THE SUICIDE’S ROOM*
I. The Room
You might think the room was small. So small, the air so heavy, as to trouble the mind, stifle dreams?
Wrong. The room was fairly large, approximately 3 x 4 meters; enough space to accommodate two persons. The walls were made of bricks and wood, the white paint stained and peeling. The ceiling was high enough to hang dreams and daydreams from. The marble floor was clean; smooth and firm underfoot. There were two windows of almost the exact size with blue curtains, one on the right and other to the left of the door. Above one of the windows were two carved wooden plaques beatings the names of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman.
You might think the room was empty; so bare as to feel deserted. Wrong. There was a lamp, bright enough to ward of gloom; large enough to illuminate all corners of the room. There were two wooden chairs with solid backs; strong enough to bear the weight of one or two people.
There was also a wooden cupboard in one of the corners of the room. And inside this cupboard there were three hats, and an umbrella, and clothes for all kinds of weather, hot, cold, dry or rainy. A mirror hung on the wall next to the cupboard, a mirror that dutifully reflected everything, all of the things there, including the nameplates carved with the names of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman. A calendar hung next to the mirror, with dates marking days, that marked the coming and going of daylight and darkness.
There was also a moderately sized divan, a blanket and a mattress comfortable enough to stretch out on to expel weariness, in morning, noon, and night.
You might think there were no books, no drawings or paintings, or anything of note. Wrong. In one corner of the room there stood a bamboo bookcase filled with books about the moon, the sun, stars, love, dreams, hope, and journeys. And there was a table bearing a wallet, a cellular telephone, and a photograph in a shiny lacquered rattan frame (everyone in the picture smiling), as well as a small sculpture of a bird, a plastic glass, a pencil holder full of pens, and a number of pale yellow sheets of paper. A key dangled from the drawer in the table, which contained an agenda. You would never guess the names and addresses to be found in it.
II. The People
You might think there were no people around. No conversations. You might think he had no relatives, no friends, or acquaintances, so that he would have become unbearably burdened by loneliness and isolation. You might assume this place, this building, this room had been abandoned and ignored, to the point where anyone staying there would have despaired.
Wrong. Toward the front of that room, a man and a woman—maybe husband and wife, or lovers, or simply good friends—were speaking quietly, perhaps trying to work out the sequence of what had happened there. In another room, to the left of that room, a number of people were busy making arrangements for the body of the deceased. In still another room, three or four people could be heard softly speaking to one another about the demise. In still another room beneath that room, more voices could be heard in conversation; guessing what could have precipitated this event. From outside, perhaps from a place of worship, repeated announcements of the death could be heard.
Beside the body, a woman, her eyes swollen from weeping, embraced the corpse again and again, wailing her reluctance to be left behind. Two adolescent children sat embracing one another on the divan. Several people in uniforms stood in a corner of the room, their faces ashen, melancholic and gloomy, as if they had suffered a great loss. Other people, both men and women arrived in a steady stream; perhaps to confirm the departure. You might certainly know why the weeping woman continuously embracing the corpse, the two sobbing teenagers, and the relatives or friends or acquaintances who kept filing in were reluctant to accept this loss. Surely you comprehend why they gathered around the deceased.
III. The Face of the Dead
You might think that he had been under enormous pressures. That so many things had been pressing down on him. You might think he had been facing insurmountable problems. You might think he had been shaken by a grief so deep that he felt driven to end his life. But what about his face? His eyes? His lips? There was a faint smile on his lips—you can’t help wonder what that smile could means.
His eyes were not wide open. Nor were the lids clenched shut as if he felt stressed, or afraid, or under pressure of any kind. His eyes, which has once connected him with the world, were thin slits; slightly open. You might probably wonder what thoughts, and whose faces, might have once been reflected there.
IV. The Door
Had he felt cornered? As if there were no door to escape through? But what about the door in the room? That door was not locked, it was wide open, and there was no bolt, latch or wooden crossbar to bar the way in. There was also nothing that would have hindered an exit. The door was wide enough for two people to pass through at once. It was easy to enter or exit the room, or to move from one room to another.
No place to go? The door led to nowhere? Wrong. A right turn from that doorway led to a staircase down into the unfenced yard in front of the building, which was open to the street. He could have chosen to take any of the small or larger streets that led off to the north, the west, the south, or the east.
A left turn from that doorway would have taken him down another stairway made of wood and bamboo into a good-sized room, from which he could have gone outside through a number of corridors and narrow halls that would have led out into a large field behind the building. From there, he could have chosen any number of streets, both wide and narrow, to stroll down for a breath of fresh air, or simply for a change of scenery.
