The Projectionist

I have resolved not to drink again, and although the last 4 days have been difficult, I have managed to stay sober. I practise boxing and read, thinking up different ideas and so far I have managed to stay away. Moreover, I have made some friends here. Last night one of the girls I am friends with (she is Ghanaian) had her birthday celebrations. There were just 6 of us, including a Spaniard who was in the Army for a couple of months. Owing to my respect for the army and the fact that I am well versed in the Army’s ways (I was in a Paramilitary youth wing when I was in school), the two of us got on really well. He too is a philosopher, and the evening was made livelier by intense discussions on Ethics, morality, religion, women and girls. The two of us were the guys and the others were girls. The girls are older than us, but they are positive people.

After the party was over, I dropped off the girls to their apartments and made my way to the town’s centre because I was not sleepy. It was 2 in the morning by this time, and the sky was dark, but the streets were empty and well lit. I sat on a bench and watched the couples walk around plausibly in romantic bliss. I was happy. My friends knew that I was alcoholic, and they applauded my being sober for 4 days. It takes an effort and I am glad that they have been understanding. At times like these, you need a support system and I am glad that I found it.

I sat on a bench feeling benign and awake. A few minutes later, my solitude was interrupted by a tired woman who just collapsed on the chair, exhaling heavily. She asked if I minded her sitting here with me, to which I replied in the negative. She was welcome to sit. A minute or so later, I drew out a bottle of juice and offered it to her. She took it gratefully and as I turned to look at her, I recognized her. She was a waitress at another restaurant that I frequent nowadays. She looked at me with pleasant surprise and smiled.

Now, this woman is very pretty. When I say that she is pretty, I mean it. She looks like a pleasant mix of dark hair and green eyes, a sharp nose that looks sculpted but what is most striking about her is her smile. She smiles widely and her eyes seem to glow from within. Even in the dark Centre, I could see her glow. She shines and even while I eat at the Restaurant (Viktor’s), I can feel her infectious happiness. She serves me all the time and I have come to admire the woman. Rather, she is a girl and not older than me by much.

Tonight, I decided to ask her name, I was curious. I asked and she told me her name. I asked what she was doing now in the wee hours of the night.

“I am the Projectionist,” she said, “at the Theatre”.

The Projectionist looked at me squarely, she enjoyed her work but tonight was different. She was tired tonight. It had been a long day at Viktor’s and to top it all, her brother was wounded in Afghanistan. He is a corporal in the Army. “He’ll be fine, they say,” in her voice the panic and grief is present, just discernible under her optimism,”I told him not to join”. We sat in silence, each in our own thoughts. What platitudes could I possibly give her? What impotent words of comfort would escape my lips now, as I sat, a recovering alcoholic and a foreigner?

So I just listened.

Sometimes all that is needed is an ear, and I am surprised the Greeks and the Romans didn’t have an Ear as a God. I listened to her talk about her brother who went to the Army, was at the top of his class and was a Rifleman of sorts. He was just a month away from being promoted to Sergeant. Now, he is badly wounded, probably in pieces and would return in a month due to his injuries. He will spend a month in Germany to get fixed up. All this time, she would have to work, expecting the worst when he returned. Something about him would be extinguished. His fiance was in pieces anyway, but she was glad that he would come back alive. He would be a shadow of the man he was once, but that is for later. I realised that the tangible victims of war are also those who stay home, waiting. Sometimes they wait indefinitely, sometimes they find that they don’t have to anymore because Duty calls men and takes them forever.

A badge of shame

I have been drinking again. I spent the whole of last week drinking every night and morning and here I am, on a Monday morning, ashamed of myself, hungover and lost. I try to drink in moderation, but there is no moderation in alcohol abuse. Two tests on alcohol dependency marked me as a “High risk alcoholic”, that is to say that I am at a high risk for alcohol abuse. The one thing that I had dreaded and loathed all through my youth, that of being is a drunkard, is what I am on the road to becoming. The guilt and the shame are a burden that I carry on my back. The urge to drink is so strong, it is like being thirsty all the time, the frustration of in-satiation is so intense that I can feel it claw at my heart and compress my lungs.

