TBOTSG-Chapter 10

July 3, 2024

The fact that Tha’s car was already tipped over when the storm began was not in its favor; the wind had turned it onto its back, and with no grip or stability left, it had been dragged back and forth, hit and battered, most of its pipes that once covered its sleek exterior were now scattered on the road far and wide. One of its wheels has completely detached and rolled away or perhaps had been dragged, picked up, brutalised just like the car. Another was merely bent out of its socket. So were the doors. The interior was shattered: that substance, similar to the one that enveloped me in the bear to form a comfortable armchair, was now a lamentable dust spread in finer layers or thicker streaks wherever you looked. Tha stood with his hands on his head, dumbly staring at the pile of junk, unable to say anything.

Not more than a few minutes later, Sela declared we were ready to go, that our vehicle, also in a sorry state, was nevertheless functional, and that there was room for Tha. It was clear to me that she wasn’t doing him any favours since she had already told him he was coming with us no matter what, but Sela seemed to think she was being generous and smiled kindly. Tha didn’t reply, just letting his hands fall, still staring fixedly at his failed wreck, seemingly unable to muster the courage to abandon it.

Ten minutes later, aboard the now patched-up bear, which clattered and made all sorts of noises that didn’t sound good to me, each of us was lost in our own thoughts. Tha had a pathetic expression, one I had only seen on myself when I was locked up in my room, spared from curious eyes like those that were on him now. I could imagine why he was so worried, and I would have been too if I had been pseudo-abducted by someone considered as powerful and influential as Sela, accompanied on top of that by an android possessed by an extraterrestrial being. But somehow his expression didn’t seem to come from these things, it rather came from some older wound, like those that bother you when the weather changes and you absentmindedly massage them, unaware that this gesture might seem unusual to others. Sela, though also absent, seemed more focused on what was to come. She seemed determined to get through the hurdles ahead. Her three fathers and two mothers seemed not too proud of her just because she had become a respected researcher—they had such things in their family for centuries, themselves being extremely influential in politics, science, and the temple. Of course, I hadn’t heard this from her, but having a much wider field of view means you can more easily take a sneak peek at someone who’s reading right next to you. Even eavesdrop if you want. And I did, of course, want to find out as much as possible about this being who was a stranger to me but with whom I shared one of my most precious treasures.

I was cross with Fox, rightly so: I was frustrated by the things she kept doing to me, by the blame she kept putting on me, by the alienation we had suffered, not just the two of us, but also our mother. Now, though, I was more furious with her than ever: she dragged me into an extraterrestrial world that, though dear to me, was hostile to us and put me into an android that Sela almost certainly programmed to listen to her without question. Of course, things hadn’t gone quite that way, and now I was starting to like my new form as I was getting used to it, especially because I was discovering new things that I wouldn’t have imagined possible for me as a human being, which now seemed mundane. I was in a sweet stage of discovery. And the fact that my mind easily moulded to the new space, growing, developing to fill it, brought me a joy that wouldn’t let me boil in anger against Fox.

With eyes wide open, set to gaze ahead, I immersed myself in the inner universe of my mind like in a viscous sea flavoured with me – a skill recently acquired after many years of meditation. Now it was much easier, though: I just had to focus on the memories I had of that vast place, constructed like a kind of endless underground gallery, where I had woken up before truly waking up, and I could see its glassy architecture stretching far away, delineated from reality by a baroque door adorned with thousands of intricate stuccoes of solidified energy in a kind of purifying gel. Or maybe it was just the opposite, and only then was I truly awake, and in the rest of the time, in life itself, I had been in one big dream. Once past that elastic and permissive frontier, I found myself in the cavernous underground of the artificial mind where my presiding self resided. But not the self that made logical decisions, who engaged in conversations, and who suffered from love, but the self that I often felt I did not understand, just as a child does not understand what happens in the larger world outside his home and how this world is a part of himself. I started gently, leaving behind the deceiving yet warm light of immediate reality, and headed towards new places that my consciousness had managed to fill and which I could now see as clearly as the adamant bridge or the screens that Sela touched.

