The White Knight

3 min

The white knight looked around the long, unfamiliar hallway and pulled his surcoat straight. Standing in the bright neon lights reflecting on his blond hair and the bright coat-of-arms on his chest, he felt uneasy and out of place. Not for the first time he brought his left hand down to his belt, where his loyal sword hung by his side. The familiar feeling of the grip under his hand calmed him, but his weapon, that he had held so steadfast in countless mêlées and in the face of the greatest perils, seemed useless and powerless in this place. No enemy had ever entered the knight’s mighty white keep, but here he was on strange terrain, and he felt his heart beat in his chest.

More than afraid, the white night felt unsure and confused. He had seen gruesome things and had stood eye in eye with fearsome warriors and deadly monsters. He was no stranger to seemingly invisible enemies and on more than one occasion he had taken cover from a rain of arrows that seemed to come out of nowhere. But here, in this place, in this giant keep where the sun shone brightly through the windows, there seemed to be no enemy lurking in the dark. And yet he had been told that all the white knights he saw running through the long hallway were busy fighting a desperate fight to the death, against the most cunning of enemies, an enemy who knew neither fear nor mercy.

The white knight was guided to a large white door, behind which the old man was lying in a bed. Years later, as much as he wants to remember, as much as he tries to mold his own memories, the white knight cannot recall the room, nor the bed nor the old man. The final goodbyes said against the background of monotonous beeps and buzzes, the transparent bags with clear liquid that relieves the pain but quenches the flame of consciousness, even the distinct, penetrative stench of oncoming death, the white knight must have faced them all behind the white door, but they are no longer present in his memory. His only memories are flashing images of the hallway, the light and the door, vague and formless like impressionist paintings of poor quality, and shaped as much by imagination and impressions as by observation.

How little did he know, our white knight, brave but ignorant, of what was going on inside that big keep with the many white doors. How would he have understood that the enemy responsible for the old man’s death was his own body, and that the great white knights with all their knowledge and their ingenious devices were as helpless and powerless as our white knight with his cardboard sword? Barely six years old, he couldn’t grasp that two months is an indecently short amount of time for life to fade away from a healthy man, and that all were caught off-guard by the ferocity of the disease that attacked his grandfather.

Years past by and the white knight grew out of his surcoat, that ended up on a shelf, carefully folded along with his sword. The living room no longer was his keep but just a living room, and the white sofas no longer transformed into stone ramparts but remained white sofas. The fire-breathing dragons and ferocious barbarians disappeared from their lair under the coffee table and were replaced by exams, bills and newspapers.

He got to know who that dying man was, who his grandfather was, through other people’s memories and through the clear influence of his genes in the white knight’s own self. When he opens his drawer and lays eyes upon his white surcoat, the memories folded alongside the coat re-enter his mind: the memories of his many battles, and of that vague dreamlike image of the hallway. He tries on the coat that he knows is way too small, and the grip of his sword is too short for the thin, long fingers that grew to look so much like his grandfather’s. And yet, holding it, he feels that familiar, unsure and powerless feeling, and he wonders if all those years have given him a more powerful weapon to face life than this old cardboard sword.

Willem Dehaes

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