I confessed to my old man that I am having drinking problems. My closest friends know it and my father does too. They want me to cut down and abstain, but here, in the cold evenings where my disillusionment weighs down on me and ties my feet, I feel a temporary delusional release in alcohol. It makes nothing better, it solves nothing, it clears nothing, but it is a poison that I willingly take because deep down, I am my worst enemy.

A haggard face looks back at me when I look in the mirror. I forget what I look like, I have forgotten what genuine happiness feels like. Academic brilliance is a curse, and even as I sit coughing, dizzy and depressed at a desk, writing answers to complicated questions with ease, I feel nothing. I scored 4/6 in my Physics test last week, and this week, 5/6, while sitting hungover and deeply ashamed of myself. My colleagues are intimidated by me, (one of them said so, she is an older woman and empathetic) and they view me as a self-contained, confident man whose age and nationality are incomprehensible.

I am sitting at a lecture now, unwillingly and feeling fatigued. Adara sits on the other end. I can’t face her as I drink. She fills a gap in my mind. She is like a ray of sunshine in the gloom in my mind. Colours return in my head when she is there, unaware that she is the only reason that my days are a little redeemable. I have a mad crush on her but it is as undesirable as my dependence on alcohol. I want to shut her off from my mind like I want to give up my whisky, but it is so difficult, so tiring and so cold. I long for rest and a voice that is not mine to soothe my shame. For now, there is only silence and a heavy rain.

10 years is a long time

This morning as I was shaving, I realised that it’s been a little over 10 years to the day I first started what would be the best 6 years of my life so far. 10 years ago in March, I was dressed in a navy blue blazer and grey trousers and assembled on the Quadrangle of the Primary Wing of a famous school. My parents were so proud. I remember making some friends and meeting a teacher (a bearded man) who is, till today, one of the very few men I actually respect and look up to. He was my guardian and guide throughout my stay at school, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness that I can’t meet him.

10 years to the day when I was a 9 year old boy, fat and smiling. 10 years to the day I began an education that would teach me so many things, and 10 years to the day I joined a school where I would make myself for the man I am today. 10 long years.

Where am I now, I ask myself as I sit in the Anatomy Museum hoping Adara enters like a springtime breeze. I am in the first year of medical school, top of the class, and yet, I struggle with two demons: a cynicism with the world that I cannot let go of, and an indulgence in alcohol that seems to spiral out of control. I wonder if I can fight them both while retaining who I am, because my cynicism seems to define me, but my alcohol, fortunately doesn’t. I am not an alcoholic, thank the stars and my near empty wallet, but I am a cynical bastard and my friends will agree.

Almost all of the men I call friends are from my own school. We met in school, grew up together, suffered the physical abuse of punishment drills together and we broke rules together. One is a photographer, another a psychologist, another a philosopher and the last one is  a musician, although he and I met later, after I left school. A lot of praise deserves to be said of my school, it was beautiful, nestled in the mountains, with clean air and a sense of freedom in the confines of the estate that never ceased to amaze me. I remember standing at a balcony of sorts and gazing down to the hill town to realize that the sense of imprisonment gives more value to the freedom in my mind. As I sit near a hall of cadavers, I feel that if there is a place that I could choose to have my remains buried or my ashes scattered, I would want them to be scattered near the school. I want to be laid to rest at the place where I was happiest. It is sentimental and fatalistic to think of death and obsess over it, but this close proximity to learning through the generosity of the deceased lends a certain gravitas to the matter.

It is bright and sunny outside. The sky is blue and reminds me of the clear blue skies of my school days. Of all the things that I miss, it is the sight of the clear blue skies and the sparkling snow-capped mountains in the far horizon. I wish for so many things, but I would make a deal with the devil to see the familiar sights of my childhood just once more.

 

A sober week: Euphoria and humility

I have been sober for a week. Considering the way I nearly killed myself because of drinking, I think that it is an achievement. That is not to say that I don’t feel the temptation. I can see the coloured liquid in the glass bottles in almost every shop here. The last week was a road to understanding myself a little more clearly, and although there are parts of myself that are still cloudy, I feel that I am on the way to something better.

