It was raining cats and dogs when I entered the mental institute. On opening the door, the patient immediately sprang towards me. “I’m not who you think!”
There was agitation and pain in his manner and eyes.
“Tell me then, who are you?”
“I’m not who you think!”
“Well, who aren’t you?”
“The one they think I am!”
There was a loud clap of thunder. I took a deep breath and opened my notebook to keep myself busy. The patient began almost on cue.
“There’s another out there, with the same face and body.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because people have been coming up to me to talk about things I’ve done. Only that I didn’t do any of them!”
I nodded and continued writing.
“It all started with little things like stealing chocolate from a baby. It was the first birthday of a friend’s daughter and he told me he’d seen me nicking it. Had I not found the chocolate in my fridge I wouldn’t believe him. Then, my son told me how he was glad I ran after the dog who’d run away with his homework and snatched it back for him.”
“Isn’t that a good thing? Helping your son out?”
“Running after a dog in broad daylight and getting dirty in the process? I don’t think so. Everyone saw it!”
I reflexively matched his dumbfounded expression.
“Well, what really got me worried was my neighbour’s beautiful wife. He started an affair with her!” whispered the patient. “I noticed her smiling at me a couple of times before she walked up to me and suggested we go into her house. Her crudeness appalled me. But what really made me aghast on further discussion was her description of my body as well as my dead mother’s house.”
“Did she insult you?”
“No, she’s a kind woman. But her description was too accurate!”
I nodded. “What did your wife say?”
“We don’t live together. She left me. We aren’t separated, but we live separately. But what really got to me,” he continued, “was a hobo on my way to the office thanking me for buying him food and giving him a blanket.”
I stopped writing. “So you’re saying there’s an impostor who helps your son out, has a kind, beautiful woman drooling over you, helps the needy, and leaves free chocolate in your fridge, and you have a problem with…what?”
“He’s not me! He is impetuous, lascivious, unrefined. People look at me differently now. I can see them scowling!”
“Is that it?”
He shrunk away. “Why, is my public humiliation not enough?”
“He’s also kind, caring, and charming.”
“But the people in society talk behind my back now!”
I shut my notebook, stood, and stormed out. Sometimes, I wonder where the asylum ends.
I often feel our placing of labels is misplaced.