“About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.
“He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seems to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, diving the time into portions- one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He rememberer having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good-bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interesting in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon this two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once and for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from this rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one the them, amalgamated somehow with them.
“The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, ‘What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!’ He said that this thought weighed so upon him and because such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.”
F.D. Dostoyevsky ‘The Idiot’
Leonid Tsvetkov, 28/04/12