This is the fourteenth part of my short story,"The Poet." Please would you correct my mistakes.
“Mr Novak,” she said one day, “let us assume that everything you’ve told me is true. But how you explain your insane behaviour and your frenzied attack on the Prime Minister? Even if he has stolen your poems, as you so stubbornly allege, would a rational human being behave like an animal? After all, we live in a society founded on the rule of law. There are courts where people resolve their disputes in a civilised way. Nobody is above the law, not even the Prime Minister.”
“Do you have children, Miss White,” I asked her. Her answer was negative and I continued, “If you had children, you would have understood me. My poems are my soul and my blood. Without them I’ll never be well again.”
“But Mr Boris, you don’t even have copies of your poems. No real poet would ever separate from his poems without first making copies of them. Isn’t true that your poems, Mr Katz, breakfast with the Prime Minister and all other parts of your story are just your vivid imagination? And if you are such a great poet as you assert, please write a few poems until our next appointment and prove your greatness.”
After our conversation, I felt angry and immediately sat at my desk, put in front of me an empty sheet of paper, took a pen and was ready to write my first poem after so long time. I was resolved to silence them all: the psychologist, Dr Schwarzkopf, nurses, and others who had treated me as a madman. However, as much as I tried, I was unable to pen a verse, let alone a complete poem. My mind was empty and dark. Sorrow and pain had shattered my soul and I could do nothing but admit my defeat. Next time when I met Miss White, she was beaming and told me she knew that I would return to her empty-handed. I must understand that the sooner I began to realize my delusions the easier my rehabilitation was going to be. She assured me that I was not a prisoner but a patient who needed help and support to comprehend fully what I had done and how to avoid such incidents in the future. It was not about punishment but healing and learning to live with my illness in the best possible way.
One day I was eating lunch at the same table with “Painter”. He was the oldest patient on the ward. He was nearing seventy. His hair was grey and dishevelled, his face covered in wrinkles, his mouth hidden behind a drooping white moustache. We did not speak before except for exchanging greetings, but now while he was chewing his food, he said, “Poet,” how do you feel here?” I was surprised and looked at his blue eyes, which had something mischievous about them.
“I’m a victim of terrible injustice.”
“We all here are victim of something,” he said, “but in the end we can only blame ourselves. We all had our opportunities and chances but didn’t take them, and finally we paid our failures with our freedom. And not because we’re mad but because we’re losers. Real madmen are somewhere else, governing countries, managing major companies and banks, or commanding armies and sacrificing their own citizens for their sick ideas. But they’re highly respectable people, praised by the establishment and the media as geniuses and visionaries. We’re just the small fry, who’ll die in anonymity. By the way, I read in the papers about you. They called you “deranged” already from the very first day. They didn’t bother to wait for the results from your psychiatric examinations. But why did you attack him? Was it something to do with politics?
I told him my story and he gave me a pitying look.
“Poor boy!” he said and sighed heavily. It’s really terrible what has happened to you. I really feel your pain and your sorrow, but believe me, it could have been even worse. You could have lost your kidneys, liver, heart or some other organ. You could have returned to your home without limbs. Do you believe that someone would have believed in your story then? My boy, you were easy prey for the Prime Minister. He saw his chance and grabbed it right away. And you can blame yourself for the rest of your life and shout at the people that you’re a victim. But they are going to ignore you and laugh at you just as they did to other fools before you. I’m sure that despite all what happened to you, you still haven’t learnt your lesson. You probably still tell your psychologist and Dr Schwarzkopf that you are a victim of injustice. But every time you’re telling them your story, they simply add more weeks and months which you’ll spend in this wretched place. You don’t want to grow old here, boy, do you?”
“Of course not,” I answered. “But I can’t lie. It’s against my principle.”
“Listen, boy. You can’t go to a confessor and tell him you’re as pure as an angel. He’ll laugh at you. Likewise, you can’t talk to Mr White and tell her you’re an innocent man. She’ll laugh at you too. You must look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “I’m a madman. I’ve attacked an innocent man because of my illness. I’ve never written one single poem and knew nothing about poetry. I’ve never been in the Prime Minister’s residence and he has never promised me anything. Everything is the product of my sick mind. My main goal in life is to be healthy again and live a normal life.
“This is your prayer which you have to repeat day and night. This is your only chance to come sane out of this hospital. Otherwise you’ll be become beyond repair.”
“But how am I going to admit something which I haven’t done? How am I going to look at the mirror one day and not feel ashamed of myself?”
“You silly boy,” he said. “We live in a time when there’re no principles, no absolute truth. Everything is relative; everybody changes and adjusts themselves to the circumstances. Only idiots remain the same.”
He asked me if I had some other interests or hobbies. When I told him that poetry was my only interest, he proposed to teach me painting. He told me that patients who showed interest in different activities were looked more favourably upon than those who spend their time doing nothing.
I pondered about his advice for some time and then concluded that the old man was right. After all, I had nothing to lose and I did not want to spend years behind these thick walls. Next time when I met Mr White I told her that I started to understand what I had done. I had a pang of regret. I had caused so many problems for society and myself because of my irrationality. I just hoped I was going to be well again.
“That’s the way or right thinking, Mr Novak. You don’t need to have a bad conscience. You haven’t chosen your illness, just like people suffering from cancers, tumours or sclerosis do not chose their illnesses. But you’re not alone, we all here are with you to help you in your rehabilitation and recovery. It’ll take time, but your patience and perseverance will certainly bear fruit.”
“Painter” took me one day to the workshop where patients could spend their time designing their own t-shirts, making chess-pieces on a wood-turning lathe, repairing furniture and building model boats and aircrafts. “Painter” opened the cupboard and took out some painting materials. He also picked up a few chess pieces from the shelf beside the lathe and put them on the table in the large window where we sat down.
“You see, boy, all this expensive material is paid by the taxpayers’ money. Whereas many painters have to struggle to survive in the outside world, we can indulge in the most expensive brushes, colours and canvases. And all this thanks to the word “rehabilitation.” This is the most sacred word in this institution. Those who are willing to rehabilitate are also willing to comply. That means there is a chance for them to come out of this place alive. But those who are stubborn and persist in their stubbornness will die behind these bars. So, take your chance, boy because it will never come up again.”
To be continued.