KILLING THE MINOTAUR (II)
He stopped, steadied himself on his outspread legs and panted wearily. He passed a hand over his head and looked at it dripping with sweat. Tiredness made him contemptuous. Contemptuous of these walls that tortured and deceived him. These smooth, glistening walls that gave off a deceitful light that tired and weakened him, coldly surveying every movement like statues, how he hated them… Twisting and turning like a heavy nightmare and helping to distance him from the Minotaur. Or were they slowly leading him into a trap? He blinked, shrugging off his fear, there was the thread in his hand and the sword on his belt. Was the Minotaur such a coward that he would enlist such magical help? Or were the walls hiding and defending a defenceless, vulnerable creature? No, that was impossible, he thought about each year’s monstrous human tribute. He recalled the faces of the young men and women who had come with him and who, like him, were wandering along these corridors. Some of them might already be lying down, monstrous food, waiting to be devoured. But he’d come to kill and he had a thread to find his way back.
He pictured his return to Athens and saw the hordes welcoming his ship. He felt the sea breeze, standing triumphantly on the prow and waving. He sighed, slunk down next to the wall and fell asleep.
He began to feel his body. He opened his eyes and saw his legs sprawled on the ground. He bent one. It was stiff, so he stretched and bent it a few more times. I must have slept for ages, he thought. His whole body ached. He had fainted and still hadn’t found the Minotaur, his body was playing up. He opened his hands. The sword! It wasn’t there. Nor the thread. He glanced around. On the right-hand wall, he saw a shadow with horns. He sprang to his feet, the shadow disappeared. That must have been the Minotaur’s, he thought to himself doubtfully, and he didn’t have a sword. It didn’t matter, he was the hero and he had to kill him, even without a sword. He started running towards where he’d seen the shadow. He continued his pursuit down the corridors. The noise of his footsteps ran after him, hanging off his shins to tire him.
He got lost in a whirl of walls that opened and moved before him. He ran until he was out of breath. He leaned his arm against a wall and breathed in deeply, he had to be around one of those corners, nearby, resting and catching his breath the same as him. There hadn’t been enough time to escape. He’d seen the shadow and set off in pursuit straight away. Or had it been his own shadow? No, that shadow had horns, his eyes had not deceived him. It was the Minotaur’s, he had to find him.
He carried on running down the corridors, fatigued as he was, he made an effort to conduct his search attentively and methodically. Sometimes he thought he could feel the cornered animal’s breath or hear the pursued heart’s frightened beats, but he looked around and he wasn’t there. He’d find him at some point, he walked, looking for a shadow, a reflection. He would throw himself on his neck and strangle him. Because he’d seen that fleeting shadow with the horns. But what if it really was his own? Then he was the Minotaur. No, he didn’t have horns or a bull’s head. He was Theseus, the hero, in search of the Minotaur so he could kill him with his sword. He walked, repeating to himself, ‘I am Theseus and I’m going to kill the Minotaur.’ But what about the sword? And the thread? He didn’t have them. What if he wasn’t Theseus? What if he was the Minotaur? No, he had had the sword and thread before, he smiled with an abstracted gaze, he had had them before, they had vanished during his sleep. They hadn’t vanished, the Minotaur had taken them! That was what had happened, he was Theseus, he sighed in relief, he had his sword and his thread, the other, the Minotaur, had taken them off him as he slept. This was clearly the way things were. But what if that business about the sword and the thread had been a dream while he slept? No, it hadn’t been a dream. He walked with a gesture of horror, he wasn’t the Minotaur, he hadn’t had a dream in which he was Theseus. He shook his head. That hadn’t been his shadow. He stopped and raised his hand to feel his head. What nonsense, he stopped it in mid-air and started walking, feeling his way again. He had to continue, to go on. But must he pursue or run away? He looked instinctively around. There was nobody. He had to stop all this nonsense and continue his pursuit. He cursed the malignant spell. He had to continue.
To begin with, he wandered, then he sleepwalked, down those nightmarish tunnels. That was what they were – nightmarish tunnels. Just like a dream. A labyrinthine dream, he wasn’t dreaming, was he? A dream in which he pursued – or ran away. No, it wasn’t a dream. He stopped, he was standing there, thinking, he staggered off again, he had to continue. Perhaps he was dreaming that he was walking. He could hardly feel his legs, but that was because of the tiredness, not because it was a dream, he was really walking. If he paid attention, he could feel the movement of his legs, first one. And then the other. Though he could just be imagining it, some dreams appear real. Better, if it really was a dream, better. He hoped it would finish soon, and he could wake up once and for all, be done with the nightmare, cancel out all those doubts, that anguish. Go back to being himself. He was pervaded by a great sense of tranquillity. He sat down and gazed at the corridors in both directions. It couldn’t last long, I’m still dreaming, but it has to end eventually. But what if this were the other’s dream? Perhaps he was being dreamed by the other, so when he woke up, he would come to an end. He would die. And who was having the dream – Theseus or the Minotaur? Seated, he began to stir once more. What did it matter who was having the dream, whether it was Theseus dreaming the Minotaur, the Minotaur dreaming Theseus, or either one dreaming himself, the fact is he was going to die. He sighed in dismay.
But it couldn’t be a dream, he was alive, real. He was there, Theseus or the Minotaur, it didn’t really matter. He had to find the other. He needed him. To see him and tremble with fear, or touch him, even if it meant attacking him. He needed the other to confirm that he existed. He stood up and started walking again. He had to find him soon because the dream might finish at any moment.
Or was it not a dream? But if it wasn’t a dream, what did he have to do when the search was over? Kill or die?
Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne