The main gate had already been locked but I remembered the code they’d given us at the first meeting along with the maps and the rota, Drago whistled with admiration when he saw me punch in the six digits from memory and I swelled with pride that my head was still working, things can’t be that bad, I haven’t gone completely round the bend. We walked down Impasse de Marronnier, leaving Bellevue’s park on our right, a housing estate on the left, crossed a bridge above a railway line, some high wire mesh on both sides, and then downhill all the way to Belle de Mai, across a small sycamore park, towards the Boulevard National.
As we walked I told him about my previous depressions, those dreary autumn days when everything seems set in stone, irreversible, of obsessive thoughts of death and how to achieve it painlessly, as soon as possible, the unbearable theatricality and banality of the whole situation – I’m unhappy and I want to die – the mornings usually being the worst, I wake up before five o’clock, roused from sleep by sheer anxiety, I lie in bed paralysed and can’t imagine how I will survive another day, the thought of having to function normally again terrifies me so much that I climb under the bed in terror, squeeze my body into the confined space, close my eyes in the irrational hope that no one will find me there, that somehow I will be forgotten, but then I hear the door open, my mother walking in and shouting, what are you doing under the bed again? Why are you doing this to me? And the despair in her voice is so great that in the end I crawl out, get up and start getting dressed, very slowly, my body refuses to obey, it’s totally shattered, I can’t even raise my arms, I need help to wash, like a baby, my mother goes to work and I’m left on my own, I sit in the kitchen gazing out at the grey courtyard, the radio is on and suddenly it says on the news that some man has suffered mild nutmeg poisoning, fifty grams is enough for a lethal dose, I get up and start rummaging in the spice cupboard, I find a bag of ground nutmeg, empty it into a glass, top up the glass with water, try to stir it but I can’t do it, nutmeg is no sherbet powder, tiny lumps float in the water but I try to drink it anyway, it’s disgusting, I can’t get it down, finally I give up, if nutmeg isn’t mentioned again on the radio I’ll think of another way, for example, I dig up a hammer from the pantry, place my left hand on the kitchen counter and raise my right with the hammer in it, close my eyes and… nothing, my hand flops, I don’t have the courage, I’m a coward, I put the hammer away but the thought stays with me, it won’t leave me for a second, the same thought for months and months now, how to put an end to it quickly and painlessly. Later in the morning I go to the university, my sense of responsibility prevails in the end, I sit on the floor, that’s where I feel best, in the dust and grime, the dark corridor of the language department, other students around me discussing films, flipping through an Avon catalogue, revising vocab for a test, they laugh, I don’t, an hour later Svetlana and I go out to the bank of the Danube, we sit on the low wall, Svetlana lights up and says – I feel like shit, too, but things will get better one day, I don’t know when but I’m sure they will, you’ll see, they will at some point, then another lecture, I don’t take anything in, I can’t hear, I don’t take notes, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, the medication is making my hands tremble, I sit there and feel like screaming and letting everyone know that I’m dying to make them take me seriously at last, but it’s not necessary, most of them have already guessed, this semester I’ve taken to running out of class for no reason, like today, Svetlana catches up with me on the stairs, I just can’t go on, I tell her, I really can’t, sorry, Svetlana’s hand on my shoulder, she’s telling me something, we go back to the classroom together and when it’s over one of the other students, the one who always sits in the front row, away from everyone else, tells me she feels a bit sorry for me but is also a bit scared of me, what if I lose it completely and hurt someone, I’m crazy, you’re crazy, she repeats with a smile, I run away, lock myself in the toilet, start bawling, afterwards, when I tell Svetlana, she swears she’ll smash that bitch’s face, but I say no, forget it, I’m back at home by four o’clock, alone, outside nothing but the autumn, greyness, rain, I phone my sister, she’s a psychiatrist in Prague, I declare resolutely that I don’t want to take the meds anymore because those meds, that’s not me, the meds have turned me into some kind of an imitation of who I used to be, a bad copy, and I add, without rhyme or reason – maybe it would be best if they locked me up in a loony bin, maybe that’s where I belong, my sister breaks in, you don’t know what you’re talking about, they wouldn’t help you in the loony bin, all that would happen is that a fellow patient would scribble above your head, in shit, ‘Welcome Home,’ would you like that? Huh? Is that what you want? You’ve no idea of the kind of people that are in those places, plus, if you ever end up in a loony bin, you’ll be marked for life, people will point their fingers at you and say, she’s not right in the head, she’s been to the funny farm, my sister is insistent, and I can see she’s right, in the end I even promise to never stop taking my meds, I put the phone down, it has helped, I feel much better, my mum comes back from work, unloads the shopping in the kitchen and says – you just have to manage somehow until the antidepressants kick in, it can take weeks, months, I believe her at that moment, evenings are always much better, I’m sure I can do it, suddenly this inexplicable optimism, I almost can’t understand why I drank that nutmeg in the morning, why I took a hammer from the pantry, it seems absurd, ridiculous and pathetic, but then the morning comes again, anxiety rouses me from my sleep, I lie in bed paralysed and can’t imagine how I will survive another day. We walked down the Boulevard National, past billboards and illuminated bus stops, along Victor Hugo Square and up to the railway station, across a little park full of dog excrement and past a few homeless people in hoodies and dreadlocks in a variety of colours, we sat down on the steps, Drago took off his flip-flops and handed them to me, ‘You shouldn’t sit on a cold surface, you might catch cold and that wouldn’t be good.’ I accepted gratefully, no one has ever been so considerate to me, we watched Notre-Dame de la Garde in silence, the view was really perfect, the only interruption a boy with a rucksack who asked about the way to the hostel, ‘it’s supposed to be somewhere around here,’ we just shrugged, ‘no idea, we’re not from here’, and we watched him walk down the stairs to la Canebière. Drago said he felt bad, we could have told him to come with us, so he wouldn’t have to sleep on a bench, but I thought to myself, nah, that wouldn’t be good, I want Drago all to myself tonight.
Translated by Julia and Peter Sherwood
Jantar Publishing, London
219 pages, paperback