Chapter 24

Choose your next adventure

Illustration by Paloma Agüera

In total darkness, a stretcher in the center of the rectangular room holds a half-naked body covered by a thin paper blanket. On the walls hang pictures containing infographics summarizing the benefits of collagen, tryptophan or ginseng. A scale in the corner and a consultation table with several drawers complete the space.

A short woman knocks on the door and opening it a few centimeters brings light back into the room, which now reflects its cold whiteness on the floor, the walls, and the few pieces of furniture. The woman enters and, from the drawers that complete her table, she takes out some envelopes that she opens as if she were plucking a flower that has too many outer layers. Little by little, measuring very well the spots and the words with which she accompanies her work, she sticks the needles into the different parts of the body resting on the stretcher. “This one,” she says, referring to the one she places on the forehead, “is for bad thoughts,” “this one,” she continues with the one she places on the neck, “for uncertainty,” and “the last one,” which she sticks in the back of the wrist, and which is counted as the tenth, “relieves sadness.”

– Are you calm, Luis? – asks the naturopath.

– Yes – he answers, not calm at all.

The short lady, who measures her words, her movements and her work, smiles, touches him on the shoulder as a sign of confidence and opens the door again to go out; just enough to let the light in so that the client can see his body with needles stuck in different points. He takes advantage of those seconds for a mental review: “the one for anxiety, the obsession in the ears, the clarity in the feet, the one for I don’t know what to try to make all this go away.”

Silence and darkness. Rhythmic breathing. “Remember to count slowly to three when breathing in and six when breathing out” the lady had told him just before leaving. But he can’t find a comfortable position, the needle in the back of his neck is bothering him, even though it’s not rubbing against the headboard. “This is the one for fear” he remembers.

Between the stretcher and its limits, this room, less than a meter, in his head the whole world: a journey through the desert without water, a shipwreck in the Pacific, tigers surrounding him in a cage, on the edge of a precipice with no way back, probabilistic, the 50%, a sword skimming the wound that is always open on his scalp.

Breathing is sometimes an anchor amidst so many untamed tides. His mind has become a strange, alien entity. Taking air through his nose and blowing it out through his mouth makes him feel that at least he has control over something as basic as staying alive. The rest runs free: the muscle tension, the clenched jaw, the tears that have long ceased to be silent. He can’t get off the stretcher, or even move much. The back of his neck is tight, but so is his forehead, now his feet, the back of his hands, his neck. He feels each of the needles sticking like a burner just millimeters away from his skin. He clenches his fingers, he has forgotten to breathe again, his only way out. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five, six. Too fast. A thought slips between two and three. Start over, drop anchor.

– I can’t take it anymore! – he shouts between four and five the third time he tries to achieve some serenity – help!

The short lady opens the door again, but this time not so gently and not only a few centimeters. On the stretcher, now fully illuminated by the light coming in from the hallway, the half-naked body twists in pain, but the needles don’t hurt.

– I don’t want to be here!

The short lady picks up a high stool, sits down next to the stretcher, and gently removes the needles.

– Here, in this room?

– No, in Madrid, in Spain.

– And where do you want to go, Luis?

He sits up right and looks at the wall, trying to project through it a place that can give an answer: a country where uncertainty doesn’t hurt, a city where you don’t grow old, a sunset that makes you forget your memories, a place where you can be everything before it all ends.

– No one will accompany you in your escape – says the woman with tenderness, measuring each of her words – now you have to choose whether to escape alone from what does not exist or fight accompanied for what you have, what you want and what you deserve.

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