I see that it’s 10 am when I wake up the next morning. I don’t feel like getting out of my bed, but I have to. So I grudgingly get out of bed and start getting ready for the day.
By the time I finish getting ready, its 11 am. I eat some fruits for breakfast and step outside. It’s snowing outside. I see some kids playing in the snow. A little boy is sitting on the ground and his big brother is throwing snow balls at him. It is really a happy scene. The schools must be off today because of the heavy snowfall.
A man from the house directly in front of mine sees me and approaches. When he is within ear shot, he asks, “Are you new here?”
“Yeah. I just came here yesterday.”
“Oh, welcome to the neighborhood. No one has cleaned the snow in front of your house because it’s been empty till now. Now that you are here, let’s shovel up snow, what do you say?”
I agree that it’s not a bad idea and so we start shoveling the snow from the driveway to my house with snow-shovels borrowed from his tool shed. After 10 minutes, the entrance to my house is devoid of snow and I thank him for all the help. Right when I’m about to turn around, a snowball hits my face out of nowhere. I see some kids laughing at me. I smiled at them. The kid, who hit me with that snowball, is getting scolded by his mother.
“Hey, it’s alright. I am fine, he was just playing.”
“I’m sorry, he is not this unruly all the time.” his mother says and takes her son into the house, probably for more scolding. This reminds me of my son. The last time he played in the snow was in 1968. It was a Sunday. Both of us were playing in the snow that day. I don’t know why, but he threw a snowball at a lady who was walking. She got angry but I started before she could and scolded my son to never ever do that again. Fortunately, she didn’t make an issue out of it. But still I later explained my son that he shouldn’t behave in such manner. Those were the days when I was lucky, fortunate enough to have a family. The phone ringing inside the house brings me out of my memories.
I step inside to answer the call.
“Hey, buddy. Rupert here.”
“Oh hi! I was just about to leave to meet you.”
“Good. I just remembered that I didn’t give you the address when I visited last night. Would you note it down now?”
“Oh yeah! Sure. Just let me grab a pen and paper.”
I note down the address that he dictates and hang up the receiver. The hospital is on Brockway Road, Mount Claremont.
I grab my certificates and lock the door. Once out on the street, I hail a taxi and direct the driver to the hospital. After the first turning, the driver casually asks, “Claremont is a mental asylum, right?”
“So are you a patient?”
“No, I am a doctor.”
“Oh, I thought you are mad. I am really scared of crazy people.”
“I said I am a doctor.”
“Yeah. I am scared of them too.”
“Yes. Doctors are really scary too. They spend their whole day with mad people, so they also become like their patients. It rubs off, you know?
“What are you saying?”
“Yeah, I am telling truth.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“Ok, then I will have to tell you about someone. He was my neighborr. Like you, he was also a doctor. He started spending time with a mad man too much that he also started believing in the things that his patient was talking about. Later, they had to also admit him in the same hospital where he worked.”
“Wow, what a great story!”
“It’s not a story, my friend. It’s true. If you stay with a patient too much, his madness will rub off on you.”
I smile and say, “Ok. I will not stay with my patient for more than what is necessary.”
“Hmm” was the response.
By the time I pay off the driver and reach the hospital gate, its 11:55 am. The guard at the gate inquires my reason for visit. When I tell him that I’m here to meet Rupert, he makes a call to confirm that someone is expecting me inside.
He directs me towards the reception area and says, “Wait there, Collins will meet you in some time.”
I thank him and walk to the reception area as he directed. As I approach, I can see the receptionist going through some files and a cleaner sweeping the floor.
As soon as I enter, I hear someone scream from one of the rooms. I assume that it’s the voice of a male patient. I know it’s common in asylums but I ask the receptionist anyway “What happened?”
“Nothing happened. How can I help you, anyway?” was the rude reply from the receptionist. I decide to leave the matter as it is and answer her question.
“I am Ronald Morris. Dr Rupert Collins is expecting me today. I am a psychiatrist and here for an interview with the chief of doctors.”
“Oh, alright. I thought you were here for the sweeper’s position. That one there is quitting his job and I thought you were to be his replacement.” She says pointing to the sweeper in the room. “In case you don’t get the psychiatrist job, you know there is a vacancy for a sweeper.”
I just say, “Thanks. But I’m happy being a psychiatrist.”
“Do you want me to call Dr. Collins and inform him that you have arrived?”
“No, it’s alright. He’s already been informed.”
“Alright, then. Please wait till then.”
I look around the reception. It has minimal furniture, only a carpet and a few chairs. The walls are bare except for a window behind the receptionist’s desk and there’s a stairway on its right. Before taking my seat, I ask the receptions, “Could you tell me where I can get some drinking water?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“That’s quite near.”
Not sure where this conversation is heading, I say “Yeah, it is. I am just a bit thirsty.”
To my surprise, she just continues to do her work, completely ignoring me. So I try again, “Sorry for disturbing, but could you just tell me where I can get the water?”
‘It’s right behind you.”
I look back. There is nothing but a wall behind me. I don’t understand what she is saying. She continues asking, “Are you sure you are not a patient?”
I give her a startled look. But before I could reply her, Rupert appears on the stairway and motions me to follow him. Looking at the urgency on his face, I decide to the drop this matter for now, and follow him up the stairs he descended from. He leads me to a corridor. I see many doors on the side, some are single rooms with a single bed, some have two beds and there’s one room which looks like a dormitory. The rooms were almost fully occupied by the patients.
Rupert suddenly stops at a door with marked ‘Dr. Edward Grayson’ and turns back me to. He says, “Stay right here. I’ll be right back,” and disappears into the room.
About 10 seconds after the door closed on my face, I hear a loud wailing noise coming from one of the rooms. This time, it’s a girl’s. Her voice gets louder.
This time, I couldn’t help. She shouts again. I walk towards the room and step. Sure, it’s a girl. As soon as I enter, she stops crying, and looks at me with strange eyes. But she is still wracked with sobs. I move closer to her cot and notice that one of her hands is tied. She eyes me warily as I approach. Cautiously, I put my hand on her forehead to see if she has a fever. Her body temperature seems to be normal.
Right when I’m about to remove my hand, she takes it in her hand and looks at it as if it’s a strange object. She notices my wedding ring and tries to take it off my finger. The band is tight, so I know that it won’t come off easily, especially when she is only trying with her one hand. I try to stop her gently by placing my hand on hers. This time, she starts crying loudly again.
Just then, a doctor enters the room and sees me standing there while this patient is crying loudly. He curses under his breath and takes out an injection, which I assume is to calm her nerves. I know I’m right when I see her slowly stop crying and slump off, after he injected her.
In the struggle, I didn’t notice that her nails had peeled the skin around my ring finger. It’s bleeding now and the doctor notices it too.
“I’ll give you a dressing for the wound. Are you hurt anywhere else?”
I inspect my hand and say, “No, only this. Thank you.”
He washes and dresses my wound. “Just keep it covered. It should heal in a day or two.” He informs me and hurry outside. I see the girl in the room. She is sleeping quietly. She looks cute, but I should remember that she is a patient, not just a regular patient, but a patient in a mental asylum. No one can be normal here.
Rupert finds me inside the room. He looks at the hand and asks, “What happened to your hand?”
“Nothing, I will tell you later. But what did the doctor say?”
“Yeah, he is waiting to meet you now.”