindness or an instinct for self preservation.
Your name, he said, and I told him, you know very well what it is, why make me repeat it, and he went on, it’s a legal requirement, and so I obeyed and told him, Cezar Braia, even though I knew it wasn’t my obligation to tell him that made him ask, he just liked probing for something, for some explanation for my “deviance”, and he probably found it precisely in the tone of my voice, with that kind of voice you can expect that kind of behaviour, for as long as I can remember my voice has always piqued people’s curiosity, why is it so hoarse, I’ve told them all dozens of times that it’s just the way I am. Good, good, Cezar Braia, the police officer went on, but why is your voice like that, and I automatically told him, after heaving an exasperated sigh at the question, because that’s just the way my voice is, good, good, but why is it like that and since when, he demanded, the same as I used to demand of my parents, when I was little, in my first year at school, but only because the teacher had kept questioning me about it, your parents definitely need to provide an explanation for this hoarseness of yours, they have to have an explanation, she would say, maybe you caught a cold and they didn’t take care of you, they didn’t treat it or they took you to some incompetent surgeon, who wrecked your vocal cords and left you like this, with this vibrato, and then the teacher would mimic it, there’s nothing more unpleasant that a vocal timbre that everybody makes fun of whenever you open your mouth, and the nightmare starts all over again with every person you meet.
I don’t get it, the officer went on, rather bewildered at my litany of details, so have you or haven’t you been strangled just now, that’s what I wanted to know, no, I haven’t, I answered, you know the situation we’re in, he said, the situation that you or I am in? I blurted, intrigued, we are in, he said, I’d like you to listen to me. A swig?
Unwisely, I blundered by pausing before I answered, the man had sized me up exactly, holding out a bottle to me from a distance, I was crazy with thirst after a whole afternoon of wandering about, my arms were trembling and I could feel a slight numbness in my fingertips, but all the same I declined, no, thanks, the left corner of my mouth twisted up, I wondered whether he would be able to see it, I pressed it with my fingers, but the muscular spasm persisted, I don’t even know whether you can talk about a muscle in that part of your face. The man displayed a perfect calm. I decided to keep him close by, his presence calmed me, and to do that I had to keep a grip on myself
You know we need your help, he went on, I know and I don’t care, we talked back and forth as if we were reading the lines from a teleprompter, I know you don’t care, but you care about him, which was true, and so I admitted it, we share the same fate. Maybe the madman’s options are different, snapped the officer, it would be nice to give him a chance, all we want to do is save him, I knew you were thinking only about him, I said, and not about me, he’s the one who keeps you in a job. The law is on his side, said the officer, pretending not to catch my meaning, and I took advantage of the opportunity to add, and please don’t start on about “human rights”, you ought to swap that for “the law that lets you capture a man” or “the law that lets you torture and exterminate him”, that would be even more appropriate, you’re right, in a way, conceded the policeman, who had a strange accent, I don’t know where his superiors came up with him or why they assigned him of all people as a negotiator, he wasn’t local, you don’t need to be an expert in regional accents or dialects to pick up on it, but anyway that wasn’t what bothered me so much as his round, muscular face, his eyes puffy from a lack of sleep, he was the kind of man that had to shave daily, and by the time evening came, like now, he already had the beginnings of a beard.
Don’t try and fob me off with that, I said, in any case we’re talking at cross purposes, what do you want? A ceasefire. An end to the game. I’m not playing games, I said interrupting him, and he said, let it go, believe me, it’ll be better for you. I didn’t let it go, nobody tells me when or what or how much I should say, and so I reminded him, I wasn’t the one who request this interview and don’t you tell me what’s best for me. Then the officer rolled out his final argument, you know all too well that I could detain you right now, right here, I didn’t believe him, obviously, there’s no way you could do that, I said, without an exchange of fire there’s no way you could do that, he’s behind me, armed to the teeth, believe me, my getting killed won’t get you anywhere, why wouldn’t it get us anywhere, he said, I’m not going to pander to you, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, I don’t know any more than you do, I told him, and he shut up.
I looked towards the woods. Despite my bravado, between my shoulder blades a muscle was twitching like a butterfly in a net. The slightest wrong move and I would be done for. I flexed my shoulders, but it didn’t help. I could barely remain standing and because I didn’t want it to show I decided to go on the attack, what do you want from us, why don’t you leave us the hell alone?
