This is the fifteenth part of my short story, "The Poet." Please would you correct my mistakes.
He took a pen and showed me how to draw a “king”, knight”, and “pawn.” He explained to me the basic rules of perspective, how to shade and how to apply watercolours onto a paper. He watched me draw the pieces and corrected my mistakes, at the same time giving me advice how to avoid them in the future. His hand was skilful, steady and fast. It was not a hand of some hobby artist, but a professional for whom there were no secrets in his art. When I told him my thoughts, he smiled and said, “The Academy of Arts, four years, and then travels to Paris, New York, Amsterdam and other places where a young painter can learn his profession properly. When you’re back in your room, take a look at the painting above your bed. Take a look at all other paintings in the corridor, in the dining room and the offices of Dr Schwarzkopf and Miss White. You’ll see that they all have the same initials at the bottom of the left corner. Dr Schwarzkopf loves my paintings. Whenever she receives her guests from some government institution, she likes to take them on a tour in the hospital.
“‘And these paintings are the work of one of our patients.’” she uses to tell them and enjoy seeing their rapt faces. And I stand aside, thinking that if I could have controlled my temperament in the past, I would have become an established artist, and these people who now treat me as a madman would spend a fortune buying my paintings and praise me as a genius.”
When I enquired about his past, he told me he did not like to talk about it with other people, but he was going to make an exception with me, because as he said, “painters and poets have similar souls.” As a young artist, he had an exhibition of his paintings in a private gallery. Next day he read a scathing review written by a critic, who was about his age. He searched for him for a few days to tell him to his face what he was thinking of him. And when he finally found him, his anger boiled over and he started to hit and kick the man until he fell to the ground. He was like a bull terrier who did not want to let go its prey. He was not satisfied with only beating and kicking the poor man, but started to pull hairs from his beard, and enjoyed in hearing him screaming with pain, which psychiatrists would find especially aggravated. They pronounced him mentally deranged and sent him to a psychiatric hospital, where he spent three long years of his life and learnt how to play the game of rehabilitation, which came in handy in his subsequent visits to the same institution. During the decades, more sentences followed and more sojourns in the same institution. Thus, from a promising artist he was transformed into an experienced patient, who saw this hospital as his second home.
I spent about two hours every day with “Painter.” He was unselfish and taught me the art of drawing and painting as a patient teacher, who was eager to see his pupil succeed. He told me to copy and draw everything around me and I followed his advice. I started with my room, drawing every item around me and then continued with the ward. I asked the nurses to pose for me, and they would all gladly accept and sat patiently until I made sketches of their faces. They would not spare their praises on my gift and encouraged me to continue to improve myself. Frequently, Dr Schwarzkopf came in the workshop and looked at my drawings and paintings and showed her appreciation. Soon I understood the power of the word “rehabilitation”. Whereas before nurses and other personnel looked at me with coldness and suspicion, now they gave me smiles. “Good morning “Poet, did you sleep well,” they would tell me when they met me in the dining room and they would slightly bow their heads as a sign of respect. I was aware that this was just a game from their part. They observed me carefully, followed my movements and habits and reported their observations to Dr Schwarzkopf. They probably knew more about me than I knew about myself.
I would usually wake up early in the morning and spend my time until breakfast listening to the radio and making sketches of imaginary landscapes, cities and people. That was my favourite part of the day and I enjoyed the silence around me. Breakfast was usually served around 7.30, but before breakfast the patients were still in their rooms, the majority of them under the influence of sleeping pills and other medicine, which kept their minds in a daze. I would sit at my table, listen to the radio and watch the sun rising above the hill, thinking that behind that hill there were villages and towns inhabited by people, who were watching the same sun as I did and preparing themselves for their daily routine. I saw them in my mind and an indescribable feeling of happiness filled my entire being. If I had still been able to write poetry, I would have written many poems about this sun, light, sky, people and sensations, which were so livid in my mind. Instead, I drew and painted families at the table, mothers taking their children to school or kissing them goodbye, columns of workers cycling rapidly to their jobs, buses filled with passengers who did not get enough sleep, market sellers putting up their stalls, irritated drivers stuck in long traffic jams...This barred window and these thick walls were no obstacle to my imagination, which knew no limits of time and space.
Around one year since the incident with the Prime Minister had happened, I was listening to the radio and enjoying my morning contemplation when I heard the critic praising the new book of poetry by the Prime Minister. If I had persuaded myself that I had forgotten my poems and got over their loss, this moment proved the opposite. I felt as if someone was slashing through my body and pulling out my heart. The pain was unbearable and I howled like a wounded animal. The critic was citing my poem “Mother” in which a young boy sorrows his mother who leaves the house after her quarrel with his father. He watches her walking down the street and hopes she will one day return, but she never does. His father buys him all kinds of gadgets to make him forget her, but he is inconsolable; he only wants his mother back.
Just like a year before, the critic lavished only praise on the new collection. “Only a person with a great spirit and intellect could have written such a touching poem and render into verses something which is almost impossible – the sorrow of a young boy who lost his mother.”
I snapped, jumped up, grabbed the radio and threw it to the floor and it shattered into bits of plastic and glass. I had a feeling of enormous strength inside me. My sorrow had turned into pure hatred. I was prepared to annihilate anyone who came in my way. I went into the corridor and looked around, but it was completely empty. I walked a few steps and saw through the glass door of the TV lounge that the flat TV on the ceiling mount was on. When I came in, I saw “Arsonist” ensconced in the sofa watching it. He was the youngest patient, just around twenty and ended up here because he set fire to his neighbour’s house, just for fun. He wished me good morning, but I ignored him. My eyes became glued to the large screen filled with a close-up of the conman, thief, swindler, and manipulator – the Prime Minister. The sound was low but enough audible for me to grasp what the newsreader was talking about. My hatred grew even stronger and I felt as if the melted metal was flowing in my veins instead of blood. I grabbed the nearby chair, smashed it into the TV with such force that its two legs pierced through it, and came out on the other side. The screen, with the smiling Prime Minister, instantly became dead and dark. I gave it another glance. It reminded me of some kind of art installation so often seen in galleries today. Before I left the room, I noticed the poor “Arsonist” cowering behind the sofa but I could never have imagined hurting him. I went further down the corridor and walked into the dining room. Pop music poured out of the stereo and Olga, a young girl who was still learning to be a nurse, was taking plates and cups out of the cupboard in the kitchen and putting them on the sideboard. She was always kind and chirpy and seeing me this morning she shouted, “Good morning Poet! Is everything fine?” She did not look at me and was busy with her task. She did not see me either when I came up to the sideboard, lifted half of dozen plates and hurled them to the floor. She turned around and there was fear in her dark eyes, but still she remained calm. “Poet,” she said, “what’s the problem? Did you sleep badly?”
I pretended not to hear her and took more plates and hurled them to the floor where they scattered in hundreds of white pieces. She came over to me and stood close. “Mate, she said, “let’s sit and calm down.” She had hardly finished her sentence when I lifted my right arm and slapped her in the face as much as I could. She was short and slim and the force of my blow threw her to the floor. Blood began to pour from her mouth and dribbled down her chin. She started to cry, watching me in disbelief. I, however, felt neither remorse nor mercy. I made two steps towards her and wanted to kick her body until it turned into the lifeless heap on the floor, but she jumped up before my foot caught her and she ran down the corridor crying aloud. I knew that within seconds, there would be a loud alarm all over the hospital and all available personnel would be here, keen to pin me to the ground and make me harmless.
To be continued.