There’s a guy hanging from a tree in the main plaza. The rope around his neck is not tied with the hangman’s knot. It is loose, so the guy has to struggle for the rope to stay where it should be. After several hours of hanging there, I get close to check if he wants some help. I say “good afternoon”, but he doesn’t answer. He keeps his head down and his eyelids closed, swinging from side to side like if he were dead. “I don’t want to be importunate, pal, but, you need any help? I can bring a latter and help you to get down from there.” I say while I take my glasses off and clean the lenses, so the guy doesn’t feel observed.
“I’m fine” he says.
“Sure? You have been hanging there for a while, and I assure you that you ain’t going to die, it doesn’t matter how long you stay there.”
The guy opens his eyes and sighs. “It’s a shame to hear that” he claims.
“That’s an inexpert knot. Want me to teach you to make a real hangman’s noose?”
“Can your knot kill me?”
“No, it can’t.”
“I guess I’m not interested, then. Thanks”
I nod and turn my back to him.
“Oh no” I say aloud.
“What is it?” asks the hangman.
“There, on that building’s roof. There’s another newcomer like you”.
“Is he going to jump?”
“Yeah, he is. Every day some people jump. Even old residents do it from time to time. Trying to find a way to feel some emotion again. And what’s more exciting than jumping from a building?” I say looking at the stranger, the newcomer at the distance, on the roof.
“Does it work? Can jumping produce any emotion?” the hangman inquires behind me.
“No at all. Nothing does” this is bad news after bad news. “Anyway, that’s why we came here, no?” I claim “To run away from emotions and conflicts. Well, we can’t feel a thing here.”
This is a damn nightmare, but that is not what I want to tell to my new friend, the hangman. There’s nothing here left for us. I don’t want to discourage him and, at the same time, encourage him with his unsuccessful suicide attempts. I don’t want to tell him we can’t be hungry here, nor can we feel cold, nor heat, fatigue, drowsiness, nothing. Here nothing is needed. Even the small pleasures of life, like those relieving visits to the restroom – where the big issues that hunted you become so insignificant for a few seconds, while all the universe around you turn to joy – were taken away from you, with no mercy and so drastically it was hard to remember the last time you get some satisfaction out of the tiniest achievement.
This is worse than death, or the life we were escaping from. And then, the stranger on the roof jumps from the building. He falls for a slight second through the emptiness and wildly crashes against the concrete. He pulls himself up and looks in every direction confused and maybe ashamed. The poor bastard is still standing there and he doesn’t even know why. He just wants to die, but he can’t. He’s already dead. I mean literary dead.
“Poor guy. He already realized he can’t kill himself.” The hangman says.
“You only die once.” I say glancing at him.
“He’s going to do it again” he says seeing the stranger walking back inside the building.
“Maybe he is going to jump the whole afternoon. Some of them do it for days. They jump over and over again until they feel stupid and, then, they start to pretend they have a life, we all do that. They act like they were busy, reading something, going somewhere. When I arrived, you could still see Virginia Woolf jumping from bridges, but not anymore.” I comment looking back to the hangman’s eyes.
“Virginia Woolf is here?”
“Everyone who took his own life is here, my friend. It doesn’t matter how famous or important you are.”
“What about Ernest Hemingway?”
“Wow. Can one ask him for an autograph?”
“There are no pencils, nor paper. Anyway, the master Hemingway doesn’t like to be bothered by strangers. He only hangs out with other famous writers. Sylvia Plath. Vladimir Mayakovsky. David Foster Wallace.”
“Who’s David Foster Wallace?”
“Another writer. He hanged himself. He’s a good guy. You can see him sometimes walking around by himself, wearing his bandana, when he’s not with his group of suicide writers, who, by the way, can’t write anymore.” I say it as if it was a joke, but the hangman doesn’t laugh.
There are some people in the plaza this afternoon. They stay standing static or sited emotionless, with their impassive faces, pretending they can’t see us, because is too embarrassing to witness those persistent suicides hanging from trees and jumping from buildings. Like if they’re any different. Cowards. We all are a bunch of freighted cowards trying to cover our fears with cheap philosophy or behind some honor code.
There you have the samurais taking their lives by opening their stomachs with their swords, taking control of their death before losing it to their enemy’s hands, or to atone for some aggravation to their code. And now we have hundreds of honored Japanese guys cloistered in their own endless tedium, trapped in this immovable state of boredom, along all of us. We all are here, missing the problems we killed ourselves for, wishing a little bit of necessity. Forgetting what the satisfaction of achieving something feels like, whatever.
“Which other celebrity is around here?” the hangman asks me.
“All of them.” I tell him. Once I saw Marilyn Monroe, with her beautiful face and combed hair, completely naked in the street. Exposing her thin and perfect body to everyone, with a look desperately off. And it was like a filthy tramp was exhibiting herself. Nobody wanted to see her. And she stood there, perfect and beautiful, in a street, being ignored by all the dead. Nobody feels lust here. Monroe’s beauty is as pleasing as trash on the floor. Her pretty face doesn’t mean anything to anybody, it doesn’t awake anything. She was there naked and it was as pathetic as all those idiots hanging from trees and jumping from buildings.
“Can I ask you something?” says the hangman.
“Why did you take your own life?”
I stare at this guy’s face, who doesn’t stop swinging, and I tell him “I don’t remember”.
Maybe the only real thing we can feel is shame. Only that. Heavy shame of knowing we were defeated. We allow ourselves to lose and preferred to cut our wrist open. That is why the only stories you hear from people here are about that they killed themselves due to all the suffering they endured in life. Torture and abuse for years, they say. They talk about pain and dark dungeons. They deny having known affection or sunlight. Nobody ever is going to tell you that they took their life because they run out of money to pay the mortgage, or because the stock market collapsed, because they couldn’t found meaning to live, or because they were just sad. I mean, thousands of people survive wars and famine, holocausts and disasters, and we killed ourselves because we felt lonely.
The hangman stays quite wondering for a while and says “I’m not sure, but I think I killed myself because I didn’t like my job. Hopefully, it doesn’t sound as pathetic as I think.”
I tell him I have heard worse.
The hangman nods and says “Alright, help me to get down from here.”