Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Chance Meeting

He saw him down at the sea front on a bench, looking out on the ocean, wrapped up against the cold.

‘Is it really you?’ he said.

‘Yes,’ said the other, ‘it’s really me.’

‘How many years has it been?’ he said, lowering himself down onto the bench beside him.

‘Fifteen? Twenty?’ said the other. ‘Does it matter?’

‘I guess not,’ said the first. ‘So how’ve you been?’

‘I expect you want me to say that I’ve been ok,’ said the other, ‘but if I did I’d be lying.’

‘Oh?’ said the first. ‘What happened?’

‘The fact is,’ said the other, ‘soon after I left school, I started hearing a nagging, persistent voice in my head: winding me up, sending me crazy, constantly criticising everything I did. Calling me weak, pathetic, a passive little queer who’ll always let himself be fucked. I lived with it for years, until it crossed over from being just an inner voice, clearly part of my thoughts, to being what they call a full auditory hallucination, something as real to me as the sound of your voice now.’

The other paused, and stared out to the sea.

‘Do go on,’ said the first.

‘I finally went on medication,’ continued the other, ‘and though it dulled it, it could not shut the voice up completely. While the drugs enabled me to function, when I was on them, I barely felt alive. Then I heard about a new approach to my condition, not involving any medication, which encourages the sufferer to actually listen to what the voice is saying. It should be thought of as having a purpose, we were told: of it being there for a reason. Most importantly, as part of this treatment, we were asked to try to identify the voice, and work out if there was anybody that once said these things to us now being played in our head, over and over again. And I realised, as I underwent this therapy, that the voice was yours. These were the things you said to me, the names you called me, just after we made love.’

The first was silent, his head in his hands.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, finally. ‘I only said those things because I was disgusted with myself. They were never anything to do with you.’

‘I know that,’ said the other, ‘but they stayed with me all those years, tearing at me; undermining me; haunting my life. It’s only when I realised their source did they finally go away. You have no idea what it was like.’

‘Actually that’s not quite true,’ he said. ‘I too have heard a voice constantly these years past. My voice calls me names like ‘hypocrite’, ‘liar’ and ‘coward.’ It kept on shouting at me to ‘come out of the closet like a man’, even after I finally did. I too spent years on medication, feeling dazed and stupid, before I signed up to the same radical therapy as you. There I discovered the origin of my voice. It was you. These were the things you said to me, responding to what I’d said to you, all those years ago, when I felt disgusted, after we’d made love.’

There was silence, until finally, the other laughed.

‘What’s so funny?’ said the first.

‘We haven’t seen each other for all these years,’ said the other, ‘but it turns out we were never really apart!’

He laid his hand softly over that of the other, and together they sat, their eyes closed, listening to the waves.

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