Things to do in paradise while you are dead
(Or "A Brief History of Eternity")
Read the related poem
| Read the accompanying essays
Paradise, springtime. People exist only in the mind of God. When God stops
thinking of them, they die. Four people are looking for God,
crawling inside the rotting fabric of spacetime.
The voice said: "God sent me to steal your secrets, but i am actually here to sell you his".
Backwards. Backwards makes more sense.
"What is he doing?"
"He is thinking about us"
"I do not know. Everything. Anything that happens."
"Does he ever stop?"
"Probably. Then everything stops".
The little woman in the shabby sari looked uncomfortably at her own muddy sandals, and sighed:
"It all sounds rather pointless".
The tall man in the white tunic stooped over her shadow and mumbled:
"I think it will all make sense when we find him. The whole point is to find him".
"Then we will know. Don't you want to find out?"
The third character, the blind old man wearing a poncho and poking the ground wigth a metal rod,
failed to reassure them when he said:
"It is always nearer than you think".
is backpack was overflowing with books.
"How will we know that we have arrived?"
The blind man calmly whispered: "You won't".
They paused and stood silent for a bit,
filthy water dripping from severed pipes and flowing
into rain pools.
"I wish i could remember who i am" she repeated the mantra that she had been repeating ever since the three had met.
"He may have forgotten for real" said the tall one, while pocketing a coin
that had shone through a maze of electric wires.
"What is that for? You can't spend it here" said she.
"I collect things, Magdalene. You do remember who i am, don't you?"
She was being sarcastic, but she was also trying to remember his real name.
"Yes, that sounds accurate. That is my mission in this life".
"Despite the fact that here, beyond the gate, there are only ruins to
collect?" asked the blind man who had become unusually talkative since
they entered the maze of dilapidated walls and collapsed bridges that he called
"Despite all. I collect: that it is what i do. What do you do?" He asked the blind man.
"I follow the sound of other people's steps. I used to build watches.
Then my eyes died. Now i cannot see Time anymore. I can only feel it."
And his voice betrayed exhaustion.
"How does it feel when you cannot see it?" asked the woman.
"It feels nearer".
"Why do you carry all those books that you can't read anyway, Watchmaker?" asked the Collector.
"Because we may need them. And because i used to be one of them".
He stopped again to catch his breath. Now that his stick was still, one could hear the sinister sounds of the Pass: the sounds of decay. The woman felt uncomfortable when they stopped chatting.
"What is He doing?"
"I told you: he is thinking of us". The voice of the blind Watchmaker betrayed his vexation at not being trusted.
"Sorry, i already forgot. I wish he would stop that" grinned Magdalene.
"Life would be simpler".
"There would be no life. No you, no me".
"So what? It would be simpler, wouldn't it?"
The blind man shattered a fragment of glass that he had been testing with his stick.
"You don't remember who you are, but you seem to remember how it was before
you were. Maybe there is something, after all".
The Collector raised his voice: "Aren't we here to find out, old man?"
"Yes, Collector. And this time I will not go back without finding out".
"How much farther is it before the point that you reached last time?"
"I don't know. The Pass changes all the time. Perhaps we are already beyond it".
His companions were obviously struck by the vagueness of his statement and
followed him silently around the corner, over the charred carcass of a vehicle,
into the roof-less vestibule of what used to be a hospital.
The blind man turned around a few times, as if looking for orientation.
"We sleep here. It won't rain. And hospitals are safe".
Someone was walking among the ruins. The echo of his steps flooded the room
before he appeared: a soldier in a scruffy uniform. Panting, he stared
at the trio that stood by the threshold, and soon recognized the woman:
"Prostitute, we meet again. I thought you had left this place for good. There is little that you can do here".
"I don't remember you".
"What is it?" asked the blind Watchmaker. The Soldier sat down on a disheveled block of concrete.
"It doesn't matter, does it? You probably don't believe. To tell you the truth, these days I am not even sure what I believe anymore".
"Why did you call me "prostitute"? My name is Magdalene."
"Who told you?"
"I don't remember".
"I think you are confusing yourself with someone else, who was here before you. But I will not object. A name is a name. We all need one, sooner or later. Who are your companions?"
"They own me".
"I don't remember. I only remember that I am supposed to follow them until they find him".
"God. He is thinking of us. That's why we exist. When he stops thinking, we
don't exist anymore".
The soldier turned his head towards the two men, as if to doublecheck the
woman's story: "And they want to find him?"
"They do. The blind one has been here before, and beyond. He thinks he knows
where to go."
"And you are blind?" the soldier addressed the Watchmaker directly.
"Yes, i..." but the soldier didn't let him finish.
"How does he know where to go?"
"He has books".
"That he can't read?"
"Yes. We can read them for him, if he asks us."
"Has he asked you?"
"I don't remember. But I don't think so. He seems to know."
The Watchmaker approached them.
"I overheard your conversation. I understand your skepticism. But I believe
in the force of reason."
"What is reason?"
