He had been waiting under the quilt for a long time. For a very long time. He couldn’t breathe and was terribly hot. The pungent smell of cheap washing powder was biting into his nostrils and his whole body covered with flimsy pyjamas was beginning to itch unbearably. And the darkness. This quilty darkness which seemed even darker than the darkness of the room. He was suffocating. Suddenly he heard this sound, which he had been longing for by force of habit – someone, surely his father, had closed the front door at last.
Momentarily, he tore the white sweat-drenched sheet off himself, greedily gasping for air, almost swallowing it. After a while, he heard his mother’s small steps. Her chunky silhouette loomed behind the door’s milky pane. He flung the quilt onto himself again. He prayed that she wouldn’t try to uncover him lest she should see i t and then it would be all over. He would never be able to rid himself of them.
Mother seemed to hesitate for a moment and finally pressed the door handle.
– They’re gone. You see, you did the right thing to go to bed in time. There might have been a misfortune… Like with the boy from the block across the railway line. – she paused mysteriously.
– What happened to him? – he asked, though suspecting what the answer was.
– They took him! – answered his mother in a dramatic tone of voice and tenderly brushed the sweaty hair off his forehead.
– But where to? – he kept asking.
– To the place where all naughty children are taken! – said his father firmly, having listened to the conversation for a while.
He entered the room. His bulky form suddenly seemed threatening. He stood behind mother and put his hand on her shoulder.
– The Cobra is starting. Leave him alone.
Mother looked at her son’s face once more. In the faint light seeping from the hall it looked somehow sickly.
– Time to sleep.
– Are they coming back? – he asked, trying to make her stay a little longer.
– I don’t think so. They’ve already gone to the tower block.
– But it sometimes occurs to them to check again. – added father and smiled oddly. In a scary fashion.
Mother rose heavily.
– Goodnight. – she said. It was supposed to be said tenderly but sounded harshly and unfriendly. Father was silent.
When the door closed behind his parents, he lifted up part of the quilt. He was lying motionless, listening to the muffled sounds from the living room. Certainly, for a long time he had been aware of the fact that no Committee had ever existed. The group of officials originated by his father, ostensibly visiting flats and checking if the children were asleep, was rubbish. He used to believe it, actually until quite recently. Both his parents had done everything in their power to convince him of the existence of the Committee. They had tried to lend credence to it. They had opened and closed the front door, talked loudly with the officials. Realising that he was completely covered with the quilt, they opened his door softly but loudly enough for him to hear and they put on a show of the inspection.
– That’s right. – his father said in a low voice – I confirm your information. The only son. A room of his own. As a rule, in bed by seven.
– As you can see, today he’s gone to bed early.
– Tired of playing. – used to add his mother.
– Favourite games? – father repeated the non-existent official’s question – Well… cars, blocks and a toy train. The railway and cut-outs are his favourite.
He could distinctly hear the scraping of a pencil against paper. The official was noting down all the information obtained from his parents. At long last the inspection was over. He heard the front door close and the scrape of the key in the lock. It had been going on like this for years. For as long as he could remember.
He had got a bit cold because an autumnal puff of wind had come in through the slightly ajar window. The cardboard soldiers swayed on their strings. He had been cutting them out with the utmost effort all day.
For as long as several months he had been suspecting that the Committee did not exist. The previous week he had become certain. A few days before he had deliberately gone to bed earlier. When his parents began to put on their inspection show accompanied with the door banging, he gingerly rose from the bed and came up to the door. He saw them winking at each other knowingly and reciting their lines. Although he had been expecting it, he felt tears welling up in his eyes.
– The boy is basically well-behaved. –said father, giving mother a wink.
– I wouldn’t say he doesn’t help with the housework. Only he doesn’t do well at school. – mother chimed in.
He couldn’t stand it any longer. It was then that he hit upon a solution. A simple and effective one.
Two days later, in his parents absence while looking for scissors, he found the notebook. Allegedly, the forms so meticulously filled in by the Committee officials. He found it on the top shelf of the wall unit under a pile of old newspapers. With shaking fingers he was turning the pages full of scribbles and incomprehensible words.
Now he sat up in bed and closed the window. The small hatchet he had smuggled into his room in the evening chafed unpleasantly. Tonight they would pay for everything. For the Committee, for the hours under the quilt, the constant listening. He wants nothing from them, although it’s his birthday tomorrow. He is thirty-nine tomorrow.
translated by Sławomir Bączkowski