I was now walking down a wide, high corridor marking the entrance into my inner world, bordered at its far end by the baroque door, glowing with a pulsating green light like a beacon in the middle of a stormy night. I felt the blessing of that energy and knew that whoever controlled that door actually controlled me. I took a risk to pass beyond it – I knew how dangerous it was to get lost in oneself, but I needed this. I needed myself, the true me, not the pseudo-rational trace that understood nothing of the world, so I turned my head forward, telling myself to take whatever may come head on and moved forward.

At first, the corridor had no shape or color. It only had a kind of… dimension, somehow bordered only at one end by something clear, the rest being like a dense fog that didn’t tell me where something ended and something else began, but rather that’s where I had come to know and master, so to see and see again. However, as I walked, the world behind me began to take shape. Just the fact that I had reached that point was enough to make the place more real, and then somehow it deserved all the adornments of the world. The mist began to disperse, taking on textures and unexpected dimensions, absorbing and being absorbed, creating tall columns in a Gothic style, which ended somewhere high up, with heads of lions with wide-open mouths, with faces petrified but manes of silky and fiery hair like the reddest sunset rippling in the breeze of a current I did not yet feel. Beyond, behind the columns, colossal walls had formed from opaque greenish-blue glass, with bas-relief designs at the bottom that became higher relief as they ascended. The walls themselves curved, the images becoming truly interconnected colossal statues, vibrating with the same light as the gate, curving and joining those on the other side in a broken arch. The corridor had become an immense, continuous hall full of a vivid, three-dimensional past, gently pulsating from back to front like a runway showing me invariably where I needed to go.

The statues forming above my head also curved, almost entirely covering the junction between the two walls. These figures seemed familiar to me, although now they were all made of the same greenish-blue glass as the walls they were part of, contorting their faces in grotesque ways, exaggerating what they wanted and managed to represent. I recognised them just like when you know someone but you don’t know where from, the voice inside you – the self you are now searching for, knowing it’s not at the end of the road but at the intersection where all roads meet – this voice timidly whispers to you, leaning towards you from behind the mind and whispers I’ve seen them before. Just like that I saw all these faces emerging from the two dimensions of the wall into the three dimensions of the corridor, this vestibule of my consciousness. A cat caught my attention, so I approached the wall to my right and touched the fine lines of the bas-relief, which disappeared completely at the bottom, until the wall curved into the smooth yet stable floor I was stepping on. A cat made of a continuous line, extending upwards, transforming into a drawing of a girl now holding the cat in her arms. Further up, the bas-relief line turned into another representation – one where the cat was trying to jump out of the girl’s arms, the line leaving its plane and becoming a higher relief just above the line of my conceptual eyes from my conceptual head, with the shape of my original body. Higher up, it was depicted in a sort of high relief the moment when Napoleon had scratched me badly, sinking his claw from his hind leg into the skin just over my shoulder, and it had slid brutally down over my collarbone as he leaped, leaving a deep and bloody mark there. I brought my hand to my left collarbone, as if still feeling that sharp and hot pain, which left an almost imperceptible scar because I kept scratching it. Above it were other moments from that day. How Dad had held me in his arms. How Mom had carefully bandaged me, casting a spiteful glance towards Martha. Martha holding Napoleon in her arms, soothing him, pretending to scold him, caressing him gently with love, knowing it wasn’t really his fault but mine. And at the very top, there were statues immortalizing the ultimate feelings I had about that memory: love, regret. Aunt Martha holding Napoleon. Dad with me in his arms, and Mom right in the middle, somehow uniting the pentagon of affection between them, near the apex of the hall, all turned towards me, none having their gaze distracted outside the picture. Perfect.

I kept staring at this moment immortalised in a way that seemed to rival Bernini’s Pietà, in this vast space, otherwise filled with memories so artistically represented that I almost felt proud to imagine such wonders. After many… many timeless minutes, I shifted my gaze away from that weighty statue group and let it drift over the others: moments from kindergarten, from school, from the mountains, all visions from my earliest childhood. Behind me, if I had turned back towards the exit, I would probably have seen reminiscent memories even from my mother’s womb, even from before I was born. But it wasn’t the time to look there. I wanted to move forward towards the still unformed mist that lay ahead of me, seemingly waiting for me to give it shape and meaning, and perhaps even a purpose in this vast yet deeply personal world.