"And faith. Of a different kind than yours, of course".
They stared at each other as if they had known each other all their lives.
Then the Soldier said: "Eyes can be a curse. I was almost killed for mine".
The Collector had been examining a skeleton that had been stripped of most
clothes. "We are wasting time. Nobody will come".
His impatience was contradicted by the Soldier: "They came."
For an ancient moment, the Soldier gazed at the trio. Then he intoned a poem:
"If there is no end,
then what is there?
There ought to be something,
at least a route, a path,
a sign that one can choose
to dollow or to ignore."
The Watchmaker too sounded annoyed as he commented:
"Something always happens".
"There is nothing here" said the Collector. The blind man derided him: "Do you mean that there is nothing to pick up and store away?" But the Collector ignored his sarcasm.
"That is not true. There are always patterns. If they are nameless, you have
to label them. When you label them, they become part of the route. The pattern
becomes your destination".
"A label is not a life", the Watchmaker dryly commented.
The Soldier wasn't sure what they were discussing but couldn't resist:
"Perhaps it is all that there is to a life".
After a pause, he added: "What is left of a life centuries later?"
At last, the Collector urged them:
"Can we resume walking please?"
The Watchmaker sighed: "Yes, it is better to walk than to talk."
Magdalene, who had already made herself comfortable on a pile of towels,
objected: "Didn't you want to stop here, Watchmaker? Why have you changed your mind?"
"Because we would get used to it. We don't have a lot of time."
"It is getting dark..."
"It is always dark for me"
Then they had nothing else to say. Suddenly, they were invaded by
the loud silence of so many dead people.
"What are we waiting for?" said the Collector.
The Watchmaker was ready to move but wasn't moving. He asked the Soldier:
"Have you been here for long?"
The Soldier replied with another question: "Aren't you tired of walking? It must be hard on you through all this rubbish."
"I would rather not say".
"Are you coming back from somewhere?" The Watchmaker was beginning to feel suspicious about the stranger.
"Were you following us?"
After a brief pause, as if calculating which answer would best fit the circumstances: "Yes, I did."
"I saw you many times. The three of you have been here many times before. I greeted you every time." Both the Collector and Magdalene looked amazed.
"Many times. Just like now. Just here. And there." He pointed to the
vast expanse on the other side of the ruins,
littered with vehicles and appliances, overgrown with shrubs.
"Is that where we came from, Watchmaker?" asked the prostitute.
But the blind man had not finished: "You were spying on us from there" and he pointed to the contours of twilight. "You were hiding".
The Collector looked perplexed: "They were listening to us? hiding? Who are they?"
The Soldier felt that someone had to apologize: "We didn't know that we were listening". And, after a long embarrassed pause: "We didn't know that there was anything to listen to. And we didn't realize that we were hiding. We merely were. We were".
Silence resumed. They were judging each other's intentions. Sentencing was
taking place in each mind. Punishment would be next.
The Watchmaker sounded certain of his accusations: "You were hiding".
The Collector asked: "Where are the others?"
The Soldier moved next to Magdalene and caressed her head: she had started
crying. "They are gone. They went back. They gave up. The Unbuilt City was not for them. They got afraid". He took a deep breath and then whispered in a shivering tone: "They think the Watchmaker is lost".
The Collector too was losing faith in the Watchmaker.
"Do you remember what Magdalene said before she lost her memory?
She said to cross a creek, but we never reached a creek."
"It must have drained. Or flooded, which is the same thing in the Unbuilt City".
"How are we going to recognize the turn then?"
"She said there was a monolith."
"Didn't we pass one yesterday?"
"Every yesterday we pass it, and every today we ask about it. I wonder what
we do every tomorrow".
"That was yesterday", said the Collector, "but Magdalene said it would be
Bats swooped into the hollow sky above their heads. Magdalene was confused: "Did i remember being here?"
"Talk" says the woman.
"Who is listening?" replies the man.
The neon lights are mostly dead. Ghostly moths dance around the few that are still flickering.
Their shadows scour the glittering marble floor. In a dark corner of the hall,
a Japanese lady is playing with a slot machine. The noise of the lever and her
gasps complement each other in a funny, almost musical, way.
She wears a bright red clown's hat which bears inscribed a date in fluorescent ink: "12 August 1945".
Upon hearing the strangers, she stops her mechanical motion and mispronounces
the words "My name is Boredom" in her shrill voice.
The Collector has been arguing with the Soldier about the route to follow.
There are only labirynthine buildings full of winding stairs to nowhere, twisted
pillars and collapsed beams. One can still smell the dust that never fell on
the Unbuilt City. Nevertheless they have followed the blind man and the amnesiac
woman, who (together) seem to know where to go, or, at least, find a reason to
keep pretending. They were wondering what the mechanical noise was.
The Collector stares at the sexy legs of the gambling lady.
She feels that she is being judged and apologizes: "I am a compulsive gambler".
They are so surprised to find a woman in a flashy expensive dress, they who are wearing old dirty clothes, alone in the sumptuous casino, and apparently not anxious at all, that they don't know what to ask her.
