Halfway done eating the apple, I remembered that the reason I was in that room, in that military complex, in a country immersed in and preoccupied by war, had to do with my parents being dead. I think it was precisely in that moment that for the first time I registered the abrupt and unchangeable reality of their departure. Of them not being there, or anywhere. No longer. You know I never liked them, that I spent years without any of my thoughts including them or anything about them. But until then I could have argued that there had been the dormant possibility of retaking any sort of relationship at some point, to give it another try, in a different, more civilized way, if everyone agreed to it. All the imaginable scenarios in which that could have happened were now gone. Again that sensation of looking down and understanding that there was no safety net below, my feet would have to keep treading carefully on the tightrope, step by step maintaining my gaze on the horizon, nothing to be accomplished by turning my head and looking behind me.
The door guarded by the soldier was opened from the other side as I was nibbling the last pieces of the apple around the core. A different soldier stepping from the darkness within the adjacent room mentioned my name and ordered me to go in.
I walked up to the threshold but I then stopped. The darkness that I had first perceived submerged the walls and the ceiling. In what seemed to be the center of the room, there was a massive oval table, twenty or so generals, or colonels, or such, sitting around it. There were several lights on the table, illuminating the faces, the mahogany nature of the table, and the papers and glasses scattered around, but not much else beyond the table.
I could clearly see the faces that were on the other side of the table. The people that had their backs towards me hadn’t turned their chairs around, only their heads, so the lights on the table being behind them, their faces were ashy, blurred by the slowly moving haze. I don’t recall seeing any of them puffing cigars or cigarettes, nor I recall smelling burned tobacco, but that seemed to be the logical source of the waving strands of smoke.
I threw the apple core inside a metal basket by the door and a bang that I didn’t expect reverberated in the room, startling me. If birds had been perched somewhere in the ceiling, they would have surely thrust into flight.
One of the generals that was sitting on the other side of the table introduced himself as General Otto Müller. He said that they were going to ask me a few questions if I didn’t mind. “Do you want a glass of water?” he asked me. I looked at the different faces. I didn’t like any of them. Fat, sweaty and vicious; distorted and unfriendly; white, angular and animalistic; intelligent but self-centered and dangerous; the worst one was that of Müller, the face of a patient fish, his eyes two strokes of bluish black. I give you that maybe it was just my subjectivity, the strange and menacing setting, and had they been civilians in a beer garden on a sunny day their faces would have been plain, safe, inconsequential.
I didn’t care for water. Another apple struck me as a more tempting option. “Some apple strudel wouldn’t be bad”, I said. Müller smirked very slowly, then looked at the soldier standing next to me and dismissed him with a nod. The soldier closed the door behind me, forcing me to move one step into the room, and disappeared for a moment into the darkness of the room until he opened another small door, which lightened the room during the second that took him to close that door in his way out. That soldier didn’t come back, and that day I didn’t eat any strudel.