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.