She volunteers: "You can find everything here. That door is a cloak room.
That one is the food warehouse. There are many rooms that i have not visited yet".
They know. They have been lost for hours. "This is my life now. Every day
i explore a few more rooms. Then i come back here and play. Life is easy".
"Are you alone?" the Collector finally asks, as their silence is beginning to make her feel uncomfortable.
"You don't see him?" and she points to the middle of the vast hall.
As they stare in the direction that she is pointing to, they realize that the ceiling has a giant hole. A pillar rises from the basement through the
splintered floor and then bursts through the roof.
The top of the pillar is a small square platform. On top of the platform is a child.
Magdalene murmurs: "How does he eat?". Boredom rolls her eyes and gesticulates to imply that the question is pointless.
They have approached the base of the pillar and are staring up to the little man, who is, in turn, staring down at them.
The Collector asks: "What is it that you see from up there?"
The child replies: "The distance".
"The distance...", mumbles the Watchmaker. "Whatever it is that you are
contemplating, it will never change".
The Child objects: "It changes every time that nobody is looking at it,
for example at night, or when it rains and i don't look out.
Sometimes it shrinks. It has been shrinking for several nights now."
The prostitute asks: "Aren't you afraid that everything might disappear?"
Boredom nods, but the Watchmaker scorns their anxiety: "Do things ever appear? Things grow and age, decay and transform. Nothing appears out of nowhere, does it?"
The Soldier, covering his eyes because a cloud has suddenly shifted releasing a beam of light, asks: "Can you see as far as we were yesterday?"
Boredom wipes sweat from her eyebrows. Now the sun is getting hot.
The Child stands up on the platform and says: "You can see very far if you train yourself to. It takes some training, that's all. The blind man could do it."
The Watchmaker sighs and replies: "Now i can only walk".
Boredom, who has not spoken in a while, doesn't want to argue with them, but it is obvious to her that the Watchmaker is not only walking but also hiding and listening.
At last, it rained, and even snowed.
"Every day of my life, since then, i have spent alone," Thus ended Boredom's story of her life.
"As we move towards silence, the noise inside our heads gets louder" said the Watchmaker.
"I am afraid of dying".
"You should be afraid of living. You are merely a fiction."
"Do you think we will die?"
"Death is nonsense."
"Death is when he stops thinking of me, isn't it? It can happen at any time." interjected Magdalene.
"Death doesn't happen: death is."
She retorted: "I think you are more afraid than me of dying".
"I cannot see. I am death".
They looked back at the town on fire before entering the cavernous mouth of the storm.
The Collector and the Soldier walked into the makeshift tent with the books that they had found in the town.
"Don't you think we have been here before?" asked the Soldier.
"Many times. But we don't remember, and we never will. Life is not about remembering: it is about forgetting." The Soldier's clothes were wet.
"Then we have no choice."
"Free will is what we make of having no free will".
Magdalene was excited about the books: "What are they?"
The Collector picked one from the pile and opened it at a page that he had marked with a dead leaf. He then pointed to the calligraphy, and his finger followed the veins of ink on the wrinkled paper. At the end of the page his finger stopped.
Magdalene was so fascinated by the music that she begged for more.
However, the Soldier was harassing the Watchmaker: "Are you sure? Are you sure?"
The Watchmaker was still holding Boredom's hand. He didn't want to change topic or interlocutor. Boredom stared angry at the Soldier. The Soldier shrugged and sat down. Boredom turned to the Watchmaker and asked for more.
"The mystery of every corner that comes to us both expected and unexpected,
both revealing and wasting new eternities at every turn..."
"Is this what propels you, blind man?" asked the Soldier in a scornful tone. "You not knowing where you are going but rejoicing that you will be lost for eternity?"
"We are still traveling because we are still the same: we have not changed."
"We went on a trip to the distant galaxies and to the core of the atom" retorted the Soldier.
"And came back the same people".
"Journeys do not change the traveler. Journeys change the world."
"We roam the impossible landscapes of our lives."
"We are lost most of the time." Now everybody was listening at the two.
After a while the Watchmaker resumed his line of reasoning: "Does one remember death?"
Suddenly Magdalene uttered: "The shortest memory of your life will be the memory of your last breath".
The Collector was puzzled: "That's what the Child said... How did she remember?".
Boredom let the hand of the blind man go and closed her eyes: "The mist is coming." A tear rolled down her cheek: "It is going to be very dark very soon."
Magdalene echoed "Very soon."
"A child runs towards the unseeable, indifferent to the fog. An old man hesitates in the fog, like a kite that several strains of the same wind pull in different directions." The Soldier was tired too. "Since i met Magdalene i have been waiting for this moment".
The blizzard has shuffled the streets of the city. Now all the maps are wrong.
"What are you measuring with every blink of your eyes?" asked Magdalene staring at the top of the pillar.
"The speed with which things move in front of us" replied the Child from up there.
