“It happened one day, at a crossroads, in the middle of a crowd, people coming and going.
I stopped, blinked; I understood nothing. Nothing, nothing about anything; I didn’t understand the reasons for things or for people, it was all senseless, absurd. And I started to laugh.
What I found strange at the time was that I’d never realized before. That up until then I had accepted everything: traffic lights, cars, posters, uniforms, monuments, things completely detached from any sense of the world, accepted them as if there were some necessity, some chain of cause and effect that bound them together.
Then the laugh died in my throat, I blushed, ashamed. I waved to get people’s attention and “Stop a second!” I shouted, “there’s something wrong! Everything’s wrong! We’re doing the absurdist things! This can’t be the right way! Where will it end?”
People stopped around me, sized me up, curious. I stood there in the middle of them, waving my arms, desperate to explain myself, to have them share the flash of insight that had suddenly enlightened me: and I said nothing. I said nothing because the moment I raised my arms and opened my mouth, my great revelation had been as it were swallowed up again and the words had come out any old how, on impulse.
“So?” people asked, “what do you mean? Everything’s in its place. All is as it should be. Everything is the result of something else. Everything fits in with everything else. We can’t see anything absurd or wrong!”
And I stood there, lost, because as I saw it now everything had fallen into place again and everything seemed natural, traffic lights, monuments, uniforms, towerblocks, tramlines, beggars, processions; yet this didn’t calm me down, it tormented me.
“I’m sorry,” I answered. “Perhaps it was me that was wrong. It seemed that way. But everything’s fine. I’m sorry,” and I made off amid their angry glares.
Yet, even now, every time (often) that I find I don’t understand something, then, instinctively, I’m filled with the hope that perhaps this will be my moment again, perhaps once again I shall understand nothing, I shall grasp that other knowledge, found and lost in an instant.”
—From Numbers in the Dark, a collection of short-short stories by Italo Calvino.
Pictured: Andreas Feininger, 42nd Street as Viewed from Weehawken, NY, 1942.