I haven’t seen Vivienne in a week. Regardless of the circumstances of our meeting, I feel that there is something in Vivienne that makes me want to go easy on myself. On Monday, feeling hungover, tired and ashamed of myself, I went to the Anatomy department for my exam in Anatomy. I got the highest in the class. Although my classmates didn’t say it, and neither did my professors, I knew that they knew that I had drunk too much.

It is sunny outside and yesterday, I felt the joy of spring. I attended a conference of Surgery for aspiring surgeons and found that I was the youngest attendee. The visiting surgeons were quite taken up with my enthusiasm for surgery. They said so, and they were proud that I, despite being only almost twenty, knew where I had to go. It will not be an easy road, of course, but I think that Life is too short and too valuable for easy things. I love my challenges.

What then, are the challenges that I still face?

I feel the burning humiliation of my own derision. Subconsciously, I fear death, and I fear myself. I loathe myself because I realize that I too am only human. Being human is limited, and I am limited by the emotions of jealousy, fatigue, anger and passion that seem to weaken my resolve. I long for a touch of human company, I long for a hand to extend through the shadows to reach out as I sink into my own disillusionment. The cadaver from my drunken hallucination was a reminder of my own transiency and it also represented my fear of death. I will cease to exist and what scares me is that I will die alone. Yes, that is true.

If I collapsed of a heart attack right now, no one would find my body for at least a week, and they would find it only because of the smell. I don’t want to die alone, but I want to live alone. Are those two things, the opposites of this existential conundrum, mutually inclusive. Do I accept that a lonely life will lead to a lonely death? Will it matter? Adara strikes me as the sort of person who is silent, solitary and yet, I am afraid of trying to reach out to her. I am afraid of so many things, and human contact seems to be one of them. The two of us seem to be in our own bubbles that we have woven around ourselves, trying to keep out the world. I am not afraid of the world, but I am weary of it, somehow tired. My lips thirst for something to drink and water is no longer quenching my thirst. My hands long for the embrace of another human being, and yet, there is a comfort in knowing that no hand will extend from the shadows, and no bell will ring through the apartment. The foreigner seeks rest, and hopes that he will find it.

The functional group -OH Part Five

I am sitting in the Anatomy Museum, a hall full of anatomical specimens, where medical students often spend time studying bones and other fascinating structures of the human body. The hallway smells of formalin, and a dissection of a cadaver is under way as I write. It’s been a week since I met the Rabbi, or the Vice Rector, and the vital question of “What did I do?” remains in my mind. It is answered, of course, but there are parts of it I don’t understand.

A couple has just finished a session of making out. I am disgusted. There is literally a hall of cadavers just outside the door and the all-pervading smell of death is heavy here. In the middle of all this, two people are making out and whispering sweet nothings. I am not jealous, and I couldn’t be bothered if they were making out in the middle of Trafalgar Square for all the difference it made, but here, in the centre of a embalmed corpses and medical students, this act of foreplay seems out of place, perverse and disgusting. It seems disrespectful to the dead who are our donors, but then again, sitting as I am here, dressed in all black, it is a relief to see a sense of normalcy.

Conflict in thought is very common. All of us are conflicted, confused and lost. All of us are longing to be found, I certainly am.

Sunday was eye-opening.

The Landlord spoke continuously for an hour, hesitating only to confirm something with Vivienne. I sat in silence, waiting for Vivienne to begin. She was deathly pale at the end of it, and she hesitated before speaking.

“Father says it is a little distressing to hear”, she began.

“Distressing or not, Ms Vivienne, I hope it is the truth”

“It is”, she said and began.

In short, alcohol and loneliness are not a combination that suits me well.

Saturday morning, I went to a grocery shop where I bought 3 bottles of Vodka, 2 bottle of Whisky and some soda. I had shifted in by that time, because Vivienne had seen me. Her parents own the grocery shop. At 4 in the evening, I had turned off the lights in the flat, swearing and cursing loudly. Apparently, I had drunk too much. At 9 at night, they heard me yell as though I was being attacked. I shouted words in my native tongue that they couldn’t understand. I yelled and they heard a thud. They heard this commotion as they were locking up to go home. A few people on the street looked up in the direction of my apartment.

The landlord thought nothing of it, and went to his apartment with Vivienne. The two of them live in a building behind mine. They went to sleep and were awoken by a phone call from my neighbour who had heard me scream someone’s name. I was yelling in English and Vivienne at this time hesitated again. I was yelling something that she didn’t want to repeat.

