When I spend evenings at home, I enjoy going for a walk after dinner. I live in a small village and I always follow the same paved country road, used by the farmers to get to their fields: firstly, I don’t have to think where to go and, secondly, the tarmac keeps my feet dry and my house mud-free when it rains.
Recently, much to the general disgust of the village’s old-timers, myself amongst them, a few new houses were built on that road as an unwelcome addition to the commune. Yet the general enmity towards the building site and the bulldozers digging out the few dying but nevertheless picturesque apple trees, was quickly replaced by the intense curiosity about the imminently arriving inhabitants of the newly formed street. Thus my customary walk was now animated by some clumsy attempts to sneak sidelong spying glances in the direction of the home-creating efforts undertaken by the brave “frontier“ settlers of our village in the design of their respective houses and gardens.
One day, while trying to pretend that I was looking at the countryside up ahead, I craftily detected a man standing on the terrace of his house. He did not seem particularly noteworthy in any respect: neither young nor old; not particularly good looking, but neither was he especially ugly; he was neither fat nor skinny, perhaps slightly round about the waist, which appeared appropriate for his middle age. He was looking thoughtfully over his neatly dug veggie patch, doubtless contemplating what to plant there.
There was nothing remarkable about the man, except for his suddenly dapper leather hat, which was way too elegant for the task of keeping the sun away from his head while gardening, and looked completely out of place in the rural setting, being way too hot and heavy to wear in the summer.
The next time that I was passing that house and pretending that I was not looking, the same man was sitting on his terrace, reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar. It was already evening, and the sun was sinking gradually behind the mountain. Also, the man’s armchair was in the deep shade provided by a big awning. Still, he was wearing the same hat.
After I had passed the house I could not shake the impression that there was something not quite right in the whole set-up. I also had the hint of an unpleasant feeling that his eyes were following me from the moment that I came into his line of vision and until I completely left it. I decided to dismiss both sentiments as flights of my own silly fancy, the workings of an overactive imagination.
And yet, since that evening every time I walked past the house, the feeling of somebody staring after me was getting stronger and stronger; the man was always there, always with that dapper hat of his covering the top of his head.
A couple of times I saw him driving up to the house in the evenings. Every time he was wearing the hat.
Other times I spied him indoors, which was easily done in the dusk when the inside lights were already switched on but the curtains were still not shut … the hat was still on his head!
One day, I was strolling past his house and felt almost cheated, for there was nobody on the terrace and the whole place looked empty and locked up. Still, it was a quiet, warm and beautiful evening, the sunset over the mountains was particularly spectacular and the crescent moon was breathtakingly delicate … Naturally, my walk stretched somewhat longer than usual.
By the time I made it back to the street where the man in the hat lived, its spick and span new houses with their immaculate lawns and meticulously arranged flower beds and veggie patches were made almost unreal, doll-like by the night, and when I finally reached the house I noticed a car in the drive and the man in the hat inside it. He had just switched the car’s engine and its headlights off and did not see me walking up. He opened the door and so as to get out of the driver’s seat without bumping his head on the door frame, he ducked … and … knocked his hat … off …
I knew the man was not aware of my presence, so, unhindered by the necessity of pretense and spurned by an insatiable curiosity, I looked …
Where the top of the head was supposed to have been, there was nothing, a black hole, a void; a cold, terrifying, relentless, uncompromising and inevitable death. It was the definition, the nature of the absolute, final non-existence, countless billions of dead worlds and universes. Horrified, I saw it spilling onto what used to constitute the face under the hat and I felt its pull and I was sucked up by the whirlpool of dark abyss, fed to the despair of the eternal non-being. And I searched and searched for eons, and nowhere that I looked could I find the tiniest spark which I could call “I”.
Next, I saw the body attached to the murky vacuum effortlessly backing out of the car and starting to turn towards me in a slow dance.
I must have whimpered, for the thing quickly put his hat back on. The familiar nondescript man in a dapper hat looked at me and I heard a polite