A true magic show was happening with every step. It was as if memories were exploding, splintering the walls with their sharp shards, leaving their relentless marks on the pulsating glass expanses, growing into sweet or sad moments, but invariably dear. I didn’t stop for a long time, only briefly amused by the spectacle, occasionally turning my head, curious about what statues would appear next above, in the high vault, what moments remained trapped in my memory, even unknown to me. As I walked, the memories diversified, becoming increasingly intense and perhaps even more bizarre because of it. My earliest moments with myself, moments with other girls, with boys, sweet moments, or moments that made me blush. It’s strange to see yourself so vividly, every part of you magnified several times and displayed in all its dimensions above your head, as if groaning with a pleasure infinitely greater than it probably was in reality.

The pain, however, was the most grotesque. And the most expansive. Among all these moments—represented in a unified manner, the transformation from low to high relief, into 3D happening in roughly the same height location, thereby maintaining a sort of uniformity—there were also some colossi: statues that began right from the floor, breaking it and practically narrowing the corridor with their immense bodies. There I was, crying with a cat in my arms next to a bed protruding from the misshapen and overturned ceiling, which I knew existed only in my mind, the one where my father had died and where my mother stood, with a face contorted by sorrow and helplessness, fatigue, and frustration. A why, God? was immortalised on her lips, because I knew she asked herself that repeatedly over the years, and that was how I imagined her screaming at that moment. She probably hadn’t screamed anything, I thought now, looking at the image that had repeated itself in so many nights in the dreams that made me wake up crying and not wanting to go to school anymore.

I moved on, seeing but not wanting to see how all the foolish things I had done throughout the following year were portrayed. Later, much later, I saw her for the first time. The story of our first encounter was right there on the wall.

I was 16 years old, dyed brunette, even though my homeroom teacher—a strict but very competent math professor—had warned me not to dye my hair again or it would affect my conduct grade (which he never actually lowered). I wore a headband shaped like a ribbon and several layers of mascara that made my eyelashes stand out. I wore heavy make-up, with black eyeliner defining my eyes and dark lipstick making me look like a gothic doll, an image that seemed exactly what I needed. She was a year younger than me, natural, perhaps with just a little brown mascara on the tips of her eyelashes, accentuating them just right. Her long and curled lashes didn’t need anything more. Her eyes were large but not too big, hazel verging on green, with flawless skin, a small straight nose, above feminine pink lips gently tinted with a lip balm. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the straight-cut dress complimented her slender, seemingly formless body. She was a vision. Not a sensual being, but magnetic. She was beautiful, shy, but with a mischievous smile that hinted she was more than meets the eye. The statue of this elevated girl here at the level of a colossus, starting from near the floor, looked straight at me: the me on the other wall, represented exactly as I was then, but in timid dimensions—less than a third of her size, below my statue were representations of the exceptional moments of that day.

I walked quite a bit among high school memories, among hundreds of versions of ourselves, until I reached a monstrous statue that started from both left and right, merging above my head. Her key-shaped pendant hung low, being able to touch it if I wanted, while my eyes focused only on the hand Fox held against my face and on her lips that met mine there for the first time at the apex of the hall. Our heads, from right above her hand, including our eyes, melted into the ceiling, transitioning into another dimension, our hair slithering along the vault far away, in all directions, overlapping with other memories, revealing how obsessed I had been with what had happened on that late warm June evening when a silly dare had taken us so far. Looking at this moment, I felt as if an electric current was passing through me in waves, as if that light of reality had transformed from photons into electrons just to show me that reality is only within us.

We were at a party with about 10-15 of our friends—mostly my classmates—and Fox, still called Veronica back then, was bored and wanted to leave, which meant the fun was over for me too. I didn’t want to upset my mom again, because they had just sent me a warning notice of expulsion from high school due to absences, and I had made her cry in the argument that followed, so I decided it was better to make Fox stay if I wanted to stay longer. We played truth or dare, teasing each other, pushing ourselves to the limit, all feeling happy and flushed, waiting eagerly for the desired dare. For me, it was to kiss the guy I had liked for a long time and whom I knew wanted to be with me but somehow hadn’t asked yet. But when the moment came—when my best friend at the time was about to give me the dare—she found it amusing to delay it a bit, so after kiss… Fox’s name dropped like a hammer on my head who didn’t understand what had happened. These were funny things back then—we had all kissed each other, more or less shyly, more seriously or more in jest, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary—but for me, Fox was then a stranger about whom I knew very little, a person who even intimidated me precisely because she managed to be a natural beauty with a completely unstudied charm, intelligent and witty, occasionally mean, but self-assured enough not to need to impress anyone. Not to mention she had just recently become my sister. Obviously, that was my opinion about her then—I, who was trying to be cute (although at least half the time I felt like I was the ugliest person on the planet, and the other half I thought, okay, I’m almost cute)—I, who had so many problems that didn’t have eyes to see the others, especially if they weren’t my friends. In short: Fox intimidated me. And my friend Dora knew that, which is why she gave me this dare to help us both relax a bit, she explained to me later. I didn’t relax, but I looked at Alex, the guy I liked—and saw his enthusiasm—so I leaned decisively towards Fox, wanting to appear not only in control of myself but also of the situation. But just as my slightly parted lips touched Fox’s ready, soft lips, she placed her hand on my face so tenderly and naturally that a shiver ran through me from head to toe. It didn’t last more than a few seconds, but I felt it long afterward, my troubled heart beating as if it wanted to leave its post and go after her.

There was no need to see what followed displayed on the decorated walls of my memories to know how I went to her room that very evening—in my childhood home where the four of us had moved after lengthy debates between me, Mom, and Martha—trembling with anticipation but also fear of rejection. I had kissed other girls before, and with my ex-boyfriend I had even gone a little further. But the sensation she gave me was special. So special that I couldn’t sleep without tasting it again. It was past midnight when we got home, and our parents had just gone to bed. I don’t even remember how long it had been since we arrived until I gathered my courage, but eventually, I left my room wearing just a long t-shirt and slipped through the immediately adjacent door. I entered without knocking because I didn’t want to make any noise. Fox wasn’t asleep. She sat in the middle of the bed with the bedside lamp on and her phone in her hands, tapping away. I didn’t know who she was talking to, and I didn’t ask. She didn’t raise her eyes until a few seconds later, probably after finishing her conversation. She placed the phone on the nightstand and looked directly into my eyes. I had just settled comfortably at the other end of the bed. She wanted to say something but closed her mouth without making a sound.

‘How did you find the party?’ I asked only to start a conversation, although I wasn’t in the mood to talk.

‘Okay,’ she replied simply.

‘Did you like it?’


‘Did you have fun?’


I felt like we were getting nowhere and didn’t know how to continue to get her to cooperate.

‘Did you see Alex? He’s so cute. I think he wants us to be together.’ Or maybe I said he wanted us to be friends, because that’s how we talked back then, but what does it matter?

‘He’s okay. I like guys to be a little taller.’

‘Even as tiny as you are?’

‘Yes. I think that’s exactly why. Plus, my dad is tall… Imagine bringing my boyfriend home and he looks like a little kid next to him?’

‘True… Hey, have you had any boyfriends before?’

‘Yeah, two. Were you scared you might have been my first kiss?’ She started laughing half amused, half ironic.

‘A little bit,’ I said to provoke her. ‘Anyway, it doesn’t compare to mine.’

‘It wasn’t anything special.’

I think my ears turned red at that rather mean reply, especially said in such an indifferent tone. I felt my heart race again because the decision was made: I approached her and kissed her simply. She didn’t flinch, didn’t say anything, but didn’t respond in any way either. She was like a doll, completely unreactive. And that made me angry, I think. One thing was certain to me I was determined to change her expression at least. If she didn’t like it, she could reject me. She could slap me! That’s what I would have done.

I took her head in my hands, looked her straight in the eyes, my breath cut off by emotion, and kissed her again, longer and more passionately. And she responded. I kissed her again. And again. And again. Until our lips were hot and red and tasted of both of us. I felt warm, so I took off my t-shirt. She looked at me in a way no one had ever looked at me before. A mix of desire and admiration that sent a shiver down my spine. She stared at me until I couldn’t resist anymore and kissed her again just so she wouldn’t keep looking at me like that. A sweeter and more passionate kiss than before, her hands finding their way from my waist to my back, from my back to my shoulders, from my shoulders to my neck, in a kind of mimicked strangulation, then gently descending onto my chest. She completely overpowered me, and from there, it becomes predictable, losing ourselves in feelings and sensations we had never felt before and of which I became almost addicted.

I quickly passed by all these memories that now loomed perversely above my head, trying not to see them, not to look, nor to think about them. I also passed by other memories, some happier, others sadder. I felt restless, seized by a longing for the past that I couldn’t bear anymore, so I sprinted through the corridor in front of me, which only began to solidify far behind me. When I reached the end of the corridor, I stumbled upon a vast space. Something like an island sat right in the middle, from which I could see far away how other corridors started, perhaps similar to the one I had just exited, arranged orderly, radially, as if someone had intentionally designed that place as an intersection. Above me was a dome made of sky bordered somewhere high by the same bluish-green walls pulsating with clear and strong light this time. The place seemed like a peaceful park, expecting to hear singing birds or perhaps sparrows chirping through the bushes any time. However, the silence was as dense as the beautifully arranged bushes, orderly, in the triangular spaces between the roads that exited from their tunnels. They were of a wild beauty, just as I had seen in my childhood in the vast Bărăgan, tall bushes some with small white flowers, others with larger yellow ones. Others, more leafy, with funnel-shaped, multicoloured flowers. Even larger ones, purple, white, with large yellow pistils, boldly extending out of their flowers, enticing you to come and smell them. Geraniums and petunias lined the path, intermittently interrupted by the night queen with its closed flowers, awaiting a darkness that I knew I would not get to see, lazily slumping over the smooth, opaque, and jade-green path. Wild, yet orderly, arranged according to an aesthetic that was mine alone – a calculated accident, precisely to my taste. Further away, bordering other roads, were other small gardens, other arrangements that were some more exotic, others more refined and elegant, putting me in a state of wonder. How big is this place? Will I ever know what is on each of these paths, and where do the invariable exits at the end of each of them lead?

Right in the middle, however, was the most majestic tree I had ever seen, somehow making me wonder if this world could really be mine alone. A tree made of clouds and pure, white mist, fluffy with threads of vanilla and lavender, the color of the summer sky at sunset, the color of sunlight and of the shimmering sea, weaving here and there, seemingly coming from below, from somewhere beyond what I could see. The tree climbed to the top beyond the clouds on the sky outlined by the jade dome, taking on several forms until it too transformed into the color, texture, and shape that dominated this otherworldly world. From a distance, it looked like a kind of colossal bonsai tree with leaves of gold and silver, which, from time to time, it shook cheerfully, as if only to let fall from them a fine rain made of moonlight. A magic of a different kind than I had seen so far in this world. A magic that enchanted me and pinned me there, tens of meters, or maybe kilometers away from the tree of my life, until I felt a strong and unstoppable force dissolve me unwillingly into the light above, from around, from below.

‘Do you think we can go to this party too?’ Tha asked Sela, a simple question that brutally pulled me out of my world and left such visible traces: for the first time in this world, I truly felt a physical sensation, corporeal, almost akin to what you feel when you’re unsettled, something like unease, a fluttering of the heart, tension in the muscles, and a trembling of the hand and voice. It wasn’t visible, not to others who weren’t paying attention to me anyway, but I knew. I didn’t yet understand what it meant, but intuition had given me a clue, and I was eager to return there, to that wonderfully waiting universe.

‘I think you could… She is, of course, the guest of honor. I’m not sure if it’s worth it, to be honest, but sure, I can’t forbid you a bit of fun after I tricked you.’

Tha seemed like he wanted to continue the subject, but he let it go in the end. Perhaps it wasn’t the right moment yet. Surely he was thinking that a connection like this would be beneficial no matter what he was going to be asked to do.

I decided it wasn’t the moment to go back just yet. I would do that when I would alone, even for a few moments. Besides, it didn’t seem like more than 2-3 minutes had passed since we started moving.