"Is that a sign?"
"Possibly the last one we will ever get".
"What is Boredom playing with?" asked the Soldier.
The Collector replied: "The map of the Eternal Return that has been used by just about everybody who ever set foot here".
"Is there anything beyond this point?"
The Collector hesitated: "Occasionally".
The Watchmaker was quick to add: "Only if you believe it".
The Soldier whined: "Don't tell me how Time creates the world. Don't tell me yet."
"It's only foam" whispered the Watchmaker.
"What is real is the feeling that it is all a dream" joined the Collector.
"I wasn't born to be a poet. That is the reason why i became a poet. I was a soldier and now i am a poet. I will always be what I was not meant to be".
For the first time Boredom's face displayed a strong emotion: "Every poet is a thief."
The Collector found a compromise: "They defy their own nature".
"What is in the afterlife?"
"Something that you can't comprehend. It is outside the cognitive closure of our minds".
"The cognitive closure?"
"What our minds can comprehend. A snake cannot comprehend three dimensions, because its brain only sees two. We cannot hear high-frequency sounds and cannot see ultraviolet colors, because our ears don't hear them and our eyes don't see them. Every kind of brain has its limitations. Someone from another planet would probably be capable of understanding things that we don't understand, but not be capable of understanding things that we do understand. Our brain was not designed to understand the afterlife, therefore it cannot comprehend it. No matter how much you stare at life and death, no matter how much you ponder about the universe, no matter how much you suffer at the idea of dying, you will never comprehend the sense of it all."
"It makes sense?"
"It does, but we can't grasp it. Our brains can't grasp it."
"Will we understand it when we are on the other side?"
"The other side is not even a side. Who knows what it is".
"So our minds have limits, that not even the most intelligent person can overcome?"
"Of course, our minds are not infinitely powerful. They were only designed to help the body survive. That's pretty much what they are good at. Beyond that, our minds are powerless. When you die, you are no longer surviving, right? Thus your mind is not the right tool to understand what happens when you die. Your mind was designed to keep you alive. The state of when you are no longer alive is not part of the states that the mind was designed to cope with".
"But it all make sense?"
"Of course. I can't be just one gigantic coincidence. It all makes sense. It makes sense that you never existed before, and now you exist, and then you will never exist again. It sounds really scary, but I am sure that it makes a lot of sense. It is just that we cannot grasp the meaning, we cannot grasp the larger picture. We are not in control anyway."
"We exist only when he thinks us. It is weird to know that he is thinking me right now. Why me? Why now?"
"You cannot comprehend it".
"It is as if all the possible stories were talking about us. The little hells inside our minds".
They had been walking for so long among the ruins that they had forgotten to check the map for many days.
"We think the dead are gone forever, but they are us".
What do I stand for? "That" is the question. The Collector stared at the vast plain in front of them.
Boredom was making faces at a butterfly.
The Watchmaker was on his knees,
touching the ground with his fingers, as if he was looking for Braille writing.
"The world, alas, is real. No more no less than how you see it.
Touch a grain of sand, and you will have touched it all."
Magdalene helped him get back on his feet. "Are we walking backwards?"
"No: then what?"
"I guess backwards just makes more sense".
"It does. We, at least, do".
"Is this all there is?" asked the Soldier.
"No, the question is the opposite: is this all there isn't?"
The Collector was impatient, as usual: "Most likely no. So what does not exist? What else is like us?"
Magdalene resented him: "You never ask my questions..."
"I turn answers into questions. I show you that every question is an answer, and every answer is a question. One can't answer a question without asking one."
They walked for days, until the distant dunes were revealed as mountains.
Then they paused. The road ended nowhere: it had collapsed into a gap.
They looked down into the cracked asphalt, like children staring at a mayhem that they had caused.
There was only one way forward. By the time the sun set, they were already walking inside the large vault, each step echoing to the sky, rhyming with the choir of the thousand waterfalls.
"There are many caves under here" said Magdalene.
They touched the walls of the gorge, scrawled with incomprehensible hieroglyphs charting the progress of their souls inside the belly of the universe.
The phosphorescent fluids flowing out of the wounds of the Earth marked the way.
The Watchmaker was thinking of it as the polyrhythmic ticking of God's clock.
As they wandered into the dim reflected light of a slot canyon, they began to emanate their own light into the surrounding emptiness, each person a glowing lamp of life. They soon realized that one canyon led to another one, and together they represented a vast network of hidden roads.
The Watchmaker exulted: "I know where I am" he muttered: "This is the map! We are walking into the map, on the map itself... isn't it marvelous?"
The others did not quite understand him, but it didn't matter anyway.
Magdalene was ready to tear up the two-dimensional map that she was holding and to proceed in a one-dimensional dream.
After several hours, though, the vision began to fade away.
They were drifting inside a huge subterranean vault. The canyons used to be
hallways. The walls emanated twisted wires and bent rods. Under the dust there were granite floors. The hallways communicated with each other but led to no room.
