215. The gentle (V)
I was in a large Victorian room and stood before a sofa with an ochre floral pattern on it. The sofa was old and faded from the sunlight. Behind it there was a high window, with trees on the outside—although the outside of the room was obscured. The room had elaborate cornices that ran the length of the ceiling, but it was otherwise decorated in a muted way. As with all Victorian buildings, there was lots of space and a high ceiling. A man sat on the sofa; he said he was Ukrainian. He said I had slept with his daughter and he was not happy about it.
I stood before him, but, in a long moment, he swapped positions and forced me into a seat beside the sofa—a standard Ikea armchair, quite springy and sparse. He started to punch me again and again, until blood ran down my nose. “You slept with my daughter,” he repeated. “You slept with her.” I said that I did. “I thought she was a whore,” I said—and it did not help my situation. He pulled me to the floor and I was on my knees. Throughout the entire experience I had wanted to fight back, somehow I knew I was in the right. I had not done a single thing wrong, even if I had slept with his daughter; yet, for some reason, my limbs did not move to defend me.
I absorbed his blows without pain. I moved on my knees and assumed that he was about to deliver a blow with his leg, but, when I looked up, I saw that he had gone—or, to be precise, he had been transformed into an old woman who sat on the sofa. She was a typical Russian babushka, the very archetype of grandmotherly wisdom. She looked at me and said, “During the difficult times,” and I took this to mean the period after the Soviet Union collapsed when there was anarchy in Russia, “many men said that they followed the cross, but they did not really follow the cross. They gave up the cross very easily when it suited them.” She spoke in a neutral tone, not with anger or reproof.
I stood up and the babushka was in the middle of the room. The air flooded with a sound like a buzzsaw, a grey noise that made thought almost impossible. I became aware that there were many more people in the room now; perhaps ten or fifteen, all quite young—teenagers really. A portion of the room had blanked into darkness and very pale faces and bodies emerged from the blackness into the room; around the light corners of the room creepers and ivy had grown.
I had an impression that the room had infinite space now—perhaps the room could extend anywhere. As I walked among the people, I became aware that some were normal and healthy whereas others were diseased or ill—and quite literally so, the skin peeled off their faces to expose the blood and sinews beneath. I realised that these people predated on the healthy, turned them into sickened creatures. The babushka stood and watched it all.
I found myself in a dark part of the room, and I reached out to a healthy person to pull them from a diseased person who was about to bite them; it seemed that only I could see the infection, the heathy were like lambs to the slaughter. I was too late, I watched the flesh dissolve off the person’s body; it was very white—and now they turned to me and began to bite my neck. I stepped back and came up against a great wooden cross formed from very plain and rough green wood, the cross was almost a tree; it had sprouted in the centre of the room. I knew that the cross would protect me from attack, yet I was not sure that I could step behind it.