Hole in the Wall by Nevit Ergin

Once more I walked through the corridors of this old stone building late at night, turning the lights off and closing the doors of every meeting hall in the temple. The sounds of my footsteps were buried in the depths of the thick carpets as my shadow accompanied me silently.

I have done this since early childhood, when my father was alive and the caretaker. He was not the only one: his father, grandfather and the rest of his ancestors were also the caretakers. The building was once a dungeon for undesirables, then later became an insane asylum. After that it was converted into a school for the highly educated, and finally in the last century is became a Temple of Wisdom for the Wise.

After my father died, I continued the family trend and took over the duties. I wouldn’t know what else I could do. This was an unbreakable caste system. Going out and looking for another job has always scared me. I felt naked and unprotected outside. In the eyes of people I saw the flash of their predatory instinct, and I thought unless I became like them I would remain their prey.

The one who come to the temple at night try to be caring and loving to each other by replacing their inner instincts with brotherly love. Though I did not see them during the day, at night they practiced. Their rituals are based on the remembrance of a mutual respect and gratitude to the Almighty. They learned to memorize texts from the masters.

Officially I was not allowed to participate in their ceremonies; after all I was only the caretaker. I should be invited and go through serious tests, making vows that I would be one of them. But no one asks me to join. I keep living and working there as a janitor. I love my job. I respect them and they know that. Besides, because of my family, I was a part of the building.

The seasons have changed outside, but the smell and melancholic darkness of the corridors remained the same. I cleaned the salons and lecture halls during the day. I knew every piece of furniture, lamp and chandelier one by one. They related to me the interesting events and conversations of the previous night.

After the evening activities ended, I locked the main gate and retired to my room. This was my prime time. One evening I discovered a small hole in the wall inside my closet. It had been there the whole time, covered by a wood panel, but I did not notice it. I took the panel off and saw a small window sized opening on the wall. I put my head through, but neither saw nor heard anything. I found a flashlight, but there was still nothing but darkness. I thought it may be a ventilation hole between two walls which was later closed. But there was no wall in front of it…

The next day I asked the engineer responsible for the building, who also had the buildings blueprints. He couldn’t find this opening in the blueprints so I brought him to my room. He was surprised and didn’t understand. I asked him if we could make it bigger to see what was behind it. He strongly rejected the idea, saying the wall would collapse and endanger the integrity of the whole floor. I knew he didn’t want to be bothered by my silly discovery. He was right, but I couldn’t get this small window out my head. I went back and forth, day and night, trying to find out what is behind there.

As I was, I knew no way I could pass through the small opening. I decided to put myself on a strict diet. Since I couldn’t make the hole bigger, I would have to make myself smaller. I didn’t eat or drink until sunset, telling those curious that I was on a diet.

In the meantime I found a book in the library about fasting. It said fasting would not only change my size, but also my mind. The corporal existence would become spiritual, time and space boundaries would break. It was a small book, written with precise language, about life and death, man and God. I read it several times, but didn’t understand most of it. Because I didn’t know how to read between the lines, when I saw the worlds in that empty space, I didn’t care about reading them, the questions disappeared.

After a long period of time with my strict dieting, my size shrunk small than the dimensions of the small window. One night after work, when I was alone in the entire building, I decided to explore. I gathered a big flashlight, rope, a few other things and left a note on my table: “Someone once said, ‘An unexplored life isn’t worth living.’”

It was easy passing through the hole. I was surprised to find myself in one of the small saloons. I recognized the book cases and paintings. It was dark, but dim light and the humming sound of distant conversations were coming from under the doors.

I slowly opened the door, inside was a dining room smaller than the temple’s restaurant. People sat around tables in front of each other, everyone feeding the other. Someone noticed me and showed me the seat next to him. “Welcome, please have a seat.” I hesitantly sat down.

There were all kinds of food on the tables, but no utensils. He pretended to give me soup, so I opened my mouth. “Not like that,” he said, “You eat with your eyes. This way everyone eats and leaves no mess.

 “Thanks, but I can help myself,” I replied. He wondered aloud, “Who is ‘Yourself’?”

Instead of getting into that complex question I answered simply, “I am a caretaker.” He didn’t understand. “I clean and maintain the building.”

“For whom, what building” he asked.

“For people on the other side of the building,” I said.

“I thought he passed away.”

I felt cold and uncomfortable. I couldn’t even tell this strange person, “Not yet.”

I asked feverishly, “Who are you?” I meant to add, “Some kind of zombie,” but I was afraid. He answered quietly, “You, him, him, him,” nodding to the people around his table.

“Yes,” he said, adding, And at the same time, none of them.”

I was curious and asked, “Where do you live?”

He looked at me as if to ask what kind of question I had just asked. He calmly replied, “Everywhere where everybody lives, not in one particular place.”

What is this? People become mirrors of each other. They treat each other well, eat with their eyes, leave no mess. There’s no predatory instinct. Where is the excitement? I know life would be boring there, so I excused myself.

“It was nice meeting you, but I have a feeling I don’t deserve you and this place. I believe I have some living to do.”

“Yes,” he said, “people live at the bottom of Hell and are still afraid of immortality. That’s an old Rumi saying.” He added, “here’s one more from him: ‘People who live in the dungeon don’t even know they carry the key in their hand.’”

I went back the way I came and passed through the opening of the hole to my room again. At least I am a caretaker. I need to be needed for living. I locked the door of the closet and put the key in my pocket.

A few weeks have passed from this incident, I’ve tried not to think about it. I forced myself to forget the hole, and I did not open my closet. I avoided that small saloon, but the people I saw that night came to my dreams every single night. I was on this side of the building during the days, but I was on the other side at night. Although it was fascinating living a double life in the same body, it was also tiresome.

One day I was called in to meet with the board of directors of the temple. There I was told my work as a caretaker has been appreciated over the years, but now I should consider retirement. They gave reasons like my age and physical condition.

I was given a pension to cover my basic needs, and two choices. The first was to live in a small apartment, while the second was to go to the temple’s retirement home. I was also told they already had a replacement for me. I looked at the faces around the table, and they were all new to me. I asked about the old members and was told they either died or retired. They said, “When the time comes, it happens to everyone, no exception.”

They didn’t mention the third alternative. I briefly told my story, and they listened politely. Most of them were bored though, and thought it was just the nonsense of an old man. At the end I handed them the key to my closet, saying, “Just in case someone wants to go through the hole before they retire.”

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