Magdalene was reading the past in the collapsed structures that they encountered as if they were words. She knew the alphabet. "A bird was sitting here" she said touching the rim of an amphora. "Then chanting monks approached and the music
scared it away. It flew high over their hoods right into the sun". Later she would be thrilled by a love story inscribed in the layout of the rubbish or by a heroic feat documented in the ashes of a fire.
The Collector had lost any hope of reconciling dream and reality.
As he calculated with terror the discrepancies between the world upstairs and the maze down there, between the standing ruins and the percolating sewage underneath, he came to understand the incessant dripping of holy water as the chiming bells of the church of all churches.
They had arrived at a wall of solid concrete: that dimension had been exhausted.
He tapped the surface of the wall, and waited for the echo.
For the last few hours, all sounds, including their own voices, had seemed to come from upstairs, from the phantom sky that was spying on them through the
cracks in the roof.
"I am the brain of X. He thinks that i think his thoughts.
I actually never think. I do not even know what that word means.
I merely write that word. Occasionally, I tell him to pronounce it.
Occasionally, I tell him to think about it, to think about thought.
But I have no idea what it is. I am just a piece of flesh that works like
a circuit. I do not see or hear, but I can send messages around the circuit
and those messages make X see and hear.
When he thinks about me, something truly weird takes place: i am telling him
to think about me, so that he thinks that he is thinking about me, but it
is actually me that is telling him to think that he is thinking about me.
X attributes to me the ability to feel and know, but i am just a piece of flesh.
I am not even sure what I do. I do so many things, and mostly because i was
programmed to. Occasionally, i learn something new, which means that i
re-program myself. But mostly i simply execute instructions. X thinks that
i think, but i only transform chemical reactions of a kind into chemical
reactions of another kind. I don't know why i am doing it.
How can you observe yourself and describe it to us? How can you ask yourself
that question? All the things i do are things that i do not know how to do
and why i do.
X would be very disappointed in me. He thinks that i know the world.
I do not know anytthing. I do not even know that there is a world.
I only receive and send messages, decode and encode chemical reactions.
Somehow X thinks that this is something that he calls "knowledge".
I work all the time, even when X sleeps or is unconscious.
I do not wonder what death is like, because i do not die: i was never born."
Finally, they meet someone. He has a desk. He has a pen. He rises from
the desk and smiles at them. He has a scar on his face, that looks like a
quarter moon. He tells them that he writes letters to himself.
He is not used to tell others about his life.
He is the only one to read his own letters. He is not used to others hearing
about his life. He calls himself Ulysses because he believes that every man is
a replica of a replica of a replica of a replica of a... of Ulysses.
He joins the group, eager to get out of the maze.
He reads his letters over and over again, sometimes aloud and sometimes in silence.
The Collector asks him "Why can't you just live your life instead of writing it to yourself?" Ulysses does not reply, but starts reading them his letters while they search for the exit.
Life is, again, a quest for hope, and thus, fundamentally, a funerary oration.
Magdalene asks: "What do you write about?"
"Most books are about aspects of human knowledge. Few people write books about human ignorance, despite the fact that there would be much more to write about."
He does not believe in reality as they see it.
"Beingscape is no more than a table on which skilled masters of the game move their figurines"
"Does Beingscape have a boundary?"
"It propagates. If you are in Beingscape, i am also in Beingscape".
"What about all the objects that we see?"
"They are inside you. And you are inside them. If you count them, you are counting yourself many times".
"Why does Beingscape look so desolate? Why so much destruction?"
"Because we used it. We left very little for future generations to play."
"So now we are the players? I thought we were the figurines."
"Correct: we are the players. And, yes, we are the figurines. Beingscape is us, inside and outside, within and without."
"Like a mirror".
"Like a mirror that shows your inside when your outside faces it, and viceversa. You are never yourself in the mirror, because you are never yourself outside the mirror. You cannot enter the mirror, can you?"
"I can destroy it, and settle it once and forever."
"Precisely. That is precisely what we did to Beingscape. We demolished the mirror because we got tired of seeing us upside down, inside out. Now we can peruse the wreckage, and contemplate only fragments. Follow those footprints to the top of a mountain and you'll see: there is no view, there is nothing to view. Beingscape is not empty, but it is pointless".
Magdalene is still skeptic. Ulysses tried to explain the concept from another angle: "When you think of something that happened in the past, you are not in it: you are merely the observer, the photographer. You are not in the photograph. Try to remember an accident that you witnessed. You remember it the same way you would see it on television. Now concentrate on it. You start switching roles: someone else is taking the photograph and you are in it. If you focus, you enter the past."
The Soldier has been listening intently. "Magdalene has been here before."
Ulysses is startled. The Soldier continues, to the delight of Magdalene:
"She knows what is in here."
"She thinks of it..."
"She knows what is coming next."
"She thinks of it..."
"To think is to forget. We cannot remember what we thought: it has already forever changed, mutated into something else, into an alien object that our previous self cannot recognize anymore. Luckily, we mutate with our memories. Thus we can now recognize the new self that an old self has given us. But we can never be again".
"You don't understand: she thinks of it! Now i realize what is going on".
Magdalene turns to him and, looking annoyed, clarifies: "No, i am not God".
"You read the past in the ruins that you encounter as if they were words."
"It is a language"
"But there is noone speaking it"
"Most languages are not spoken, aren't they?"
"We speak, don't we? Anyway, what's in it that interests you so much?"
Magdalene does not reply. She merely stares at him, as if the answer were obvious. The Soldier steps in: "The paradox is that the language of the past and the language of the future are different. How can we translate one into the other?"
"Why are they different?"
"One sounds different from the other. Actually, one sounds, and the other one doesn't at all."
"Everybody is a foreigner somewhere"
The Soldier shakes his head: "Not anymore: foreign lands don't exist anymore. Everything looks so familiar".
The Collector and the Watchmaker have not found the exit. For the first time the Watchmaker looks depressed. The Collector has overheard the last sentence and relates it to his failed mission: "Maybe too familiar: could it be that all the time you have not been where you thought you were?"
"... and could it be that all the time you have been somebody else than you thought you were?"
"I know who I am: I am whom I know".
"One day i was told that a match factory had been built at the outskirts of town. I biked there. The factory had mushroomed overnight. Nobody in town knew who built it and why. Our region did not need a match factory. A match factory
had never been discussed. It just appeared that night. My friends simply looked
for employment there, but i wanted to find out who ran it. I started spying on them. Eventually i fell in love with one of the girls who worked there. She did not know much about the management. Like everybody else she obeyed orders. She was unhappy that i wanted to know more. She felt that i was in love with her only because she worked at the factory. She felt that i was in love with the mystery of the factory, not with her. The more i scrutinized the activities at the factory, the more suspicious i became.
One night my girlfriend helped me to sneak in while the workers were leaving.
I crawled to the windows of the manager's room. Inside there was a meeting.
They were talking about someone whom they expected to break into the factory
and steal their secrets.
Now i was determined to find out which secrets they were afraid of.
My girlfriend told me that she was pregnant. She wanted me to give up my
mission, but i could not. Finally i decided that i had to enter and search
the manager's room. I promised my girlfriend that it would be the last time:
either i would find what i wanted or i would give up. She helped me get in
again. I hid until everything was silent. I broke into the manager's room.
I found the files that seemed to contain the story of the factory. I started
from the end because a sentence caught my attention: they were devising a plot
to frame someone for a fire. And my girlfriend was involved. I did not have time
to feel heartbroken because at that moment i heard a voice scream "Fire!"
It was me. All the time i had been spying people who were plotting to have me
spy them. All the time i had been trying to break into the offices of people
who were plotting to have me break into their offices. I was arrested. I was jailed. My girlfriend never came to see me. She sent me a letter."
The kid was tense. Perhaps he did not want to finish the story. But his audience now demenaded an ending.
I opened her letter. She had written only one sentence: "Forgive me for not having forgiven you".
The kid took a deep breath. "I was executed for that crime that i did not commit, and i will never know why me, and why her, and what she did not forgive me".
Magdalene seemed to have no doubt: "Love".
The Collector asked him: "And what are you doing here now?"
The kid stared at him as if someone had just asked him to repeat something he had already explained at length: "Now I am walking to Paradise. Isn't that where you are going?"
"This is indeed the road to Paradise", muttered the Watchmaker, ignoring Magdalene who had pointed in the other direction.
"Aren't you also going there?"
"Not quite. Yet. Let's say that we have not been invited. How did you find the way?"
"I didn't. I have been walking ever since."
"I just walked in a straight line. Surely all lines must lead to it".
"All roads are dead ends".
"Are we near?"
"I think so".
"What do you expect?"
As they advance in the tunnel, darkness pours in through the holes in the walls, like a giant mirror rising in front of them, engulfing everything and every thought.
"It is us".
They listen intently to all that nature tell them, to the feeble noises of the night. They have no choice but to believe what they hear.
That is the power of darkness: the belief.
And they keep walking because one truth that they believe
is that there is no darkness at all.
As their legs are whipped by rugged cables and their arms
are scratched by sharp sheets, and their cheeks are
scarred by frosty tentacles of plaster, and their feet sink
in pools of ashes, their eyes are closed. They open them
only to make sure that it is still dark, that nothing can
be seen. That the invisible cannot be seen.
Magdalene is nervous as she has never been. "We should hurry
before it is too late to fulfill a prophecy".
Ulysses was not paying attention. He was busy explaining his theory to the others.
"The universe splits all the time. We die all the time, but we are immortal too."
"If we were immortal, we would not be here" notices the Watchmaker.
"We live forever. The universe keeps splitting in all the possible outcomes of our actions. We often die but there are always many universes in which we survived. So we are always alive. We live forever, thinking that we shall die, while in reality we have died so many times already".
