They stopped before cell number 38. The guard opened it, carefully inspected the little barred window up high, the pitcher and the empty shelf, then without a word slammed the door behind the young man who stood for a while in the middle of the cell, still holding his things.
It was a small cell, but it had two beds with barely enough room to pass between them and two chairs made of unpainted fir.
The time passed rather quickly until lunchtime. He measured the length and width of the cell, examined the meager items in it and the small piece of gray wall that could be seen through the high window. Then he sat and thought about who would be put with him in the other bed. These thoughts were filled with fear and hope, but they all ended with fear. Prison hopes are quickly kindled, but quickly die out.
When lunch was over and the dishes had been removed, his first afternoon in solitary confinement began. After his attention had rapidly and greedily picked up and consumed everything this shabby cell had to offer, he began to examine and consume his own self.
He listened to the humming in his ears for a long time. This buzzing seemed to get louder, grow, and at times he had the impression it would turn into a specific sound, maybe a human word. He concentrated his attention more and more, his expectations grew brighter and just when it seemed the crucial point had been reached and the word would appear, the humming suddenly dropped back to a monotonous, hopeless buzzing that said nothing. This painful rise and fall of his titillated hearing repeated every once in a while. But the miracle did not happen.
His other senses started to enter the game. His eyes in particular. They dropped to his hands resting on his knees. He observed the blood vessels, nails, wrinkles, particularly those going around the wrist like double, tightly knit little chains. The emptiness started the same game with his eyesight that the silence had with his hearing. Staring at those hands resting on his knees, he began to think that they belonged to someone else and hoped they would become detached and fill the space in front of his eyes with new, extraordinary, delightful movements, thus dispelling the loneliness and tedium. He looked at them in fascination, they seemed to move slowly, detaching themselves. His hopes rose wildly. There, now the hands of another human being were going to move of their own accord! But just when his imagination was about to make it happen, his captivated gaze returned to reality: all that lay before him were his familiar hands, attached to him and imprisoned with him. He moved his fingers weakly, like half dead insects. The very next moment his eyes stared fixedly and fogged over, and once again the brief illusion would begin, condemned in advance to hopeless failure.
The prisoner first caught sight of the sun on these motionless hands. Not the sun itself, since it never reached his cell, but its rosy, distant, indirect reflection. The great African sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea, which he had watched as a free man three months ago, was nothing compared to this barely perceptible glow. He spread his fingers a little. He raised his face towards the window, as though that window were the invisible sun.
“There is only one sun. It is the same everywhere.”
He said it to himself, enthralled, and his words immediately turned into song, his face transforming into the delighted, smiling grimace of a man inundated and blinded by bright, unbearable sunlight, leaning on the railing of a ship, singing.
He could not see the sea and towns, the mountains and fields. But this was not necessary. He had everything, everything was close, familiar and feasible, because he had glimpsed the sun. This sun was no longer the large, bright disc that had accompanied him through the city streets to the prison door. No, what he knew to be the sun now and called the sun was this invisible and quotidian, restless and trembling flow that filled and set in motion each little part of his body and everything around him, even lifeless things. The sun – liquid and sound and breath all at the same time, tasting like wine and fruit, constantly in movement with the heat of fire and the freshness of water, and most important of all, inexhaustible and bountiful – the sun.
“Only the sun exists,” he said to himself as though drunk, thinking these words could be sung like a song.
Yes, indeed, only the sun exists, and everything that lives, breathes, crawls, flies, glows or blossoms is only a reflection of that sun, only one of the forms of its existence. All beings and all things exist only to the extent to which their cells carry a reserve of the sun’s breath. The sun is shape and equilibrium; it is consciousness and thought, voice, movement, name.
He knew this clearly and without any doubt now, better than anything he had known before in his life. That is what he found at the bottom of the dark and humid cell in which he was imprisoned, even though innocent. And this made him quiver like a string and feel the need to sing always the same thought and the same melody, but he didn’t know whether out loud or inaudibly.
Oh, universe, what is found in your lofty heights, unknown, free and spacious beyond that heavenly blue membrane, when such a treasure of knowledge is hidden in a wretched human prison! And what do the celestial nebulae and comets that cross the sky hold inside, when this wretched, starving human body in dank shadows, beaten and afraid, can develop such passion and ecstatic joy!
The greatest wonder, indeed, was that this body, burdened by great illusions and tremendous passion, remained fairly balanced and was able to overcome the irresistible need to fly and scream; instead of screaming, by means of some strange and also sunny counterbalance, it kept itself from dispersing in a soundless explosion like the sunny gold dust that disappears in the sunlight.
From time to time he felt the entire sun burning and shining in his bowels and his diaphragm rising and undulating like a flame, this internal radiance streaming out of his eyes, his nostrils, all his pores. Then he had painful and wonderful moments of great irrepressible, flowing laughter that bubbled out of him like molten gold, so powerful that he opened his mouth wide like a singer, lest he suffocate or burst. And the sun continued to shine inside him, almighty and unparalleled, inexhaustible, bountiful.
He was roused from this rapturous state by rattling keys and the click of the lock. Water was being distributed to the cells. It was time to sleep. He had not even noticed that his cell was already dark. Just then, high above him on the ceiling, the light bulb in its wire netting suddenly turned on as though all by itself. He quickly undressed and lay down in the left bed. Everything looked gentle and good. He slept soundly, dreaming endlessly of the shining sun and some powerful, strangely dressed people bowing to the sun. Around them was a vast herd and heavy loaded wagons, sagging and creaking under the weight of the rich harvest.
The next day at dawn, the cold and gloomy dawn, when he was wakened by the sharp, cold sound of the prison bells, he wondered without pain and bitterness why the night was full of the sun and opulence and the morning was gray, poor, without sunrays and daylight.