“Tell me, Ms Vivienne”, sounding braver than I felt. I knew what I was yelling because I remembered.

“You yelled something about not having any friends and how you would give someone a lesson in death”. She looked as though she was afraid of what was going to come out from my mouth next.

I recognized the raspy voice of the cadaver, because it was mine. I yelled accusations against myself as I staggered around a dark apartment for half an hour yelling self-criticism that I would never speak aloud, let alone think. I was the cadaver, and I was yelling. I was the cadaver on the bed, and I was the living and breathing Ativ. It was confusing.

“That can’t be true. I remember seeing a Facebook message, Vivienne,” I was done with the salutations. I checked my phone and there was no message. No notifications, nothing. It was almost as if yesterday was a dream. It was getting cloudier by the second. My head hurt and it swam.

“Mr Schuberg, it is alright,” said Vivienne softly. I could feel my sense of shame rise. Apparently, I yelled that I was going to teach someone a lesson and smashed a bottle of Whisky on the wall when the neighbour and the landlord decided that the security had to be called. They came with two guards who had heard the commotion and had drawn their pistols. They thought that there were two men in the apartment, one about to attack the other.

It is surreal when you think about it. They yelled at the door that they were armed and would break down the door in a minute if Mr Schuberg wasn’t left alone. I yelled that they weren’t going to get me alive. The bastards would have to kill me to take me. I had the broken bottle of whisky in my hands.

“Courage, duty and honour”, Vivienne said, “That’s what you kept repeating”. The security guards yelled out for me. They asked if I was okay. I yelled that Schuberg was dead. Schuberg was dead and lying a pool of his own blood, and they wouldn’t take me alive either. Schuberg and I were not going to be taken alive.

It was at this moment that Vivienne stopped speaking. I knew that the next part was going to be the biggest humiliation of my life. Here I was, referring to myself in the third person, possibly about to kill myself, all because I had decided that boozing continuously without eating was a good way to beat the loneliness. Yes, that’s right. I hadn’t eaten in three days. The ingredients of the chicken stew were left untouched on the table. In my inebriation I had left everything.

“I knew you were alone, Mr Schuberg,” said Vivienne quietly. In her eyes, I could sense a certain pity, a heartbreak of sorts. Grief, possibly. I could see in her eyes that she felt pity for me: a foreigner hardly any older than her.

Well, Vivienne convinced the guards and her father that it was only me inside the apartment. She said softly that she was there to “take me to the other side” (those exact words, I could hear them now because I remembered them clearly), and that she would lead me, with Schuberg, to the other side where there was peace.

I opened the door and collapsed, my nose bleeding freely. The Rabbi was called and embarrassment was saved me because in my drunken inebriation and shouting I had alerted half the neighbourhood of a short-circuit in one of the electricity boards. I was yelling about “seeing the light” just before I passed out, pointing out the window. There was a spark and the cable had fallen into a storm drain, which, due to the rain was full of water. A fire had begun in the corner in the flash of a second somewhere. The two guards called the Fire Department.

I lay on the floor looking at Vivienne in the dark. All I could see in the dark was her blonde hair and her lips. I passed out saying something gibbering and foolish.

The functional group -OH Part Four

What did I do?

I asked myself this question many times in the privacy of my own mind, but I coud get no answers. I was tired and was having a headache. I felt as if my body had been thrown across the room multiple times and I thought of the cadaver. What was the lesson in death that it wanted to teach me? Was this it? Had I died and been resuscitated by the Rabbi, or the Vice Rector, as I should call him? He was a doctor after all. Had he performed a miracle last night?

I couldn’t understand the day either. Vivienne told me that it was Sunday, and I was mortified to consider the possibility that I had spent the week passed out or in a drunken coma or something. I was afraid of what I would have to tell my father. I had sworn to the old man that I wouldn’t drink, but here I was, probably a week into a drunken sin.

I couldn’t get anything out of Vivienne either. She sat in a corner by the window and watched the rain ( it was raining again). Every time I caught her eye, she just smiled benignly like some nun attending a charity of lepers. I wondered what she knew and I wanted to know what she did. Whenever I looked into her eyes, (green and a little large, but mesmerizing all the same), I felt a twinge of pity and humour. I felt my sense of shame rise. What had this girl seen me do?

