Right before I stepped into the building, the only thing that I could see beyond the door frame was an indeterminate, foggy light, as if the moon were hanging at eye level and shrouded behind dense clouds. I thought that this was most likely a consequence of the haze filling up the streets. Once inside, as soon as I crossed the threshold, the darkness around the source of the light resulted so intense that that light, created by four stationary candles, and the scene by them illuminated became an attractant, a mesmerizing beacon that dragged me towards it. One immediately forgot about the remaining space beyond the light, about the impression that the room was a claustrophobic space, and that one would have to discover later on whether the room was larger than it seemed, or whether it was merely a decently-sized closet.
Two of the candles, thick and with generous pools of melted wax around the wick, stood at the extremes of a small, elongated table. The other two, much thinner and with more vivacious flames, were inserted in candlesticks attached to the wall behind the table.
A man was standing between the table and the wall. His face was covered with dry sand, emphasizing the wrinkled skin of one that has spent years exposed to the desert. His hands were resting on the table. A mere receptionist. He seemed bored and uninteresting. Not someone I would care to question in order to gather insights about Suicidio or any aspect of life.
Also behind the table but further away and to a side, a second man, sitting on a stool and reclined against the wall, with one leg crossed over the other. This second man was wearing black clothes, an ample hood like that of a monk over his head, shadowing his face to the point that I could not even determine if he was shaven or not. On his left chest there was a grimacing skull around a noose, both items embroidered in yellow if not in gold thread.
This was the first time that I saw a badge with the grimacing skull, although I had read about it in two separate interviews published in the section “Beyond SF” in The Bay Tribune. In one of those two interviews, the badge was simply mentioned in a long list of jumbled recollections about Suicidio. The other published interview was much more usable, containing very precise descriptions of several individuals involved in the running of Suicidio, including a person referred to as ‘the one in charge,’ and some workers, most of them with black clothing with a skull and a noose as an emblem. I must say that I have been judging that particular interview with some degree of skepticism, given that it also mentioned a cocktail that in an instant and painlessly would turn a man into a granite statue, as well as the notion that fire and sadness could be mixed together into a paste that would dissolve in water. Of course it is the reader’s endeavor to disentangle the truth from the exaggeration. Relativity, subjectivity, and the rest.
In any case, according to my information, the man in black clothes, perched on his stool with an air of transcendence, bearing that skull on his chest, was a Suicidio civil servant. It was difficult to tell because of the hood and the darkness around him, but he seemed to be looking at me without care, intensely, searching for the weak spot to launch a bite. What was his precise occupation, I wondered? A policeman would have been my guess. I never considered the necessity of law enforcers in a place where its temporary citizens were condemned by themselves to death. But there are always going to be some laws or interests that someone will want to have protected. It was very telling how little I could discover during my sustained months of research about the legal and administrative inner workings of Suicidio. Either an operation that ran so smoothly behind the scenes that no one paid any attention to it, or the result of a perfectly designed and orchestrated campaign of secrecy.
“What does bring you to Suicidio?” the standing man asked with a paused and monotone voice. He did not seem invested in the question, me, or himself.
I was ready to lie to him, displaying in all sorts of detail my fake pretension to pursue self-annihilation. I was ready to surrender my passport, to fill in all the required forms. I was ready to be interrogated or to expose my reasons if asked. In summary, I was ready to try my best to convince them about the fact that I had come here to be another lost soul in Suicidio. Before I could start articulating my lies, however, the worker in black muttered “You are a passerby, aren’t you?” He did not move either before or after uttering that question, thrown at me in such a definite tone that it did not seem to require any answer from my part.
His question took me by surprise, a direct punch that sank my plan with an astonishing immediacy. Please let me reiterate that my plan all along had indeed been to pretend that I had come to Suicidio to die. I had devised my story and rehearsed possible conversations in my head many nights after coming back from the university, also practising a series of saddened faces and retorts of my hands, following the instructions given to me by other students who were more taciturn and experienced in these matters than me, a likely consequence of their poorer upbringing or circumstances. I was going to say that my girlfriend had dumped me and that without her my life did not have any further meaning. Not the most dramatic, but one of the main reasons to commit suicide from the long, ordered, and annotated list that I have compiled after reading articles, interviews, novels, and having conversations with people from all strands of life. I was going to say that without my girlfriend’s love the only alternatives were either eternal pain or death. I needed them to believe my lie so that I could become an insider, instead of an observer from afar. Being an insider they would not ask the questions that would allow them to know that I was here to study their movements, to produce the most interesting analysis of Suicidio ever attempted. Also, being an insider would not bias so much the answers from my interviewees. Once people realize that they are being studied and not just in the middle of an unremarkable conversation they tend to become suspicious and to close up like a cockle.
One of the first things I would miss out by not being seen as a searcher of death was the upfront writing or rewriting of my will. You arrive to Suicidio and they take care of you. In return they simply want to receive all or most of the money that you leave behind. The reports that I have been accumulating indeed mention that “you need to register when you enter Suicidio” and that “Suicidio is mainly funded by cashing in the wills of the clients” (Sanders et al., 1883; but see Smith & Ramm, 1881). I find such an arrangement to be very fair. Death-seekers do not pay any fees before arriving to Suicidio or during their stay, independently of whether it lasts minutes or weeks, they only need to complete and sign a formalized will in which they surrender all their possessions to Suicidio in case of their demise within the confines of the city. Only if they obtain what they came to Suicidio in search of will they pay any money. And by then they are not around to care one way or another.
“If by a passerby you mean that I will eventually leave Suicidio all cognizant and beating, then, yes, I am,” I said.
“Can you pay for a room?” the man on the stool asked in a snappy manner. Such a deep voice too.
“Yes, of course I can.”
“Just give him a key and move him over,” he said to the other man, the one standing in front of the table.
“Room number six, top floor,” the standing man said without much of a delay, offering me a humid key and pointing at the stairs.
“Don’t you need my name at least, a glance at my passport?” I asked.
“We can do that tomorrow or when we have time for you. Right now we have clients coming,” the man on the stool said, indicating with his head my three fellow travelers, who were between me and the exit door, waiting in the dark.