The questions put him on guard. The twitch of his face tried to conceal his consternation. Nothing more deceptive than an interlocutor who is only half mad, as I seemed to him, I was inclined to agree with him, lots of people pretend to be mad, few really are, if it hadn’t been for this incident not even I would have fully known myself, it’s only now that I’m capable of stating that yes, I’m mad too, one of the ones who hasn’t managed to reap the benefits of being mad, it would have been a great pity for me not to know what I’m capable of, which is to say, I’m capable of detaching myself from everything, of playing the dangerous card of my life, and not in absolute solitude, but in the company of a genuine psychopath, an escapee from a mental hospital (and, yes, a dangerous one), of keeping them all in check, here, where nobody can intervene any more, I could barely stop myself from saying all this to the officer, I think that he had some inkling of psychology, if he thought he could keep me talking, in the end, how do you view the situation?
I admit that such a reversal of rôles puzzled me a little, although in his place I would have done the same thing, the conciliatory tone of voice is the only one you can employ in order to delay a categorical refusal, he knew that. All I wanted to do was to play for time, without saying too much, and so I said, it’s simple, things can’t go on as they have up to now, the truth is that there was nothing I could say, given that not even I knew what I wanted to do.
I’m waiting to hear what you propose, he straightaway replied, deftly.
If I were to make a decent proposal, one to my liking, it would be that you should withdraw and leave us alone, I said, withdraw from where, the officer snapped, in annoyance, and without thinking I said, from our territory, and he said, ours, what do you mean? Then I gave him the all too familiar theory about how no “wild animal” moves at will outside its territory, and nor a fugitive, it’s plain that he feels comfortable, here, on the mountainside, where you’re encroaching, you’ve trespassed on his territory, it’s a flagrant abuse, and I share his inclinations, wherever the poor wretch lives, for as long as he lives, is where I’m going to live too, nothing of what I said seemed to me outrageous, the arguments came to me spontaneously, like water from a tap, that’s right, I thought immediately after articulating my answer, it happens to me all the time, to express myself before thinking about it and then after that to hear and approve of what I have said, here, where we are now, in this tract of forest, the animal instinct of the hunted prey overrides all else. Is that a reproach, parried the officer, yes, maybe, I replied evasively, shocked at my own courage. This time, his attack was full on, bypassing a number of intervening stages, tell me honestly, why are you doing this, how long do you think you can hold out, you’re still young, don’t you realise you’re placing yourself in danger, by trying to imitate that madman? I burst out laughing, I roared with laughter, are you suggesting that you don’t want to lose me, neither him, nor me?
Wrong, I said, you’re only thinking of yourselves, I said, and the officer said, you know full well that that “yourselves” includes innocent people, children, above all, who can guarantee that we can live with you two at large, however long you might last, be reasonable, man, you won’t last long, I’m telling you, come to your senses, I assure you, it will be for your own good, both of you, and I said, you mean for our own good up to now, and the officer said, I realise you’re at a dead end, you weren’t happy either, I assume, you weren’t, that I can understand, open yourself up to us and we’ll try to help you. I laughed again, the fact that you’re only negotiating with me… what can I say, you might be able to lead that nutcase by the nose, but not me.
If you led us to him… we know you can do it, only you can do it…
Cheap tricks, I told him, although you seem to be sincere.
He plucked up courage, he risked a question in a more authoritarian voice now, it’s a well known psychological ploy, a stern tone is required when you’re dealing with an unhinged mind, tell me, he said, don’t you care about him at all, and I said, I can’t be bothered to talk about him, I’m tired, I’ve had enough, I want to go back now. I was furious by then, but all the same I said all this in a cautious sort of way, with dignity and elegance, as if I were turning down a meal with friends, heaving a sigh.
The officer stretched out his arm to me, still as distant, suggesting that I stay where I was, then he made a discreet signal to the car. One of the doors opened. The man inside managed to lift one leg outside. From the woods resounded the first shot. The next two polished sparks from the asphalt. The officer raised his arms and jerked his head towards the woods, calling out to me in a very calm and important voice, without a trace of mockery, go back to him, when you’re finished doing what you have to do, inform us, I guarantee you my full support.
I didn’t answer him. I hadn’t yet fully come to my senses. I was waiting for the arms to pin me and tie me up. It seemed absurd to me. On the road, on the path, nobody. I felt ridiculous and helpless, like a canary banished from its cage. I felt like I had been plunged into the silence that precedes death.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth