In the stifling little high-walled room, with a whitewashed ceiling and light-bulb over the bolted door, Chancelade sat without moving. He looked at a place on the wall, a sort of scar in the paint that someone had made with their nail. Behind him the pipes gurgled and hollow thuds sounded in the walls, and mysterious creakings signifying nothing.
Here too time had come to a halt, buried in the cube of ochre paint, stifled by the thick walls, drowned in the pale light. Chancelade was in a cubicle at the ends of the earth, in the middle of Greenland or Siberia, and the ramparts were heaped up round him in order to extricate him from life. He sat there without moving, breathing in the smell of ammonia and disinfectant, listening intently to the tiny sounds, staring fixedly at the mark in the paint on the wall. The door was bolted, no one could come in. There was neither cold nor heat, only a sort of gentle unfeeling calm annihilating all desires. There wasn’t even really any light: light entered there by chance out of the bulb over the door, but it might just as well have come from somewhere else. Sounds and smells were there by chance too, and so were colours, lines, marks, corners, dust; it was a miniature grotto, a classical mausoleum of marble and stucco, an air-tight sarcophagus. Time might pass away, the years might clatter by with their noisy crowd of men and women. But here they would never enter, here they would never issue their orders and appeals. You were there, perhaps on the way to the eternity, put inside a little box in unmoving space. The flies buzzed back and forth from wall to wall, continually repeating the same journey. Drops of water hissed in the cistern, and rust gradually accumulated on the old metal. What use was the sun? What use was the moon, trees, poppies? There was no longer any world, no longer any grotesque and noisy hell. There were only these walls so high and thick and covered in ochre paint, and this ceiling, this light-bulb, this red-brick floor that made your feet so cold. It was as if you had uttered a great cry inside yourself, yelled out your own name in the depths of your body, and it had suddenly been transformed into silence. Perhaps you would never speak again. You’d be silent for ever, sitting in this tiny room; you’d never make another sound to anyone.
[Terra Amata, Le Clézio, J. M. G.]