An hour passes in uncomfortable silence. I have lost a week of my life, drunk and like an alcoholic, I can’t even remember anything. I would have to write a letter excusing my absence from the University, and I would have to apologize to my father, get shouted at by my mother and swallow it all. The shame would live with me for ever.

The bell rang and Vivienne went to open the door. A few seconds later the landlord entered followed by a large man, dressed in a black overcoat and black hat. He wore a benign smile on his face and walked over. I rose to shake the Vice-Rector’s hand. He grasped it firmly “Well, your grasp is still firm, so there’s nothing to worry”, he said, motioning me to sit on the bed. He carried out some routine inspections, and then straightened up.

“I’m sure you’re upset with a few things. You need to be told a few things, Vivienne and her father will fill you in with the details. Don’t take so hard on yourself.”

“Vice-Rector, I’ve missed a week’s worth of classes, how am I going to excuse myself?”, I ask. I was ashamed to no end.

“I wouldn’t worry about that m’boy. You haven’t missed anything. It’s only been a day.”, The Vice Rector rose and left the room. A few seconds later the door slammed shut. Vivienne and her father returned to the room. I was handed a bowl of soup by Vivienne, which I took gratefully. I was famished.

The landlord settled himself and motioned for Vivienne to sit. I was going to be told a story in which I was the protagonist, but not the narrator.

The functional group -OH part three

When the lights came back on, I was lying on my bed. I could see someone move about my room, but that person moved too fast for my eyes to see. I groaned, and felt as if I had gargled shards of glass. I croaked for water, and a footsteps rushed into the room. My eyes focused with difficulty to see a woman in Scrubs (nurses and doctors wear them). She helped me sit up and gave me some water. I tried speaking but my words were garbled, and I couldn’t make sense of them either.

I looked for the cadaver, or the spilt innards but found nothing. I tried getting out of bed but the woman pressed my shoulders and mumbled something about rest. I was surprised to find that I was dressed in a clean shirt and pyjamas, on my bed that was soaked in sweat. I was getting more and more confused by the second. What day was it, I asked myself, and I tried looking for my phone, but couldn’t find it.

The woman entered, but this time there someone else with her. I turned to see the Landlord’s Daughter enter the room. The room brightened as she entered, or so I thought. She smiled and asked me if I was better.

“Better from what?”, I asked, my voice feeling better after the glass of water.

“It’s a long story, and you need rest, Mr Schuberg”, replied the Landlord’s Daughter. I still didn’t know her name. I asked and she told me.

“Vivienne”, with a smile.

I stood up from the bed and stretched myself. I stood straight and looked at her. “Ms Vivienne, I need to know what happened”, after a moment’s hesitation I asked her what day it was.

“It’s Sunday morning, Mr Schuberg. Like I said, it is a long story and I’d rather wait till my father comes here. There are parts of it that only he will be able to tell you. He’s gone to get a Rabbi.”

A Rabbi? Goddamn fuckwits. I needed a doctor not a Rabbi. I told her so. She listened to my tirade of how much of an atheist I was. She listened for five minutes to my explanation of why I wasn’t Jewish and why I needed a doctor and why, most of all, I needed answers. She listened and at length, she turned to the window and said, “He is a Rabbi, yes, but he’s also the Vice Rector of the University, Mr Schuberg”.

I stood there looking like a guppy fish at feeding time. The Vice-Rector of the University was going to be here, all because of some stupid shit that I probably did. Fearing the worst, I sat down heavily on the bed.

“I know how you feel, Mr Schuberg,” Vivienne continued,”But he’s a good man, and he’s a doctor”. Doctors are only human, I said to myself, because I am training to be one myself.

Yes, that is the reality. I’m studying to become a doctor, and here I am, three weeks into my course and I am already being tended to by my landlord’s daughter who, though 17, looks like someone out of a film. She is blonde and tall, wears spectacles but is amazingly soft-spoken and quiet. She is beautiful, something I notice immediately in the women I meet, and although I can’t call her a ‘woman”, I can see her beauty. Fucking romantic, I chide myself, there is nothing to be gained from falling in love with random women in your life. Right now I was ashamed of myself, because here I was, possibly passed out from binge drinking, and my Vice Rector was going to be here in a few minutes.

