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The Absolute

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The brightness of light made his eyes hurt- light was everywhere, reflecting on the water, on the deck, on Marlow’s sandy blond hair- sun made them lighter, strands shining with golden-honey colour, so unfit for an Englishman who were always so grey, so pale.

Locks of hair framed his face, now too long, but there was still a bit of characteristic English propriety in it somehow, just like in his worn uniform- he rolled up sleeves to hide stains on the cuffs. In the brightness surrounding them, Marlow seemed bleached by the sun with his pale, long-fingered hands and fair head.

Kurtz’s bed was brought to the deck and he sat on it with stillness in his bones, muttering words of complaints to himself.

“Do you smoke?” Marlow asked him unexpectedly, his lips curling with something between disdain and irony.

“No.” His voice was rough, throat dry. He didn’t really know if the man demanded some more explanation- Charles’s eyes were still locked on him, eyebrows raised. The times in which he was able to recognize invitation to conversation were over.

But was it an invitation to anything really?

“Good.” Taking out old cigarette case, he sat down, in some distance, next to Kurtz’s bed. “It’s my last one.”

He lit the cigarette- it was bend in one place and most probably damp from humid air, but the flame from battered lighter swallowed it hungrily. Smoke looked alien there, when they were surrounded by sparkling water, against Marlow’s freckled cheeks.

He looked at man’s face- his cheekbones jutted out proudly and skin wrapped tightly against all sharp elements of him, his youth was somewhat dimmed. Starved, curled into himself, with his knee pulled up to chest, Marlow smoked last cigarette on the deck of steamship.

Ironic sparkles shone in his sunken eyes, as he rested his arm against the knee and blew out the smoke in Kurtz’s direction.

Familiar smell of tobacco brought out faint memory of something long forgotten in him- but it was ghost like, he was unable to hold it within himself.

Damp grey streets, dense fog brought with cold gusts of wind, chilling to the bone, crowd in stiff white collars and shoes that make a clicking sound against pavement, people stuffed into layers and layers of clothes, all buttons fastened with care and such precision.

London.

But he was there, in the damned land that swallowed him and spit him out, now looking at last relic of that city which used to be so dear to him.

Why? He couldn’t remember, as if his insides, the memory, have dissolved completely in his illness.

To hear words said in the brittle accent, with letters stretched out or cut so short was shocking.

So, he stared at the mirror which Marlow’s face has become, blank and reflective, and he saw finally himself fully.

“Do you suffer from melancholy, Mr. Kurtz? You certainly look like a melancholic.” He flicked the cigarette nonchalantly. Something in manner of his gestures seemed mocking- but how? Kurtz couldn’t grasp it completely.

“One suffers from everything but melancholy in this damned land.”

“Do you?”

Marlow looked amused behind his mask of polite aloofness. There was hidden bitterness in his tone of his voice, familiar to Kurtz- he often heard it echoing in his own words.

“Not really, no.”

“I have always been something of a melancholic myself. My mother always said so, at least.” Kurtz couldn’t tell if he was sincere or not; Marlow was one of few people whose true thoughts remained hidden from him.

“But you have to be a melancholic, in a way, in my profession.”

He failed to elaborate on that- probably assuming it was obvious, or maybe not really caring for a real explanation, feeding himself on the enigma of his own words.

Or maybe he meant any other profession, not the one of captain.

“To see beauty?” He asked, not really knowing what his own question was supposed to mean. “Have you seen it?”

Marlow didn’t answer right away and silence stretched lazily between them, in sticky, humid air.

“And horror. I have seen the terror and monstrousness, all the more so horrifying that it was entirely human in its nature. And I know you have seen it as well. How did you like it?”

Kurtz knew that there was really no answer to that, he felt the meaning of it more than he understood it. He ignored mocking underlying of his words, not able to bring himself to care about them really.

“But you see, I am merely an observer.” He took a drag of the cigarette. “Merely an observer.”

Repeated words always carried heavier weight and Kurtz felt that those crushed him completely.

Kurtz chewed on his words, hesitant to answer, tired of solving Marlow’s curious riddles. Oh, how would he marvel at them in any other circumstances.

But not now, when he was so sick and empty, hollowed by his own knowledge and intellect.

“It is how it is.” He spat out carefully those dull, worn words.

Marlow’s lips curled in irony once more, but he hid his face behind the cigarette, before Kurtz could take in the whole of his expression.

“Of course.”

“You must be a part of something. You always are. This enormous, creaking, pitch- black machine, crushing everything on its way with great horror. You were born within it, never left it, never saw anything outside of it.”

“Oh, there is no doubt about that. But machine can be self-aware, doesn’t it?”  He put out the cigarette and threw it overboard, into the water. Kurtz watched the river swallow it, sparkling and shining with malice.

“I failed to discover the beyond. To see what awaits above- to-”

Something in Marlow’s face shifted- he seemed now more cynical than amused, ironic smile starting to look like a grimace.  

“What if one does not believe in the above?”

“Who doesn’t believe in an absolute?”

The idea of the absolute- it must have existed always, with no doubt, in many, many forms, but it was always there. He believed in it with fervent want, desire to possess it with his mind.

“Some people don’t. Born into darkness and gloom- or wilderness. It doesn’t rob them of humanity. The question is- how it is so, that a world exists within them with no absolute in it?”

Kurtz didn’t answer, pressing his lips into tight line.

“Being overtaken by madness- it’s a horrid thing.” Marlow added, seemingly lost in thought.

“It is pure noesis, some would say.” He still stared at Marlow, marvelling at his phlegmatic nature- relic of another times, succession of stoics.

“It may be, with no doubt. But cognition, however noble, can constitute of horror in its nature. I do admire journey to the edge, to periphery, but it cannot buy what human nature lacks.”

Kurtz stayed silent for a while and Marlow seemed to don’t mind it- watching water shine, swirl with quiet fascination. Neither of them were in rush to anything, besides death.

“It is a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. Marlow. We think alike, but we live differently.”

Marlow leaned back against the dirty deck, his eyes half closed.

“Oh, what a wonder to be in this word.”

With this enigmatic statement, it was all finished- all, all. It was the end of the journey.