After the interrogation I was taken to my “cell.” It wasn’t as impressive as the interrogation room. Not to sound ungrateful, but here it was obvious that Miro and the gang had. How should I put it? Been a little stingy. Instead of fixing up a real cell with a dirty floor, a freestanding toilet, and the kind of bars that the guards drag their batons along, they put me in a small yellow room with shelves on the wall, a desk of light wood, and a fat TV without a remote. Instead of having to sleep in a rickety bunk bed above a tattooed, snoring guy with a razor blade behind his upper lip, I got a completely normal bed with sheets, a mattress, and a wall-mounted reading lamp. Instead of risking being raped in the shower by a gang of bikers with walrus mustaches, I was presented to the day guard, Thomas, who welcomed me to my room in a soft voice and recommended that I get some rest before dinner, which would be fish sticks and mashed potatoes. Is there juice? I asked. Thomas nodded. It all felt more or less like a hostel. But the door was metal, had a peephole that you couldn’t see out of, and was locked twenty-four hours a day.
The first night was a little rough. But I reminded myself that I wasn’t alone. I lay on my bed, which smelled summery from detergent. I listened to the silence. I looked up at the ceiling and thought about how my friends were sitting in an identical room on the other side of the wall, with surveillance headphones on and a big whirring tape reel in the background. When they saw me looking around for hidden cameras, they tried to keep from laughing. After a while I started to wave at them and speak. I looked toward the ventilation duct and said: Hi, Miro, hi, Eric. Shit, what a circus you’ve started. You’re crazy to do all of this for me. But that’s enough now, O.K.? Come out now. When I didn’t get an answer I lay quietly and imagined how I looked on the black-and-white surveillance screen. My grainy body like an almost transparent phantom. I looked credible as I was lying there on the bed. It didn’t look like I was crying.
My “lawyer” was played by a professional woman with black hair and a briefcase that must have been bought secondhand, because it looked believably worn out. When I asked her if she also knew Miro and the gang she looked at me so intently that I felt like a mirror in an interrogation room. She said: For the last time, I don’t know “Miro” or his so-called “gang.” If you want to try playing confused in the courtroom you may. But you don’t need to do it with me. I know that you know that I am a real lawyer. I know that you know that this is a real jail. And I hope that you understand that you have been accused of a real crime that will be tried in the Stockholm District Court. They have found burn marks on your jacket, they have witnesses who saw you on her balcony. You’re risking a lengthy prison sentence. Do you understand? I nodded and thought: She’s good. She is really damn good. Did her homework. Convincing. At first I thought she was a little miscast because she chewed gum and had a kind of tic where she touched behind her ear with her finger and then smelled the finger. But now, after her outburst, I understood that she was perfect. Before she left she leaned toward me and said: Hey. Think about whether you really want to continue this act. Because I don’t think it’s going to help you. Between us, you’re not particularly convincing. But you are, I thought. She got up and put her papers into her briefcase, which was so wrong that in some way it became right.
I don’t remember much of the trial itself. I slept badly. The days started to run together. I felt feverish and weak. The judge spoke and my lawyer spoke and the prosecutor spoke, and sometimes I raised my gaze from the table and saw how fake everything looked. Miro and the gang must have run out of money, because this room was so inauthentic that no one could take it seriously. It looked like a large conference room. The wood was light instead of dark. The judge wore a baggy gray suit instead of one of those dress-like things with a white wig. The jurors’ box, which should have been enclosed by a little railing, was a regular table, and instead of a jury there were three half-asleep retirees playing lay judges. The prosecutor read the paper during breaks and didn’t yell: Objection, Your Honor! a single time. Not even the visitors’ benches felt authentic, because they were completely empty, except for Katja’s sisters, with their clumsily made-up eyes. Once, in the middle of it all, a school class came in; the students sat down and listened for a few minutes; they yawned; the teacher looked at a bus timetable. Then they got up and left. I remained seated next to my lawyer and thought that they were probably just as disappointed as I was. No one disrupted the order, no one came rushing in, screaming: This man is innocent. No one cried besides Katja’s sisters. But they were fake tears. The actors playing the witnesses claimed to have seen me outside Katja’s apartment. A young man with a full beard said that I’d climbed up on the dumpster next to the streetlight outside her bedroom. A lady said that she’d been out walking her dog and saw me jump down from the balcony and almost get caught in the rosebushes. A few minutes later she’d seen the first flames. It was so obvious the witnesses were lying that I couldn’t even pretend to be upset. I just sat there and felt sick and feverish. Then it was Katja’s turn to take the stand, but she didn’t want to do it while I was in the room. I understood. She probably wouldn’t be able to keep from laughing if she saw me. Just as I was being escorted out she came in from the other direction and our eyes met for one second—maybe two—and at first I wasn’t sure it was really her because they’d made up her cheeks with bubbling yellowish blisters and on her throat I could see black marks. One arm was wrapped in a bandage. I wanted to smile at her and say: Soon it will all be over. But I didn’t have time, because the guard closed the door.
The verdict came more quickly than expected and apparently that was a bad sign, my lawyer said, but I didn’t care. I just wanted it all to be over. I just wanted the cell door to open and Miro and the gang to come rushing in and shout: Surprise! Suddenly I would have a bouquet in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other and all the actors and extras and cameramen would come out from behind the scenes and stand in a big circle and applaud when Miro gave a toast to the world’s best friend. But instead I was led back into the courtroom that didn’t look like a courtroom. The judge who didn’t look like a judge read the verdict that didn’t sound like a verdict. Afterward everyone looked at me. As though they were waiting for me to. I don’t know. Say something. But I was quiet. I had nothing to add. The judge banged his little gavel on the table and no one applauded and no one booed, no journalists wanted to ask questions and I didn’t need to put a jacket over my head when I was led out of the room, because there were no photographers who wanted to take my picture.
I was led back to my yellow cell. Katja went home to her smoky stairwell. I was moved to an institution. She moved to a new apartment with a secret address. I spent my days putting black and sometimes brown shoelaces in transparent plastic packaging. She spent her days putting ointment on her blisters and calling the insurance company. I spent my nights dreaming of Miro and the gang. She spent her nights dreaming of me.