All in all an experience I am not going to forget any time soon.

 

The functional group -OH Part Two

When I awoke on Sunday Morning, it rained heavily and the apartment was cold. I woke groggily and got out of bed. I remembered the events of last night a little vaguely and had a headache. There was a note on the dressing table and a message on Facebook. Both were signed by the same person and said the same thing:

 

Get well soon, Mr Schuberg.

 

I thanked the person who sent the message and made my way to my bathroom and brushed. My arms were heavy, and my head felt as if it was loosely swinging on my neck. I brushed, and collapsed on the bed. I slept till I awoke to the sound of thunder. It was raining outside and it rained softly, but consistently. It was cold and I shuddered. I turned on the heater and to my surprise, it warmed me enough. My eyes watered and I sat on the sofa, groaning and moaning because I was so exhausted. I felt the fatigue stretch my limbs painfully and then I decided that everything could go to hell. My back hurt uncontrollably, my legs felt as though knives were being pushed through them.

All in all, it was time for desperate measures.

I crawled outside, cringing at the cold rain on my face. I walked to a grocery store nearby and bought 3 bottles of Vodka.

Vodka is 37.5% alcohol. It contains a rather fun molecule of ethanol, which ends with, you guessed right, -OH. It is an awesome molecule and if chemists were poets, it would be the Muse of almost every chemist known to mankind. Books would be dedicated to this little molecule. For apart from being one of the best organic solvents, it is also a component of booze and tonight, it was going to be in my system in indecently high amounts. I was going to get drunk, I said to myself.

I staggered back up to my flat, and cracked open the bottles. I drank one, then the other, feeling the pleasant burning in my throat. Soon, I saw the warmth in the bulbs that illuminated my apartment, I felt my limbs strengthen and I felt free. Soon, I was relaxed into a haze of giddy euphoria, and I sat on the sofa and was soon fast asleep.

I awoke to someone calling my name.

“Ativ, wake up!”

I awoke. The apartment was silent and it was dark outside. I held my watch up to the light and saw that it was almost 10 at night. I heard the raspy voice again.

“Get up, Ativ, there’s a good lad”. I rose from my sofa, and walked to the direction of the voice. It was raspy and oddly familiar. “I’m right where you left me, you dirty swine”, and I walked into what was my bedroom until a few hours ago. It was now a dissection hall, and on the bed was a cadaver with its lifeless eyes looking straight at me. “Here I am, and I am still alive”, the cadaver said, and threw off the bedsheet that was covering it, and there I saw the innards spill out onto the wooden floor. “Go ahead, cut me up further, and I hope you enjoy it. Call your friends over! Call the bastards! CALL THEM!”, the cadaver yelled, its embalmed hands flailing wildly.

The cadaver was dead and yet, it spoke, and I was terrified beyond my wits.

“Ah,  but you have no friends, you gormless spineless, bastard.” the cadaver’s mouth was toothless, and its face contorted into a shrunken grin. “You are alone, and while you are here, I’m going to give you a lesson in death”, and it rose from the bed.

The lights went out on me then.

The functional group -OH

-OH is a functional group, very useful in Chemistry.I study said subject as part of my course. It is the chemical group that makes alcohol for what it is: Alcohol. Alcohol, last week, was my company in my dark apartment. I sat in my new apartment, ruminating over the silence. It was raining outside and I sat feeling down and washed out. It had been a hard week.

I shifted into the Apartment in the morning, feeling the usual zest of Saturday mornings. It was sunny then, and I felt that there was nothing that could go wrong. I was happy, it was a fresh start, and what is life except for a number of fresh starts strung together into a fragmented memory? I was happy, as I sat on the couch with a glass of water, happy at my morning’s labour of shifting suitcases and bags.

I cooked myself a decent meal of chicken stew and baked some bread. I ate everything in silence and slept.

It began in the evening.

