I arrived shortly after noon. Not being used to travelling on foot, it had taken me a little longer to reach my destination (which would turn out to be my destiny): the secluded and much sought-after place in the woods that can be seen neither by the bird in the sky, nor by the frog on the ground.
Admission to the legendary structure is strictly by invitation only, and I had memorised the map showing the route from the train station to the edge of the forest, visualising as knots and loops in a string of black lamb’s wool the almost-musical sequence of steps and turns that were to take me to the gates of the mansion (yes, I imagined a stately manor, a mixture of a nineteenth-century industrialist’s Parisian residence, and a Prussian philosophy professor’s country house, with an international staff of servants from the former European empires and their colonies, headed by a married couple in their mid-fifties — an Englishman with a slight speech impediment he made up for by substituting words with graceful and well-practised hand gestures, and his green-eyed Russian spouse), from where I would be guided into the building itself.
As it turned out, I was received at the gate, not by a human servant, but by a small dog of uncertain breed: a long-bodied, short-legged little thing with a bushy, coiled tail and ragged, shiny fur that made it appear permanently wet, and a head so big it would have made any wolf proud. But it was only when my “guide” had, in typical canine fashion, motioned for me to follow it, and had already ushered me into the grand hallway on the other side of the gate, that I realised I couldn’t remember having seen the outside of the building I was now inside. For, after unravelling the ball of black yarn I had dutifully kept in a secure place in my memory, and having carefully counted out all the steps and turns its many knots and loops were reminders of, my manoeuvres had taken me deep into the kingdom of firs, pines and spruce trees. I had come to a place where the vegetation was so thick it made a green wall of itself – a living, rustling façade I hadn’t recognised as the outer walls of my destination.
Without a single ‘woof’, and with just the occasional glance back over its shoulder, the confusingly-shaped dog escorted me up a dark and twisted stairway, along many narrow and dusky corridors that only seemed to lead to narrower and duskier ones, then up another contorted and gloomy stairway. And, after a lot more walking up, up and up, turning one way, then the other, it suddenly showed me into the legendary room I had – with much effort and over long distances – come to enter: the inimitable Salon des Amateurs.
Once the animal had used its broad-nostrilled nose to nudge the heavy door behind me closed, I was rendered speechless. My breath became so shallow that it didn’t allow me to make a single utterance – neither a shout of wonder, nor a muffled sigh of awe – for I was immediately taken aback by the room’s size (how small it was!), and the large number of finely interwoven consonants and vowels my predecessors had left behind within its walls as contributions to its purpose, offerings to our common cause, and testimonials about themselves.
The countless words which the previous visitors to the Salon des Amateurs had produced in their minds, and made audible with the vocal apparatuses their mouths and throats had held from birth (or which they had made visible with their hands, like my imagined Englishman) swam around like particles of dust within the five walls of the space, briefly illuminated as they drifted through a ray of blue daylight that was let in by a slit in the curtains and cut the heavy darkness like a razor slicing black silk. I moved closer to the seductive swirl of glowing dots and put my left ear up to it.
These “voices” were so tiny that it was as if I wasn’t just hearing them, but perceiving them with all my senses at the same time, as if each oscillating, high-frequency particle floating past my ear registered as an image in my mind, and this image brought forth a sentence – a statement – I could “hear” with my “mind’s ear”:
“We are amateurs at breathing. We are amateurs at walking. We are amateurs at naming colours. We are amateurs at rubbing our noses. We are amateurs at grunting. We are amateurs at twisting hair locks. We are amateurs at drinking mango juice.
We are amateurs at swimming. We are amateurs at watching sunsets. We are amateurs at waking up in the morning. We are amateurs at biting our nails. We are amateurs at spotting extraterrestrials. We are amateurs at sneezing. We are amateurs at inventing words.
We are amateurs at twirling our fingers. We are amateurs at tying green ribbons. We are amateurs at catching cold. We are amateurs at drawing a horse. We are amateurs at being drawn by horses. We are amateurs at curling our toes. We are amateurs at growing.”
I was filled with joy. The roundelay that was being played by the microscopic entities in the pentagonal room was a song I had waited all too long to hear. At last I was in the company of my equals, as far from the maddening pressures of professional life as I could possibly imagine.
“We are amateurs at singing out loud. We are amateurs at boiling an egg. We are amateurs at throwing dice. We are amateurs at smiling. We are amateurs at banging pots and pans. We are amateurs at playing with ourselves. We are amateurs at moving a chair from the hallway to the bedroom.”
And then it happened. The “amateur particles” were drawn towards my body like iron filings to a magnet. I was filled with a tingling sensation, an unquenchable nameless longing mixed with laughter and dread, comparable only to the emotion that united my body and soul the moment I first experienced an orgasm with another person. They settled on my shoes and clothes; they lined up along each and every hair on my head; they covered the skin on my face and hands, all the time adding to the long list of things we are born to do with as much love and care as possible, without knowing how.
“We are amateurs…
We are amateurs…
We are amateurs…
We are amateurs…
We are amateurs…
The door creaked behind me. A draught rushed through the room, causing the thin layer of infinitesimal “statements” to be swept off my being.
Without a moment’s hesitation I followed them. My whole body disintegrated. I was scattered into the air. I became one with the Salon des Amateurs; from now on I would be an amateur among amateurs.
Out in the hallway the bastard dog let out a hoarse bark.
Edited by Jaquline Todd