One day at breakfast, I am alert enough to speak. Sitting to my right is a man about forty years old, scruffily dressed but otherwise as normal looking as anyone else in the room.
“Hi, I’m Matt Daviri, Solomon, to you.”
“Yes. I am Solomon reborn.”
“I see,” I say, although I don’t.
“Marc Prospero. I’m an inventor…”
“What have you invented?”
“I’m not sure.”
Rational, but a bit strange
I’m in here because I’m insane. This man however seems rational, yet he is Solomon. It’s a bit strange.
“Are you really Solomon?”.
“My daddy in heaven tells me so. You want proof? You can have it direct from scripture. The Song of Solomon says so. And if you want to, you too can be a biblical figure, any that you choose. Choose.”
He holds out a pocket bible. I don’t take it.
“I’m a Messiah,” he continues, “you too can be a Messiah. Choose.”
I still don’t take it.
“Very well,” he says. He picks up his tray, slots it into place in the metal cabinet and heads briskly out of the door and down the corridor.
I put my tray away and sit down in a worn but comfortable chair next to Daisy and her two crutches.
“Are you all right?”
“Depressed. Need a cigarette.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any.”
“Must have a ciggie. Oh God.” She starts crying.
I put my arm around her shoulders. A phrase pops into my head: ‘Hug therapy.’
“Would you like some hug therapy?”
“I’ll show you. Stand up.”
I fling my arms around her and hug her for a few moments. “Was that good?”
“Lovely. Thank you.”
“Would you like some hug therapy?” I ask the next patient.
I hug her. As much as anything new can catch on in a room full of mental patients, this does. Patients hug other patients and an atmosphere of near-jollity exists for a few brief moments. Some people are half-smiling, but as they sit down, hug-therapy is quickly forgotten and the half-smiles are gone like a departing comet.
Singing a song
I have another idea. “Let’s have a sing song!”
I start singing The Music Man, complete with actions, “I am the music man, I come from down your way… and I can play the double bass, double bass, double bass, double-double-double bass, double-double bass.’
No-one joins in, until a concise but heavily built man with short spiky blonde hair walks in. He’s wearing a sky-blue tie with the single word ‘Zebras’ printed on it. He’s clearly a nurse. Only a nurse would be wearing a tie.
He sings roughly and badly but with gusto, “I am the music man, I come from down your way… and I can play
I chorus, ‘What can you play-ay?’
“I can play the piano, piano, piano, pia-pia-piano, pia-pia-no.’”
General E.A. Goodbloke
“Hello Marc. We haven’t officially met, but I’m Jim, your friendly neighbourhood SRN.”
“It’s hard to get them to join in.”
“Yeah. Mental health problems deaden people. Nasty.”
He’s clearly someone who cares. It’s good to meet someone who fits his career so well.
“Why have you got ‘Zebras’ printed on your tie?”
“Oh, it goes back to my army days. My platoon were in the bush in the Sudan, lying on the ground looking for guerrillas when a herd of zebras wandered over and pissed on us. Afterwards we had the ties made as a memento.”
“Is that true?”
“I think that you’re generally a good bloke.”
“That’s me. General E.A. Goodbloke.”
Jim leaves the room and I wander around looking at the patients’ artwork on the walls. Few would ever hang in the Tate, but full of meaning? Yes.
One in particular catches my attention. A dark, stark picture of a red cross against a stormy, swirling, nightmare Jackson Pollock-style background. It speaks to me not only of the deep suffering of Christ, but also of that of the artist.
One day, pyjama-clad, I’m called in front of the consultant again.
“How have you been, Marc?”
“To be honest with you, I’m bored stiff. There’s nothing to do here except watch the television.”
“We could refer you to occupational therapy. Would you like to do some woodwork?”
“Anything would be better than just wandering around and watching the Wide-Awake Club. That blasted jingle, ‘We’re wide-awake!’ It’ll start giving me nightmares if I hear it any longer.”
“Right. We’ll see to that. Apart from feeling bored, how have you been – no voices in your head?”
“No untoward imaginings or grand plans of any sort?”
“Well, Marc,” we’re very pleased with your rate of recovery. I think we’ll be able to talk about discharge sooner rather than later. In the meantime if you’d like to go out for some fresh air from time to time I think we can trust you not to run away. Just tell a member of staff if you want to go. Tony will give you your clothes.”
It’s good to be in real clothes again.
I catch up with Matt Daviri who is pacing up and down the corridor. We pace together.
“You’re an inventor, Marc.”
“No I’m not, not really. The only thing I’ve invented is hug therapy.”
“A few people have told me about that. They enjoyed it. To me that’s as much of an invention as the wheel, or the light bulb. By the way, I’m an inventor too.”
“What have you come up with?”
“Well, really it’s my God Jehovah who invents them. I simply put them together. He leads me to where the parts are, I clean them and install them onto the relevant machine. For instance recently he led me to a certain piece of wasteland and I dug and found a nut. When I got home I simply cleaned it up and slotted it into place onto the machine it was for. That’s the way it goes.”
“So what do the machines do?”
“I don’t know. When they’re finished I’ll find out: God will tell me.”
A visitor: Brigitte
Back on the ward after a few days’ leave, I’m lying on my bed in the dorm, in a ‘brown study’ as Conan Doyle wrote of Holmes.
Something amazing and utterly unexpected happens. The beautiful girl from down the National One corridor at GEC poked her head around my curtain and says ‘Hi!’
She sits on my bed and we chat for a little while. I’m conscious of not looking my best. Who does, in a mental ward? Even the staff don’t look their best. She says she’d like to see me once I’ve been discharged. Just before she leaves she gives me her number and a Richard Clayderman tape.
I am left in a state of shock. I’ve had a visit from an angel. Wow.
We did get together, but it was a strange date. I moved too fast – I should have given myself a couple of weeks to recover more fully, but I called her before I was at my best. She chose the venue: a small supermarket, Victor Value, in the city centre. We progressed around the aisles, she put a few groceries in her basket, she paid, we left… and I regret to say that was the end of our relationship.
I didn’t see her in the corridor again, because my days at National One were numbered – by myself. When I got back to work I told Personnel that I thought the excitement of Marketing had tipped me over the edge and I felt I needed to go back to the relatively humdrum world of software engineering.
This was a mistake.
For an unknown time I pace up and down the corridor from the dorm. A voice calls me into the office. They give me my property back and a prescription.
This is it then. All I have to do is pick up the pieces of my life and get going again. As I go through the front doors of the hospital, I feel like a condemned man who’s been pardoned.
Alleluiah, I think, allay-binking-luiah.
Folks, I know this is an up-and-down tale, but stick with me. The end is an up – definitely.