The Slight Difference Between Leaving and Running Away
By Andrés Neuman
My grandfather took off all his clothes, one by one, until he was naked. He looked at his sick, skinny and yet upright body. Like him, the bathroom mirror had lost brightness over the years. Above the mirror was a forty-watt bare lightbulb. My grandfather folded his clothes with care and left them on the seat of the toilet. He stopped for a moment, with his woollen slippers hanging from his index fingers, and decided to take them out to the corridor. Then he locked the door from the inside.
It wasn’t cold. Naked, for a moment, he felt much more comfortable. Then he felt shame, and turned the two taps. The tiles began to mist over. My grandfather put his hand into the water and waggled it around. He adjusted the temperature a few times. He sat on the edge to wait.
The jets of water stopped disturbing the surface. The water changed from murky to clear. Slowly, my grandfather put one foot in and then the other, he cautiously tested the water with his buttocks. He ended up sitting, with his knees bent and his arms around his legs. He sighed. Remote episodes came to his memory: a child in shorts on His face was distorted, his eyes were inflamed and his hair had turned into a jellyfish; but he was still breathing. a bicycle, delivering bread; a fat lady, lying on a bunk, giving him orders and demanding breakfast; a tall, blond man, vaguely foreign, stroking his head down on the quay of the port; a giant red, white and black boat disappearing from sight; green, open countryside, a house without a fireplace; a small library that an upright boy consulted at night, in the midst of the fat lady’s cries; an unattended funeral, an enormous coffin; a different house, with more light, a beautiful young girl smiling at him; a child in shorts, on a bicycle, who would never have to deliver bread at dawn; another girl studying in the kitchen; a factory, dozens of nameless shadows and a few kind faces; a boy and a girl, now without bicycles, without notebooks; a wedding; another wedding; an empty house, less light; a companion voice, calming; the identical walks of identical mornings; a bittersweet peace; the consulting room of a clinic; a doctor saying nonsensical things; an old lady going out to do the shopping; a rectangular envelope, addressed by hand, in blue ink, on the table of the living room; a naked old man, curled up in a ball, covered by still water.
Nothing could be heard, except for the light dripping of one of the taps. He counted drip by drip up to ten, to twenty, thirty, he counted fifty, a hundred drips. He unfurled his arms and, with his hands on his head, he leant backwards until he felt the marble bottom on his back. Under the water, amid murky reflections, my grandfather sealed his lips so that the air wouldn’t escape from his mouth and he forced himself to remain motionless.
But then something unforeseen happened. Something that I have imagined: suddenly, my grandfather sat up energetically and began to gasp. His face was distorted, his eyes were inflamed and his hair had turned into a jellyfish; but he was still breathing. No image came to his mind this time. He was alone with the water, with the taps, with the tiles, with the bathtub, with the steam and the mirror, with his naked body. I know that, at that moment, gasping and alone, my grandfather must have had the trace of a half-smile and a last well being. That was the slight difference.
It was then, yes, that he sealed again his lips and his eyelids, he leant back until he felt the marble, and my grandfather ceased to be my grandfather.