There’s nothing out there. It is as if he finally reached the end of the world he had always imagined as a child. He used to struggle with the idea of infinity. How could that be possible? Everything must have an end. But when he tried to imagine such an end, he was perplexed. He imagined a huge brick wall stretching indefinitely in all directions. But, of course, the obvious question always arose: What lies beyond the wall? Now standing on his porch, staring out at the valley ahead, all he sees is a dark gray massif blotting out his entire field of vision, like his brick wall.
(Read The Combatant – #3)
This reminds him of the first time he went scuba-diving. It was during the “Skull”, the special operations course that changed his life. He could see absolutely nothing in those most polluted waters of Guanabara Bay. Those tourism postcard makers have certainly never been so deep in their contrived fantasies. Of course, it helped that it had rained the night before. All its small tributary rivers had discharged tons of mud, debris, and sewage into the bay, like the veins of a sick man collecting dead particles from his body and pouring them into his overburdened, dying heart. He could not see his own hand in front of his face just as he can not see the mountains ahead of him now — the expected visibility of both means gives meaning to the comparison.
This type of weather is common during Winter in the mountains. At night, the air near the surface of the Earth cools faster than the air above due to the reduced radiation from the sun. The denser and cooler air gets trapped under the warmer layer above, keeping most of the moisture close to the ground. A wall of fog is thus formed. When he stays at home, studying all day in his office, he likes to admire the recession of the fog as the day warms up: first, the air around him disappears as it is sucked in by the huge carpet of clouds that covers the valley ahead and below; then he observes how this false valley bottom of a velvet white climbs the surrounding mountains as if trying to reach the heavens and fuse with the true clouds above; he marvels as the winner of this first morning battle claims its victory — as it did with Icarus, the sun finally overcomes the mist, melting it into thin strips of translucent smoke that will soon disappear from the surface of the Earth, to never fulfill its intended destiny.
He resigns himself to blindness while drinking his coffee, and warms both hands with the mug, the right one holding it by the body, the left one hovering over the rim to get some of the steam. He resumes concentrating on the strange sensations he feels. There is something wrong with him, something palpable but evasive. Of course, there is a lot that is not right. He is forty years old and clearly facing “the crisis”. He saw his income shrink to a quarter of what it used to be before leaving the company. He has a daughter now, and no certainty in his future, or hers. The country, and especially Rio, is falling into an abyss of violence, corruption and vanity, reflecting the rotten souls of its inhabitants, reflecting his soul. Life is escaping through his fingers; time is running out quickly. Even so, there’s something else going on tonight. His usual demons seem to have asked for reinforcements.
Yeah. There she comes.
The immovable fog contradicts itself and whirls in front of him just enough to open a kind of broad tunnel of rarefied vapor. At the very end, he sees one of his greatest enemies, one who is always there but absent, nevertheless: the great mountain peak that lies southwest of his house, that bastard known as the “Great Witness”. Nothing of her raw granite skin can now be seen, nor the steep climbing routes that cut her like scars. Small sinuous crags appear as if they have been carved by blind chisels in the rock, but that happens only in his terrified mind, for his eyes see nothing but a bold, black, expressionless face that abrupts from the surrounding hills.
This mountain has symbolized his desire to climb ever since he bought his house five years ago — that was one of the reasons he did it. He was convinced that having such a magnificent rock facing him every day would force him to come back to climbing, something he longed for. The dormant mountain-man in him would finally wake up. He was sure he would never tolerate seeing that giant stone monolith standing there, unclimbed by him, mocking him. He would become a climber again.
Well, five years have passed and he has never been to the Great Witness. He did not climb his menacing vertical walls or walked on his approaching slope — he doesn’t even know how to get to the trailhead by car. Instead of a token of his climber spirit, it now represents his utter lack of courage, a constant reminder of his unspoken resignation to be just a distant admirer, a dreamer rather than a doer. Nowadays, as he wanders through his balcony — the usual path to his workplace in the first floor — he always avoids looking at the mountain. Like a fat woman and a mirror, he pretends she does not exist. If he could, he would gladly crush her to the ground and seize the seven years of bad luck as a great deal in return for a lifetime of shame. If he could, he would pray to the gods to pour unlimited rain and blow up voracious winds until that stubborn protuberance was washed away from the face of the earth and made submissive like the hills around her. But he does not pray; and the mountain will not go away.
He looks at his nemesis as if he were petrified with horror; the horror of a little boy scared of the monster in the closet, hoping helplessly that it would not leave its abode. This is not just a mountain, but the fulfillment of all his childhood fears, like those legends that gain veracity and persuasion over time. He wished she would yell at him, openly challenge him to a fight or start shooting him at once — that would be something he is already accustomed to. But that somber face does not even bother to look at him anymore; it simply ignores his presence with contempt. He longs for the fog to return and absorb this shadow-mountain into its indistinct mass, making it disappear from his sight.
But that does not happen. It just stands there, impassive, a dark herald signifying evil omens by its pure presence.
Humiliated, with renewed pessimism and gloomy forebodings accompanying him, he regains some of his courage and begins to walk towards his car, defeated. He ditches his mug in the sink by the kitchen window, now disgusted by the bitter taste of the plain black coffee he likes so much. He picks up the backpack he had left the night before on the floor by the back door. He starts the car and, with quick, jerky movements, maneuvers the manual clutch and the heavy wheel to descend the ramp that connects his garage to the road below. As he walks away from a house that gradually fades into the mist, he has only one blunt certainty: he has to climb the Great Witness. But instead of going to the heavens toward his desires, he descends to that hellish city toward his obligations, in a spiral that seems to have no end.