DI BENEDETTO, Antonio
The governor remitted an incomprehensible case to me. No sooner had he asked that I consult then I complied with the request. I had no wish to ponder the question of whether he, the governor, had the authority to remove a man convicted of murder from prison and have him escorted to my office with only a single guard at his side to "explain the situation to me," in order to see "by what manner and how to proceed to the staying of the charges." It was of utmost importance that I attend to him without evincing awareness of how he had reached me, nor with what high recommendations and designs on the part of the recommender. I had to attend diligently to my stability, my post, precisely in order to disencumber myself of him, and of the post.
I was also obliged to hear the prisoner out, which very shortly revealed itself to be impossible, for it is not possible to listen to one who does not speak. On the marrow of the question, that is, the narrative of his crime, he was closed up, not with steeliness but in absence and silence.
With obliging foresight, the guard warned from behind the prisoner that we had reason to anticipate a fit of weeping or some other crisis of a sentimental order.
He was not, therefore, a fearsome individual, but a broken man.
To spare myself the scene that perhaps was triggered by the nakedness of my interrogation and the peevishness that all too rapidly overcame me, I left him alone with the guard who, more than standing sentinel over him, seemed to view him as in need of protection.
In the interval, seeking a change of mood, I believe, I went into the room where Ventura Prieto was working and recounted the case of muteness I'd left behind my door.
I did not have occasion to regret this, for Ventura Prieto, with a "That way, it will not work" spoken without disdain, requested my authorization to address the prisoner and assist me.
He offered the smile of a friend, and indeed could appear to be just that, for he bore scant resemblance to one's image of a bureaucrat. Thus Ventura Prieto was able to make this sequestered spirit briefly deliver itself up.
His gaze low, a fitting sorrow deepening the tones of his voice, the handsome and prematurely withered lad said, "I was a tremendous smoker. One night, in horror, I saw that the sting of a bat had come from me..."
With this scant declaration he had perturbed us sufficiently to make us desire him not to return to his previous state of muteness. He did not. He had perceived that his words did not correspond entirely to his thoughts and by means of mental review was seeking a more exact coordination. After a good while, he began again, and composed his discourse.
"I was a tremendous smoker. One night I fell asleep, cigar in mouth. I woke up in fear of awakening. As if I already knew: the wing of a bat had grown out of me. In disgust I groped for my biggest knife in the darkness and cut it off. It fell to the floor and by the light of day, it was a dark-skinned woman and I was saying I loved her. They took me to jail."
He said no more.
We shared his silence.
With my eyes I told the guard to take him away.