I started to feel the blanketing silence descend on me. A mist and rain began to fall gently outside. The rain didn’t patter, it fell softly, rarely rising above a buzz. The apartment was getting colder by the minute so I turned on the heater and yet, even the warmth couldn’t get rid of a strange coldness I felt. I felt my shoulders get heavier. I remembered the cadavers at the dissection hall from a day ago. The smell of the formalin, sickly sweet and associated with embalming, returned to my nostrils. I could have been standing in the dissection hall, with a dissection knife (blade), bent over the embalming corpse of someone who must have been living and breathing like myself. In a few minutes I was asleep.

I awoke to the sound of heavy knocking on my door. Someone was shouting my surname from outside.

“Mr Schuberg! Mr Schuberg, open up please. Can you hear me?”, I heard someone yell. I was still sitting on my sofa. My nose, I found to my surprise, was bleeding, I was sweating and my hands were trembling. I rose from the sofa to find that I was stiff in the neck. I had apparently fallen asleep on the sofa, sitting up, and cricked my neck to boot. I staggered to the door, and opened to see a group of people standing outside my door. Two of them were dressed in black, with pistols drawn.

They were shocked to see me. I staggered or shook a little and immediately five pairs of hands stretched out towards me to help me. As my eyes shifted into focus, I recognized some of the people in the group. The landlord and his daughter were there, my neighbour and two men who were clearly security guards. The landlord, who doesn’t speak English turned to his 17 year old daughter (who is a beauty, I will admit) and asked her something. She translated:

“Father is asking if you were okay. We heard you yell. Are you alright ?”

For a moment I couldn’t answer, no words formed themselves in my mouth. My throat was hoarse. So I was yelling, was I?

“I’m fine,”I said, “Probably a nightmare”.

The landlord’s daughter turned to the crowd. It was she who was hollering at the door. The people who stood there weren’t convinced. They turned and pointed to my nose, which had inexplicably, started to bleed again. I dabbed at my nose, hoping to staunch the bleeding. The landlord spoke again, and his daughter turned to me , “What did you see in your dream, Mr Schuberg? Was it something personal? Was it death?”

It was all of those things, but I couldn’t speak again because I had collapsed in the doorway.

 

 

Who do we turn to?

I woke with a yell and staggered out of bed. I dream that I had died and my soul rose to the realization that there is an afterlife. In my dream, I felt a stab of fear as I died, wondering about the great unknown of death. In my dream, I felt that there was an afterlife, a continuation, and a freedom in death. I awoke feeling considerably distressed. I am unafraid of death in my waking life, and I have no fear about death because I know that death is nothing more than an end, a cessation of biological activities. I will cease to exist when I die, and it will be the same as not existing at all. I didn’t exist in 1940, and I didn’t exist in 1980, and it made no difference. I will probably not exist in 2050, or 2080, and that is all there is to it.

Life is a party and death is nothing more than leaving it in silence. I am not afraid of death as I sit contemplating death and morbidity in my Hotel room. I am more concerned about the fact that I have nightmares every time I close my eyes to sleep than the philosophical or ethical conundrums of death. Are my nightmares the manifestations of deep desire? Do I desire an afterlife, do I want a perpetual life, one that stretches into eternity? No, all I want is to be able to sleep peacefully.

I went to a lecture on an obscure topic in an obscure subject and esoteric though the material was, I understood it. I sat in the lecture hall thinking more deeply about my social isolation than anything else. It is so lonely now that I spent a major part of last night sitting in the Reception, hoping that the ebb and flow of people coming and going would soothe me. It didn’t help.

People in my career path have no one to turn to in times of crises. We have rotations, duty hours, laboratory work and research assistance work that eats into our time, and all the while, we must be up to date with our subjects. I study as much as is humanly possible, but it isn’t enough. The fatigue creeps on me and grabs my shoulders, forcing my shoulders to buckle. There are times when I wonder why I chose this career, and I wonder why I didn’t listen to my mother and study something simpler. There is no money in this field of study, only long hours of hard work, and the worst part of it is the loneliness. It is a lonely path to becoming what I want to become and this is as true as it gets. Estimates and research have shown that any point in our lives, students of this field will suffer from major depression, social isolation related problems sometime in their student lives. A dedicated percentage will seriously contemplate suicide, and a few will commit suicide.

Drug and alcohol problems are very common. Am I part of an expected percentage already?