An unbeatable chess player turns an entire town into a chessboard, and its inhabitants become kings, queens, rooks, knights, pawns, in an absurd match that destroys everybody’s life. A writer disappears, drawn by the mirage of distances, the call of love, of “unageing youth.” When he comes back more than forty years later, he discovers that the mystery of his disappearance has propelled him to a place among the literary classics of his native land and a nomination for the Nobel Prize. An individual inherits a fabulous library, a “house of the wind,” which holds him captive and turns him into a fiction. A literary critic is kidnapped by the mediocre authors he has demolished and is forced, in a hilarious text, to change his critical discourse and become politically correct. An infant is born with the gift of devouring and draining the life from everything he loves, another has the gift of sating the hunger of those who merely say his name. Since the creation of the world, every name has a history behind it, Adrian Alui Gheorghe demonstrates, and every creature on earth has a fantastic root from which can grow a new story, thanks to the imagination of an inspired storyteller.
I have no name. I lost it or it was stolen from me, who knows . . . I have a body, a face, eyes, an appetite, life, I have some kind of family, but I have no name. When you have no name of your own, you can call yourself whatever you like, you can give yourself all the names in the world, you can substitute yourself for all the biographies in history or politics, you can substitute yourself for the world’s richest people, but you won’t ever really be any of them.
Why is it important to have a name? If you don’t have a name you risk no longer being noticed as a person, you become a kind of social animal subject to the whim of fate, which can be taken off the street and put to all kinds of unpleasant, unseemly, difficult tasks. Nobody will come to your defence, because you can’t go to the Law, because the Law won’t know whom to defend if you can’t say who you are. The people around me don’t yet know that I don’t have a name; I do everything possible for them not to find out, I do everything possible not to give them that impression. I behave normally. I walk the dog in the park of an evening, people stop me, ask me for a name. The dog’s name, naturally. The dog is called Poison. The person asking raises his eyebrows in surprise, grimaces, and then says: Nice!
The dog has a name, I don’t. Nor does the dog know I don’t have a name, otherwise it wouldn’t obey my commands, it would cock its leg and perhaps spray my trousers.
One evening, in May, three days after the wool warehouse burned down, the one owned by that Armenian with the horribly long name, but whom we called Dead Man for short (I’ll come back to this), I was in the park with Poison, I’d just taught him the trick of catching his own tail, to which I’d tied a sausage. Poison was going around and round like a spinning top, falling, getting back up, he was foaming at the mouth, determined to catch the sausage. He loves sausages, not the dried ones, but the juicier ones, which, ultimately, are cheaper. It was then that I met a woman or the woman who might have become the tenant of my heart and soul.
Together we admired Poison’s desperation and compulsive behaviour, I untied the sausage for him, which he guzzled in an instant, we laughed, and it was thus we noticed that our laughs were similar.
We sat on a bench, talked about the weather, about the rain, and noticed that we had generally the same opinions. We both liked the rain, although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. But we generally liked the rain, we yearned for it.
The woman even liked Poison, he sniffed her ankles, licked her knees. I was quite envious that he could do what was forbidden to me in public. She gave Poison three squares of chocolate, she gave me only one. Poison greedily swallowed his, I kept mine in my mouth for a long time, I was imagining that they were her extremely delicate fingers. They looked like a pianist’s fingers. But no, she didn’t play the piano. When she was little, she had tried to play the harp, but she didn’t have enough physical strength to handle the instrument. She had given up.
I said, “A pity!”
She said, “That’s nice of you!”
On parting, we exchanged a few friendly words, of a bittersweet sadness, we decided that we should see each other again, look each other up. We might have lived together to a ripe old age, walking Poison, telling each other sweet nothings, arguing over trifles, reconciling when confronted with life’s major problems. We might even have had children, as the fulfilment of true love, rather than as a result of married boredom, as I so often heard.
Right then I realised that I didn’t have a name and I gave a painful start. I invented a name on the spot.
“My name is Hieronymus,” I said, turning red.
“Mine’s Eve,” she said, turning red.
It was then that I understood that nor did she have a name. We shook hands, with a certain amount of compassion, and parted forever.
Two people without names cannot meet twice in the same life, as is well known.
