I have forgotten to put my shoes on. Each step on the wet cobblestones cuts through me like lightning. That pleases me, it stimulates me; perhaps pain is an event in itself.
Just now the street was strangely silent. It was bored. No man’s throat to cut under a dark porch, no stray dogs fighting, no drunk rotting in the gutter. But now, it has been awakened by the smell of sulphur, and the crackling of the flames eating away at it, it feels those too; I guess it has stopped moping.
A man is pulled from his bed; he is afraid, that is what I think I see, I don’t really understand human facial expressions. He shuffles over his landing, his head leaning right back looking up to the sky, and his hands twisted, the wrists bizarrely out of their sockets.
I stop for a moment, stand up straight, stop thinking about my feet and the exhilarating pain spreading through them. I am doing well. It is an interesting spectacle. Exciting. Because suddenly, the man is no longer alone. There are several of them, perhaps too many, they have appeared all at once, disgorging from houses, spilling out over the street like a swarm of cockroaches. I laugh. My shoulder seems to have just been hit by a naked body. I open my eyes wide; the neighborhood is gleaming with a host of splendid, fierce lights, you can almost see better than in broad daylight.
I am overtaken by the fire, it licks the houses not far from my body which is moving. That’s a good thing, I miss nothing of the show; men and old people too are spread over the roadway, they are yelling, far from creating a disturbing spectacle they give it a theatrical dimension. The beauty is distressing, the sincerity is distressing. Perhaps I might cry. Then that man speaks to me, the one who could easily be mistaken for the first one, and orders me to go back home. I am not amused by orders. I hit him in the face. He recoils, moves away, his features tense in a new expression that I don’t understand.
The stones do not burn quickly, they go very black, they melt, that’s how I see them. In themselves they bore me, it is the inferno which renders them sublime. My feet are writhing, they pass the last houses in the neighborhood, they disobey me, taking me to a place that is still cool and dull.
Someone appears in front of me, someone I seem to know and who is sweating profusely; you could say he is moving in the midst of imaginary flames. He stammers out syllables and words that make no sense at all, he pollutes the air with quick-fire speech, he wearies me. I no longer know what I am doing there, I am missing the fire and the disturbance. “I am thirsty. Get me a glass of milk.” He does what I say. Obedience bores me just as much as orders.
I take my place on a large seat in the centre of the atrium. Here the people are also quivering, but circumspectly and quietly. This is what makes the place insignificant. They are addressing me, gesticulating like grotesque puppets. “Nero”, a woman I know says to me, “Rome”, I make out, “is burning.”
I know Rome is burning. And it makes me smile. It amuses me, I am enjoying it. What on earth can I say to her?
Translated by Wendy Cross