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Episode of the enemy

by Jorge Luis Borges

So many years on the run, expectant, and now the enemy stood at my door. From the window, I saw him working his way up the hill, laboring along the steep road. He leaned on a staff, a clumsy staff, which in his hands was no more than an old man’s cane, not a weapon. Although I was waiting for it, his knock was so weak I barely made it out. I glanced full of wistfulness at the half-finished draft I was working on and at Artemidorus’ treatise on dreams, a book somewhat out of place on my writing table, since I have no Greek. Another day lost, I thought. At the door, I fumbled with the key to let the man in. I feared he was going to collapse all at once, but he took a few faltering steps, let go of the staff (which I never saw again), and tumbled, utterly worn out, onto my bed. My anxiety had pictured him many times before, but only then did I notice his resemblance-in an almost brotherly way-to Lincoln’s last portrait. It was around four o’clock in the afternoon.

I bent over him so that he could hear me.

“One believes that the years pass for one,” I said to him, “but they pass for everyone else, too. Here we meet at last face to face, and what happened before has no meaning now.”

While I spoke, he had unbuttoned his overcoat. His right hand was in the pocket of his suit coat. Something there was aimed at me, and I knew it was a revolver.

Then he told me in an unwavering voice, “To get myself into your house, I fell back on your pity. Now I have you at my mercy and I am unforgiving.”

I tried to get out some words. I am not a strong man, and only words could save me. I managed to utter “It’s true that long time ago I ill-treated a certain boy, but you are no longer that boy and I am no longer that callous brute. Besides, revenge is no less vain and ridiculous than forgiving.”

“That’s just it,” he replied. “Because I am no longer that boy, I am about to kill you. This has nothing to do with revenge- this is an act of justice. Your arguments, Borges, are only stratagems of your terror designed to keep me from my mission. There’s nothing you can do now.”

“There’s one thing I can do,” I said.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Wake up,” I said.

And I did.