MY LAST JOURNEY
By LUIGI PIRANDELLO
[This was the last short story written by Signor Pirandello, and was completed only a few weeks before his death.] STARTLED from my sleep—I find myself thrown out of my compartment, in the middle of the night, at a small railway station along the line. I am alone and have no luggage. I can hardly overcome my astonishment but what seems most surprising is that I have not the slightest bruise on me nor do I have the faintest recollection of how all this happened.
I find myself alone, on the ground, in pitch darkness, near a station where there isn't a soul whom I can ask for guidance or help. Worse still is the fact that I don't even yet realise why I am making this journey : I have not the slightest recollection of the town I came from or the town I was going to when I fell here. I do not even know the reason for this journey nor whether I had any luggage with me when I started. I suppose I must have had none for I have none now.
The night is so dark that I cannot even see the name of the station, but I am quite sure that I have never been here before. The large square outside the station is equally deserted. One solitary lamp is still burning at a corner. I get nearer the light, examining myself to feel if I am really alive.. My hands go quickly over my bOdy and I have no doubt that it is really myself walking in that strange deserted town at such an hour of the night.
Dawn will soon be here. Some time passes. I walk slowly towards the centre of the town as the sun rises and I see things which would astonish me were it not for a greater astonishment which seizes me in noticing that other persons like myself are now moving in the town, with complete ease and assurance, as if each of them knew what he was doing and was carrying on the natural course of life.
I am almost swept away by the crowd : yet something pulls me back, making me feel uneasy and uncomfortable. I know nothing about myself, or who I am and where I want to go, while they seem so utterly sure of themselves and of their movements. Of course it is all my fault, not theirs, but however hard I try to do the same as they do, something pulls me back again and makes me feel nervous and unsafe.
Can it be possible that I have reached my age without ever having done any work ? Yet I know that I have worked hard, very hard. Was it only in a dream then ? Why do other people seem to know of my work and turn round to look at me or even raise their hat when I pass by ? Do they mistake me for somebody else ? But nobody else is in front of me or behind. Why then do they seem to know me and welcome me in this town where I do not recol- lect ever having been ? Is it perhaps my dress ? Am I dressed in somebody else's clothes ? How could it have happened if I have no luggage with me ?
Again my hands quickly feel my body and notice something hard bulging from an inside pocket. It is an old wallet, badly discoloured by time and by what looks like a prolonged stay in water. It cannot be mine : I do not remember having ever had such a wallet. With great care I tear the two ends that have been matted together by the water. Amongst a few letters, almost unreadable through the action of water on the ink, I find a small sacred image, one of those which I used to receive every Sunday at Church when a child. Stuck on its reverse side is a photo of the same size, the photo of a beautiful young girl, in a bathing costume, standing against the wind and stretching both arms towards me in friendly greeting.
While I look at the beautiful girl I have almost the impres- sion, if not the certainty, that that friendly smile and those two inviting arms are really pointing to me : yet, however hard I try to remember, I have not the slightest recollection of having seen her before. Could it be possible for such a lovely creature to be entirely wiped out from my memory, like a leaf in a storm ? Why should I have placed her picture against the sacred image unless it were because she was the woman I intended to marry ?
I carry on my search still further and from a hidden pocket of the wallet an old banknote sticks out, neatly folded and slightly damaged by the water. Judging by its discoloured appearance it must have slept there for years. It is a note for a large amount, now entirely withdrawn from circulation. I wonder whether it is really mine and whether I can use it as I have no other money on me. A restaurant is nearby and I begin to feel the need for some food. The manager, to my surprise, seems to recognise me and to treat me with the extreme deference due to some exceptionally important client. Immediately a table is cleared for me, but I refuse to sit. I want first of all to discuss the note. The manager agrees that it is a very old one, but, he adds, for an important and well-known person like myself, the bank will be pleased to change it without any formality. He offers to accompany me to the bank where I am handed, in exchange, a large bundle of smaller notes, more than the small wallet could ever contain. I walk back to the restaurant but in the meantime the news that I am no longer a penniless man must have gone round for, on coming out, I find a big car waiting for me with the driver, his cap in his hand, and holding open the door for me to step in. I don't know where he is going to take me but I begin to realise that as I have a car I must also have a home. Yes, I have a home, a beautiful old-fashioned place where my ancestors must have lived before me and my successors will probably live after me. But is all this heavy furniture my own ? I don't seem to remember the place. I feel a stranger in it, almost an intruder. There is nobody I can ask. It all looks bare and empty, juit as bare and empty as the whole town looked last night when I was thrown out at the station. I try to make myself comfortable but I feel cold and miserable. I will not allow myself to giie way and pacing up and down the room I casually notice a door which opens into a fully lit bedroom. On the bed the same beautiful girl of the photo is reclining, her bare arms outstretched towards me as an invitation. I have no doubt. She is alive.
But where has she disappeared to ? Has all this been a dream?
At dawn, when I woke up from my sleep, she had dis- appeared. The bed, so warm during the night, had turned as icy as a grave. Where has she gone ? I am alone again. All around me is the stale smell of a place where life is extinct, the smell of old and forgotten furniture. This'cantiot be my home. I am the victim of a nightmare. No doubt I have been going through one of the maddest dreams. Almost to reassure myself I look at myself in a mirror hanging on the opposite wall. Can it be true ? Is that aged face my own ? Is that my real self ? When did I get so old ? Who made me like that ? How did this happen so suddenly ? Is this possible ? Or is it a fresh dream ?
There is a knock at the door. Somebody informs me that my children have come to see me. My children ? I am terrified at the thought of having any children. When did I marry. ? When were they born ? Was it yesterday when I was still young ? If so I shall be pleased to meet them now, at once.
They enter the room, carrying in their arms children of their own. They all come near me, gently helping me to sit in an armchair and reproaching me for having got out of bed to meet them. At your age, with such lung trouble, they say,• you should be more careful. How do they know ? What do they know about my age ? How do they know that I can no longer stand on my legs ? Sitting on the armchair I look at them, listening to their warning almost as if I were the victim of a gigantic joke. But soon I realise that it is no joke. Is my life then, already at an end ? Has this been my last journey ? The farewell for ever before the Great Departure ? And while I watch them —their heads bent towards me almost as in prayer—I notice that suddenly—locks of grey hair seem to grow on them. It all happens under my eyes and I can hardly believe it. " You see," they seem to say, " this is no joke. Our own hair is turning white." Even those of them who have stood by the door, little children still wobbling on their legs, have now come nearer and grown older while reaching my chair. One of them, a little child, has now become a promising girl whose arms are stretched round my neck, head bowed on my chest.
I can bear it no longer. I feel that I want to stand and run away but I soon realise that no longer can I do what I like. And through the same eyes, once so young and now so hopelessly aged, I stop to stare, motionless and dumb, at those kneeling near me, my white-haired children.