V. The Window
Nothing he could have done? Nothing to hope for? But what about those two windows with the blue curtains? Those two windows—both wide open, with the curtains tied back—allowing a view of other than the interior; a view of the space outside the room.
From the left window the view afforded a glance at a number of people; builders putting up a structure of some kind. Also a view of a garden with mango, rambutan, guava, and banana trees in blossom; a promise of fresh fruit to come. Also a view of rice fields ready for the harvest; and a grazing field, there we can saw many goats were mating—with the expectation that a few months would yield their offspring.
The window on the right opened onto a vast horizon split by a wide road that offered a myriad of branches in all different directions; some into the city, and others leading elsewhere; wherever he could have possibly wanted to go. Along the road, a small river ran serenely that could have carried him to the sea.
The windows were wide enough to have allowed entry or an exit out into the fresh air and sun. You could say that even without the lamp, whether in the morning, at noon or at dusk, these windows would have let light into every corner of the room.
VI. Table, Pen, and Paper
You would think that there should have been some notes left behind to tell us something. Something noted down to tell us what led to this event, something that would help us to draw some sort of conclusions. So, what if I tell you that there was absolutely no message of any kind left behind? The agenda in the drawer contained only names, addresses, telephone numbers, and work schedules. And the pale yellow sheets of paper on the desk were empty; clean and clear of any mark. His clothing also yielded no clues. There were a few currency notes in his shirt pocket, some name cards in a back pocket of his trousers, and a key in one of his front pants pocket.
I'm sure you must think that the event has been determined. I'm sure you thought the incident was already confirmed. But what if there is no determination? No clear signs to confirm any specific occurrence? The calendar hanging beside the mirror bore only the usual information of days and dates printed over the top of a sky-scope of clouds and the sun. There were no marks, no highlighter circles around any given date, nor any notes about any particular planned event, or anything expected to happen.
You might think that there should have been some reason for all of this, or something that would tell us why. Perhaps you think there must be some explanation? You might think that there was a suppressed or hidden cause of some sort, a trigger, some reasons, or at least an excuse, that he could have written down on a scrap of paper, or in a letter he could have slipped into an envelope to explain things he could never say to friends or acquaintances, like perhaps: “Life is like a stop for a drink on a long journey,” or “Life is just a delayed defeat, alienated us from primary school loves. And there is always something we will leave unsaid out, before we finally surrender.” Perhaps you think that there must be some reason that would answer all of the questions.
But what happens if I would say that there were no reasons discovered at all? What if there really was no reason given? There was no envelope found, no scrap of paper, nothing to provide an excuse or a reason. And he never left any kind of message with any of his relatives, friends, or acquaintances. In the midst of all the wailing and weeping, the two children murmured, as if to one another: “He never said anything; he never told us anything.” The uniformed men mumbled almost inaudibly to themselves: “He never said he planned anything like this.” And between her sobs, the woman said more to herself than anyone else: “He was always so open. He never kept secrets.”
Certainly you—and I as well—feel that all of this would be a bit easier to bear if only there had been some excuses, some precipitating causes, or some reasons that could be found, some answers to all of these questions as to why he left this life without even saying “Goodbye.”***
The short story above is a variation on Wislawa Szymborska's poem, "The Suicide's Room", in Wislawa Szymborska, “View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems”, Faber and Faber: 1996, pp. 122-123.
Wislawa Szymborska won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Here is the poem:
The Suicide's Room
I'll bet you think the room was empty.
Wrong. There were three chairs with sturdy backs.
A lamp, good for fighting the dark.
A desk, and on the desk a wallet, some newspapers.
A carefree Buddha and a worried Christ.
Seven lucky elephants, a notebook in a drawer.
You think our addresses weren't in it?
No books, no pictures, no records, you guess?
Wrong. A comforting trumpet poised in black hands.
Saskia and her cordial little flower.
Joy the spark of gods.
Odysseus stretched on the shelf in life-giving sleep
after the labors of Book Five.
with the golden syllables of their names
inscribed on finely tanned spines.
Next to them, the politicians braced their backs.
No way out? But what about the door?
No prospects? The window had other views.
lay on the windowsill.
And one fly buzzed---that is, was still alive.
You think at least the note could tell us something.
But what if I say there was no note---
and he had so many friends, but all of us fit neatly
inside the empty envelope propped up against a cup.