Magdalene was listening only to half of what Ulysses was saying, but was struck by the idea that she may have lived before: "Do things change so much from one life to another that one does not remember them?"
"Most things never change, because they change all the time; faster than one can name them"
The Collector explains the situation to the newcomer: "The oracle speaks to us all the time, but Magdalene is the only one who can hear him; and she is also the only one who pretends that he is not talking".
The Watchmaker stops and clarifies: "I do not believe in chance".
"Machines invented us".
Now they are all paying attention. The kid looks particularly skeptic: "Did they?"
"Of course. First came machines, then humans."
"And what next?"
"Machines again. I think we humans are merely a temporary setback."
"Why a setback?"
"We know who we are. We can look for him. He thinks of us, and we can search him out. This won't last. He'll get rid of us. They, the machines, will outlast us".
"He likes the machines better than us?"
"Machines can create us, we can't create machines."
"Yes. Machines create our mind that creates new machines. Trust me on this one. I know them. And I know us."
His scar glittered in the misty quiet of dawn.
It was the scar of an entire landscape, a fractal sculpted over and over
again in the rubbles of fossile buildings, multiplying as it seeped underneath
ever more irregular shapes.
The Collector now understood:
"So it was Magdalene who told you the route?"
"Yes, it was her idea. Many years ago."
"And then she forgot?"
"She always forgets."
"And you tried this already once?"
"More than once". The Watchmaker was staring staight at him in such a way that for a second the Collector thought he could see.
"And never went this far?"
"Once. Or twice. Hard to tell how far we are compared with the other times".
"How did she know where to go?"
"She forgot. But she knew. She was sure she knew the right route."
"And now she forgot again".
"But she told me".
"She told me the milestones along the way."
"I would rather not tell. I don't want you or anyone else to start racing against me to get there first".
"Can you at least tell me how many of those milestones we met so far?"
"Not the clock?"
"How do you know about the clock?"
"She told me".
Now it was the Watchmaker's turn to show surprise.
"We met before. She told me she was leading a blind man. And that there was a clock that he built, and he wanted to find it."
"Is that what she said?"
"That woman is a liar. I know where the clock is."
"So many of us have gone blind" said the Watchmaker to the Othello, the blind photographer.
"And it is always those who most need their eyes. Maybe God resents it and
takes away our eyes".
The kid asked him how he could judge his photographs if he could not see them.
"It is indeed frustrating that I carry the ultimate proof of my doubt,
but I cannot see it; that I know but I don't know. What is out there?
I doubt all. But then my camera, an extension of my eyes, has the answer.
My eyes can't see, but my camera can even photograph: see and remember
what was seeing, virtually forever. My friends tell me what i photographed,
which is always what i thought i was photographing. If i want to photograph
a creek, i shoot a picture in any direction. Then i ask my friends what
the picture shows, and they tell me it shows a creek. Do my friends lie to
me? How could they know what was in my mind? Or do things appear when i
point the camera? Or does a supernatural force aim my arm so that i take
the right picture? Or are my friends an invention of my imagination?
Or is my blindness an invention of my imagination? Or have I been here before,
and taken these pictures when i could still see? I doubt. I doubt all.
I only know that i take pictures of what i want to take pictures of.
When people ask me if i see the things that i photograph, i reply that
the things that exist ask me to be photographed. Are there things that
i do not photograph? I doubt it. They would ask."
Ulysses was moved by his story: "I wish i could lend you my eyes for a few minutes so you could see some of your photographs. Where are they?"
"I don't know. My friends don't tell me where they put them".
"And where are your friends?"
Othello did not want to answer.
"He killed them, don't you see? He killed them all" screamed the Soldier.
"Is it true? And how do you know, Soldier?" asked the Collector.
"I was one of them. He almost killed me when i told him that his photographs were all wrong: he never took a single photograph of any object. His camera did
Othello had turned away from the familiar voice.
The Collector took the blind man's head in his hands and turned it again towards them: "Did you kill them?"
"The man you call Soldier was not a soldier: he was an actor. He asked me
to take photographs of him. I took them. His dream was to become a poet, but he
was such a bad poet that he could make a living only as a clown in that costume.
He read his poems to me. Each of his poems celebrated a killing. He
is the one who killed all my friends. He tortured me with his poems. Each poem
described in detail how he killed them." His voice was breaking down.
Now everybody was turning to the Soldier, who simply shrugged: "Believe what
you want. I myself don't know what to believe anymore".
"I was made blind twice" said Othello.
Magdalene was running home.
The Soldier said: "She will be hurt again".
The Colletor asked: "Why doesn't He stop her?"
The Watchmaker stated in a firm tone: "He doesn't know that she is coming".
"Shouldn't he know everything?"
"Not necessarily. I don't think he knows how we end".
After a few seconds Ulysses whispered: "Do we end?"
The Watchmaker didn't answer. That was a simple question, wasn't it? Instead, he mechanically thought: "Qgy fogr vie". Something that didn't quite make sense in any of the languages he knew. Who was thinking that inside his own mind?
Othello: "We are all blind".
Kid: "Is this Paradise? Hello? Is anybody there? Is there anybody in Paradise?"
Ulysses: "I doubt we went so far that we cannot even answer ourselves".
Watchmaker: "I don't know how far we went, but we cannot go back. We could never find our way back."
Othello: "So we are prisoners in Paradise?"
Kid: "Why nobody answers me? Why everybody follows me and spies on me
but nobody answers me?"
Ulysses: "This is terrible. We lost our way. And we decided to call it Paradise".
Watchmaker: "Magdalene recognized it".
Soldier: "Magdalene was a prostitute, remember?"
Collector: "So what?"
Soldier: "She was a prostitute here. What she remembers is not Paradise, but her old brothel!"
Othello: "Don't trust him. He is mad."
Watchmaker: "Let's walk. Let's get to the end. It can't be too far now."
Ulysses: "There is no end".
They had gone in circles. And eventually they had reached the roof of the vault. They were approaching the pillar again, except that this time they were on the roof and the pillar didn't look so high anymore. They could see the face
of the Child.
They all noticed that there was no way the Child could get down even on the roof: "Someone must be throwing him food" said Magdalene.
The Watchmaker couldn't see but heard the descriptions. "I think i know where we are. We were so close and we didn't realize it".
"Where?" asked the Kid.
The Child had short hair but now they could see that it was a girl.
"Are you God?" asked the Watchmaker.
The Child was looking around nervously, as if worried that the visitors were a threat to his pillar. "I don't even think. I just look".
"Do you work for him?"
"Yes. He is there". And he pointed his finger to the horizon.
"Watchmaker, that is the direction where we have come from" said the Collector.
The Watchmaker was speechless. Whether he was thinking of agonizing, he had nothing more to ask the Child. It was the Collector's turn to ask questions.
"Can we talk to him?"
"It's an it, not a he."
"It's an automaton, a machine, not a human being".
"I was not expecting a human being. When you say... do you mean... it's only a way to describe it, right?"
"No, he is a machine."
The Collector's voice betrayed impatience: "Then who built it?"
"Nobody. It has always existed. God is a machine."
"I don't believe you".
"You will believe him".
("I am the controller who has exhausted all means of control and is now rejecting his own experience out of all the dreams and unfocused memories that have remained to build a sensible future that would or will determine the outcome of the game we have played against each other and that remains the very premise of any interpretation of the past that we have lived together and apart for the sake of being a God and its subjects even though neither truly believed in the other and each aimed at overthrowing the other in a way that would leave no witness and no claimant and utterly reduce reality to a scavenging monster alone as it plunges into the black hole of an eternity without spatial boundaries or meaning which is, after all, the whole point of not wanting to admit one's perspective and adapt it to the overall state of the universe in a spontaneous act of pagan rebirth and fulfilment that no believer can possibly attain by the innumerable proximities that line up the path to the blurred distance between you and me because ultimately you are a quality of being and i am a quality of not being").
"Why was the city left unbuilt?"
("I am the architect of the Unbuilt City that is not unbuilt but quite finished while peculiar in its own way that may surprise your mind because you have not been created to appreciate what will come after you but only what came before you and in fact may reflect much of your own doing on this planet that was planned before the thought of you even occurred to me and therefore remains largely a mental construct that was never meant to become a physical construct except for the need to drive you from the beginning to this end that was like everything else already contained in the beginning that you did not understand because of course there is nothing to understand that you could understand other than the fact that you cannot understand it").
"Who is this child?"
Nothing ever happened afterwards.
The characters never found God.
And God, apparently, kept thinking of them.
The rest of this novel never happened. It is only imagined.
Are there others?
"I think there are a few of them. They think of other things, not people."
Perhaps there is a god of all gods who does to them what our God does to us?
"Perhaps. If that is the case, the chain ends with us: we can't create any world."
Yes, we can. I just did.
"Fine. Then the chain ends with the characters that we create."
Maybe we still have to learn.
To create characters that are capable of creating their own worlds. Maybe it is not that we cannot. It is just that we haven't learned how to do it.
Magdalene shook her head. No, the voice kept repeating: "Fqb osyj kkx". And she knew it wasn't outside: it was inside, very much inside. So inside as she had ever ventured before. She was entering a zone that she had never mapped, despite the fact that she had reached it by following the map. The irony of her condition prompted her to comment: "Trp hghj loootib".
"Yes: only one?"
How do i know that i am not just one of my characters?
"You don't have the power to distinguish between life and art".
When you are dying, you can hear your heartbeat booming in the empty cavern of the universe.
"What is Time? The more i think of it, the more i become it."
Many characters have met their author, but he was perhaps the first author to meet his characters. Facing God like a boulder faces the gulch, he uttered a mellow "Forgive me for not having forgiven you". And then disappeared.
Magdalene handed him the map: "I will forget".
He took it and realized his eyes had just died.
The darkness that we are about to enter...
(is not any darker than the most blinding light).