Sometimes it’s quite a good thing not to have a name. You hide in your own unobtrusiveness, you pass like a shadow that can’t be scratched by any knob of stone or wall. Without a name, you feel like the impact of time is null. It can’t touch you. On our street, which was once called Vanilla Street, after which it was called Inner Harmony Street, and then Dead-End Street, but today is one of the many streets without a name, because most of the residents have no name, on our street there lived a man named Adolf. And after a time, this Adolf started to grow old, terrifyingly quickly. He was a child, but already he was growing old. As he grew old, he aged the people around him too.
His parents were horrified.
The neighbours were troubled.
The street’s other residents were amazed.
Occasional passers-by were moved.
At the time, the street was called Vanilla Street, because a long time ago there had been a shop that smelled of vanilla, where a Greek sold sweets. Simple. With tears in their eyes, Adolf’s parents went to the town hall, the mayor went to the county, the county went to the government, and the name of the street was changed from Vanilla to Inner Harmony. That was because somebody had said that if you change the name of a place, you change its fortune, you change a letter, you change the meaning of a prayer, and so on. And it was true: a miracle occurred. For a time, Adolf no longer aged, his parents no longer aged, nor did the neighbours and the passers-by. Yes, it was a miracle. People from other towns, counties and countries started flocking to Inner Harmony Street, quite a strange name chosen by the government, and all because there they wouldn’t grow old. Every inch of the street came to be inhabited, people built houses one on top of the other, every square inch of land sold for millions, and the people who sold the inches of land they owned didn’t have enough room to store all the money they got. A wave of envy swelled throughout the world. A murmur of discontent rose to the heavens, from millions of chests, so strong that the birds were carried aloft by the blast and looked like billions of crucifixes against the cirrus. It was then that the government decided to intervene: One day, the name of the street was changed from Inner Harmony to Dead-End, rather a strange name for a street. Tragedy struck the next day. Everybody had started to age, the same as any other mortal. Adolf, Adolf’s parents, the neighbours, the passers-by. Many of them began to die of chagrin, of fear, of disgust, and they were taken to the end of Dead-End Street and buried in land that up until not long ago had been worth millions. But now nobody would have paid two chipped beads for it.
Well, what did Adolf do? He had grown up and reached the age of wisdom. And so, one morning, he decided that the time had come to do something to retard ageing and the first thing that came to his mind was to get rid of his name. He went to his father, his mother, the neighbours, the other residents of Dead-End Street and told them: “From now on I’m not Adolf any more. Erase my name from your conversations, your memories, your lists of acquaintances. This is the only way I won’t grow old. The only way I’ll save myself. You could each do the same thing for yourselves, because if you lose your name, time no longer has any power over us.”
Adolf’s mother wept a little. Then his father wept. The neighbours sighed. The others, the outlying residents, the passers-by, were amazed.
And it was true: after Adolf, who was now no longer Adolf, gave up his name, ageing ceased. The people looked at him on the street and said: “Look, that man looks a bit like Adolf, but Adolf would have been a lot older!”
Not even the dogs barked at him. People took no more notice of him.
What is more, a large number of the street’s residents did the same thing. They voluntarily gave up their names. They passed on the street, looked at each other, and they didn’t know what to say, they swallowed their helplessness, their saliva, their soundless words, and went on their way.
The news that nobody grew old on Dead-End Street spread throughout the world once more. But to prevent the same commotion happening again, the government issued a press release that caused the whole of mankind to shudder and which explained what Adolf had said when he still had a name: If you give up your name, you halt or at least retard ageing.
A first wave of desperate people gave up their names the very next moment, without regret.
Others made a few calculations and then abandoned the idea.
Others had remained nameless because nobody around them was prepared to remember their names, given that they had forgotten their own names.
But others stubbornly refused to give up their names, they formed a resistance group, which was quite large worldwide. Unfortunately, they grew old, not necessarily quickly, but at a human rate.
The government was satisfied with the manner in which the conflict on Dead-End Street had been quelled and decided it would be a good idea to decorate the citizen who had once been called Adolf and who now had no name. They sent a leading representative to Dead-End Street to pin the medal to his chest and hold him up as an example to the town, the country, mankind. But the government representative was unable to find the street, because all the people on Dead-End Street, every single one of them, had given up their names, and the street had no reason to keep its name either. And so, the government representative wandered around the town, asking people whether they’d seen a man called Adolf, but the people looked at him in blank incomprehension, they shook their heads, occasionally one might say that he’d heard the old folk mention somebody by that name, but he couldn’t be sure. The government representative threw the medal in a litter bin and went about his own business as if nothing had happened.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth