Strange and confused dreams troubled me. I was hovering, with big, soft balls hanging near me in space, and they were weightless. I struggled ceaselessly with some word, but I no longer know what it was.
I awoke late in the afternoon. My hair was wet and matted, and my bed-clothes were soaked with perspiration. I stood under the shower, but even this could not calm me down. I put on my clothes and for a moment I thought that perhaps I should get some fresh air into my lungs by going out to the street.
But I soon gave up that idea, too. The very thought of their streets filled me with nausea. And it was all the same, anyway, whether my prison consisted of twenty square metres or fifty square kilometres. The kind of atmosphere necessary for my mind was not to be found anywhere there.
I returned to my room. Absent-mindedly I pushed the call-button for food. The little table popped out of the wall with my afternoon snack on it.
I could only manage a few bites. The silence and the woolly emptiness of time got on my nerves. I started up from my seat, charged to and fro for a while and then exhaustedly threw myself down on my bed without knowing what to do.
A melody haunted me, stubbornly; it was impossible to get it out of my head. It was a stupid song: "Mary my sweetheart". I kept on pushing it away in vain, I tried to divert my attention in vain, I could not rid myself of it. The tune was oppressing me, it was cloying to my brain, it accompanied my pacing and tortured me. When it came to an end, it started all over again.
Since then this song has been my veritable enemy, pursuer. When I hear it within myself, I relive these monstrosities. It revives in me the whole atmosphere, the taste, smell and sounds of that situation. I see the room, my dishevelled bed, the sunbeams slanting inwards, I seem to smell the sour smell of sweat and the horrible silence of the hospital ward, the dull hopelessness of emptiness overcomes me. Now, if I hear this song played I run away, but it comes after me, tortures me, it does not leave me just because I want to tear myself away from it. It was a pity even to write about it now, as it has already begun to haunt me again.
So, when "Mary my sweetheart" had sung itself in my brain for about the twentieth time, Zatamon entered.
He was the only one for whom it was an official duty to. be interested in all my troubles (if I may use the word duty here at all), the only one to whom I could show myself in my true light. And I had never needed so badly to unburden my soul to somebody as now.
No sooner had he come in and set himself near my bed than I snatched his hand, dissolved into tears, without the least restraint, and entreated him to hear me out.
Zatamon reassured me that he had treated many similar patients already, and though he himself as a sound organism was not able to appreciate the symptoms completely, he did nevertheless, in relation to the then existing state of medical science, know my malady quite well and knew that at such times the patient had to be reassured about his good intentions, as in his mind erroneous beliefs were forming. He had had dealings with more than one patient, who attributed Behin properties to the physician, as their brain had been disturbed by the strange current which I called fear, and such a patient even did such things as to assert that things were not as they were in reality.
"It is a strange and hitherto unaccountable matter," he said, "about which it is necessary for me to enlighten you. Speech, as we know, is for communication, and only existing things can be communicated. They, however, forget at such times why speech has come about, and try to use it to communicate non-existent things, like someone wanting to see with his ears or make light with a typewriter."
Seeing my confused face he assured me firmly that it had indeed occurred during his practice.
But I needed no encouragement to be sincere. What did I care now if they took me for a madman ! It could not be worse among the lunatics! Throwing off every self-tormenting shackle I cried and, choking with sobs, almost shrieking, I unburdened my soul.
"Are you telling me to be sincere?" I asked. "You, who did nothing else but compel me to tell lies?! I assure you, however, that it is over, and I won't conceal my soul any more!"
Zatamon listened with an unchanging wooden expression and I continued freely.
"Be informed then that I am indeed ill ! And if you really do have good intentions, then on this occasion don't try to stop me with stupidities; instead try to understand and help me!"
"I understand everything."
Yet again the comforting words were such a peculiar contrast to his hollow voice, but for me even this morsel was a great, liberating gift which, relieving me of my fetters, brought forth a volley of words from me.
"You are the only man who takes an interest in my fate, so let me tell you everything that weighs heavily on me. I am not actually angry with you, but I still hate you because you have deprived me of everything. Oh, don't interrupt me, don't tell me that everything was at my disposal in the warehouses I What you have taken away you have not taken by hand, but simply by not even touching the victim! Indifference was the most terrible dagger with which you have driven me away from Life, and this is why I hate you, although I am not an enemy but merely different from you, and cannot tear out my soul. The whole of my being would have to be changed, for me not to perish in your airless, frosty world, after human cultural life."
Burying my face in my hands, I added in a faltering voice, "I'm afraid I cannot bear this icy jail for long!" Zatamon, seeing my state of excitement, waited until I had calmed down a little and then asked:
"What is it you actually miss? "
So that he might understand me better, I spoke of the British citizen's variegated and colourful life, of the first motherly kiss, of the sweet games of childhood, about college life, harmless jokes, sports, the beautiful daydreams so full of colour, about the sweet, sunny years of budding love, about the happiness which came from the knowledge of bread won by hard work, the family house, the "my own", about the pleasures of the warm, soft nest, where in the evening beside the crackling fire the child is dandled on his father's knee-the child in whom the happy parents saw the continuation of their lives, they petted and reared him like the gardener the sapling. The head of the family saw that his life had been worth while, knowing that when he died, his name and memory would survive and be enshrined in the hearts of his grandchildren, who would come to his grave at least once a year to tend the flowers with loving hands and to offer a prayer for him.
I spoke of the struggle of social ideas, the debates of the philosophers, scientists and politicians, of the life-forming force of the homeland, the card-games in cordial friendly circles, the elegant balls, I spoke about the interesting details of social life, the colourfulness of the streets, about the monuments erected in honour of great people by grateful posterity, about competitions, theatre, literature, everything which could be summed up under the terms of fine human culture, and all of which I had to do without here.
"Oh, I am aware, only too well," I said bursting out passionately, "that there is very much trouble, misery and inequality in our world. I have been watching your country with open eyes and have to admit that in many respects you are perfect. And I have no wish to complain about having to dispense with what is bad with us but rather to say what is good. What a person of culture cannot endure is that you live without heart, without the salt and sense of life; his life becomes intolerable, and he dies of thirst. For what is the point in living in order just to linger from one day to the other with no aim? Tell me," I shouted, almost beside myself, "what is the sense in it?"
"Do you call life lingering?" he interrupted. "Does man not live for life?"
But I was not to be stopped.
"... to die at the end like a dog, to be processed... "
"Do you not die?"
"...and to be cleared away, without having lived, without having had anything to live for..."
"As I see it," he said, "you do not know the essence of life, the life."
"Oh!" I broke in. "Don't repeat that! I have heard that nonsense so often already! And anyway it makes no difference, I am fed up with it! I would rather have no more of this life! I will not sink to the level of a robot, look at the sea after a monotonous job, then go home and go to bed; never to be able to talk to anyone, not to love, not to feel enthusiasm, not to struggle for some aim. I can't endure such a complete vacuum, do you understand? That really can't be treachery, can it? That really can't be kazi, can it? This is the red colour of life, without which there is no sense. No, because it is not life. Of everything we do, you say that it really does not exist. On the contrary, nothing that you do exists! At last I had come across the expression I wanted: that is what is not: it is your life that simply does not exist!"
Zatamon looked for a long time at my excited, heaving chest, and then seeing that I had finished he began to speak quietly.
"I am a physician, so I'm not surprised at your words. Those who imagine of nothing that it is something, can do it only if at the same time they see the existent as non-existent. The camera records what is white and black, and the picture is visible only because at the same time black appears as white. If the camera took everything in black we would see nothing." I was astonished. These profound words bewildered me. Maybe our approach was a similarly complete whole such as theirs? Two worlds, which could never perceive each other simply because the other was not a separate entity but the reverse of itself...
I remembered, when I first heard that the earth was a sphere I wondered why it was that the American children did not fall off the earth, and no doubt American children thought the same about us, because we did not know that in reality there was no up and down. But then...
Suddenly I spoke.
"All right. It is possible. But if you know only that we each live in opposite outlooks what evidence is there that yours is the positive and ours the negative? We are unable to penetrate into each other's concept of the world. But surely it can be seen that we are both able to live, however impossible it may appear from the other's point of view."
"Yours is the negative," he answered.
"Where is the evidence?"
"It is not difficult to decide which is the negative between something which is and something which is not."
"Speak more clearly! Why do you say that it is not we who live reality?"
"With you existing things are only a means for reaching non-existent aims which you call ideas while it is precisely the reverse that can be called reality: when we think of bringing about something in fact. Only an aim taken from the real, the natural world can be termed positive, as only what exists can be achieved. But you don't live for building a house, for producing clothes and food, and even if you accomplish all this, you do it for imaginary — and therefore unattainable — aims."
"But a house is built and in the oven bread is baked. Does it make any difference for what aim all this takes place?"
"It does. The result of a negative endeavour can only be a negative life."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Negative life is death. And is that not how all your activities end? Did you not conclude in every case that for the faith, the flag, love, beauty, that is for the words, one had not to live but to die? But to build houses one must live, and a dead man cannot reap the cornfields."
A lengthy silence ensued, and then, softly, I began to speak.
"You may be partly right, but you cannot say that we don't live a real life. What I've related to you about the life of the inhabitants of my country, mostly takes place in the world which is also called real by you and for tangible aims. Or does the student not learn in order to become a bread-winner some day in the future, and is it not the kiss in which love ends?"
"No. This is also imaginary. You fight as if you wanted to reach something, and when you have reached it, you are still farther from it. The student lives in his dreams and the loving youth in his desires; but if the student realizes his dreams or the youth wins his love then they are no longer satisfied. It is then necessary for them to sire a child to be brought up giving yet another unattainable aim, or some sense into his life. Ends already attained you consider senseless, and the fullness of life you term lifelessness. But then why do you strive to reach it? When you are far from something, you force your way towards it, you redouble your efforts, and when you have it, you throw it away, as it has then lost its value."
"And you? Why do you work?"
"For life itself. And you for the struggle. Once you told me what a pleasure it was for you to solve puzzles, and if you happened to come across the magazine in the club with the riddles already solved by someone else, you felt vexed, instead of being pleased. You mentioned that a trend in poetry or art was beautiful until the meaning of the metaphors became well known. As soon as you become accustomed to iron meaning strength, and spring meaning youth, you no longer consider them beautiful. The target is always moved farther and farther away because you fight for the fight itself not for the goal. And you also told me that for a diamond you would give everything as there are only a few of them, while air had no value, although this is what is necessary and not the former. You fight for the love of a woman as if it did not depend on the woman alone whether she loves you or not."
"That is precisely what we fight for," I replied in surprise, "because it depends on her and not on us."
"But a woman is also a human being, so you fight for a thought in a human brain, the existence of which depends solely on your imagination. You lay siege to the walls drawn on a map just as if it were not you yourselves who had drawn them. You heal wounds inflicted by yourselves in order to be able to wound again, and you struggle against an economic crisis as if it was not you yourselves who stopped the machines. You have invented friendship, beauty, love, hatred, which create obstacles for you to have something to struggle for or to fight against, as you attribute independent existence to these obstacles."
"And is it not variety that gives meaning to life? In the village do we not long for the town so that we can be delighted by the thousand varieties of society? Are the arts not for making life more tolerable? And is faith not for relieving anguish, to give substance and purpose to our life, without which only a barren skeleton and an unfilled gap would exist between birth and death?"
"Whoever wants to come out of the water must reach for the shore and not at himself. Progress can be achieved only by reaching for the real world."
"Oh, I know very well that for you only matter and wellbeing exist. But realize that we also reach for the shore. Many of our philosophers are working for the enlightenment of man and searching for the governmental system which will set as its target progress towards eternal peace and a just material life."
I told him about Plato's state, Saint Thomas Aquinas's principles of the divine universality of the outcome of labour, the common work of the Cathari and the Hussites, Fourier's phalansteries, Thomas More's Utopia, Proudhon's people's bank, Louis Blanc's national workshops, Robert Owen's social manufacturing plants, the communal states of the Dominicans and Jesuits in South America, and finally I came to scientific socialism and the latest theories, to the plans of Marx, Lenin, Bakunin, Bernstein, Kropotkin, Kautsky and Plekhanov, and to technocracy and the democratic socialism of the Fabian Society, Wells and the Webbs. I spoke of the work theory of mercantilism and physiocracy, of the liberalism of Adam Smith, and of the trade unions; nor did I fail to mention the ideas that had not materialized, such as Georgism, syndicalism and anarchism.
For his life he could not understand how it was possible to imagine so many things concerning such a simple thing as life.
"Only the words and the names of the theories can be varied," he countered. "Not life itself, which is predetermined by our organism. And anyone who attributes independent life to the words, is sick and a somnambulist."
"But from these words economic systems are born," I retorted.
"Is it not all the same in which system you are ill? Even then your soul will remain, which is what draws you away from natural life."
"How can you say that? Emotion is our innate, natural property. Go all over the world and you will not find a single group of people without faith, art, love and hatred."
"Well, is that not what I have said-that you are basically sick, so words and enlightenment will not cure you? You are dreaming, and talk in vain to each other about what is good, because you also dream the concept of good and your philosophers, too, are no more than figures in a dream. You will always remain in one place and struggle with yourselves. Your life is a stagnant, dreary drudgery, for drudgery itself, in which there is no progress but the infinite, dull monotony which any man wishing to make progress could not, with a sound mind, tolerate."
I was astonished at the audacity with which he was able to impute all the deficiencies of their life so cynically and unscrupulously to ours.
The next minute, however, I was overcome by a very strange feeling. I felt as if I had heard my own words from his mouth — as if my own skull had emerged from somewhere and grinned at me. How did it happen? Was there indeed no difference between us other than the difference between one side of something and its reverse?
My being divided into two now meant that each aspect was fighting against the other and I did not know which of them I now was. However I had to get rid of one of them. I had to clear the matter up. I put another question.
"So, according to you, superior aims have no reason to exist?"
"Among men there are no aims beyond Man, furthermore, there cannot be."
"None beyond Man, only superior ones. Or does literature not deal with the human fate and reality?"
"All of your life is imaginary. And if you write of this imagined life a story which is itself imagined, you stray only farther from reality."
"But it refines our taste. It gives new content, new aims and clearer sight to our mind. But let things be according to your opinion. Let us presume that we did not progress in the things called real by you, and wasted our energies on spiritual aims. One thing you cannot deny: in this we did make progress, as culture has constantly led to new problems, new styles, new manners and new tastes. Or don't you see any development from Plato to Marx, from Pheidias to Rodin? Is not spiritual life more developed today than two thousand years ago?"
"You are building a rotating cage for yourself, which leads you to imagine intentionally infinite horizons lest recognition should spoil the illusion of your long-distance running."
Somberly I remarked that it seemed that I could not rely on a spark of understanding on his part, yet at the outset he had stated that he would understand everything.
"By understanding you mean approval, whereas sickness can be approved only by misunderstanding, by the inability to recognize the heart of the matter."
With a tired wave of the hand I fell silent and decided not to continue. However, prompted by a sudden inspiration, I gave a start.
"Perhaps," I said in a more lively tone, "perhaps, if we wanted just to exist on the earth, we ought to emulate you. But tell me, what shall we do with our heart now that we have it?"
",Why do you use the name of something that actually exists as a designation of something which does not exist?"
But now I felt that God had delivered him into my hands, and I regained my l dance. Backing two steps and putting my hands on my hips I hurled it into his face: "Because it is! Because it exists!"
"What does not exist in nature does not exist at all." "Tell me," I said acrimoniously, "why do you eat?"
"Because we are hungry."
"Why do you drink? Why do you sleep? Because you are thirsty and sleepy, isn't that so?"
"It is so."
"Thus, after all, you, too, live in order to satisfy desires, and these desires are in you, that is they are in men, and therefore in nature. Do realize," I went on in a raised tone, "that we are driven to culture by the same feeling of want. If this desire is for words, then we subsist on words, but the fact that a thirst is quenched not by water, but by music, love or enthusiasm only confirms its existence."
"But a word is not a reality..."
"That's not important!" I interrupted. "The point is that we do have such desires!"
"There are only existing things in the world."
Airily I waved my hand. I had never been so sure of myself. I almost found pleasure in stabbing my words into him.
"If I said about your eating and drinking that they are nonsensical, I would be more justified because we know material desires as well, but you haven't the least of cultural needs. This particular desire is our property only while it is missing from you, so in this respect we are more than you. Yes, we are more, because what you have, we have as well, but you have only part of our senses. How dare a colour-blind person claim that there are only coarse and smooth surfaces but there is no colour?"
"Dreams cannot be reality," he reiterated stubbornly, "a dream is a self-created picture of the brain..."
"Look here, you say that no desire aiming at anything other than existence can exist. But in me, such a desire does exist, and I say that its being is possible. What does that prove?"
Zatamon was attentively watching my face. After a short while he said: "That you are a Behin."
At first, I wanted to fling myself at his throat. How dare he offend me, a British citizen, in such an arrogant manner.
It took me minutes, thinking over the nature of the Hins to curb my passion. The mind accustomed to the animated European atmosphere can hardly but realize that among them there is neither offending nor flattering intention, purely and simply the objective meaning of words.
"You are a Behin!" He uttered these words as if he had examined litmus in a test-tube and said, "It is an acid".
Gathering myself together I tried to think of the essence of the former words and suddenly it flashed through my mind that, accordingly, the Behins could be nothing other than people blessed with a soul, whose misunderstanding of these eating automatons resulted in their exclusion from the Hins' world. It could only be that the madmen took soundness for insanity.
"Look here," I said with interest, "what is Behinity actually?"
"It is a mental disorder which regrettably has not so far been cured; we only know its cause for the time being."
"Tell me, what is the essence of it?"
"For that, I have to explain the natural metabolism of the brain generated by the sun's cosmic rays."
"It is known that cosmic rays emanate from the sun while the brain operates as an aerial and operates for the aim of life when it is affected by these rays, which you call 'natural instincts'. In nature there is no contradiction as everything that exists has developed by itself during billions of years, and the rough edges of the components of the overall mechanism have been worn down to work smoothly together. So the cosmic rays of the sun induce the functioning of natural life through the aerial of the brain. But we know that the receivers, according to their size, also generate self-oscillation, become auto-excited and with a lack of proper shielding these oscillations also affect the aerial which therefore accepts distorted waves. The apparatus squeals, crackles and roars because it is reproducing its own voice. With small apparatus it cannot be felt, as the small brain of an animal does not disturb itself, and the animal lives its natural life. With animals possessing a more developed brain neurosis manifests itself quite obviously in some cases... "
"Speak of the Behins!" I interrupted impatiently.
"The Behins' brain is completely influenced by its self-oscillation: so their life is directed not by natural but by artificial aims coming from within. These inside phantasmagoric waves turn life into its reverse which sometimes results in its elimination. Yet today they are experimenting with a cure, but the whole brain needs to be removed and as this is very dangerous, it has not as yet been tried out on human beings. So, for the time being, we cannot do too much for the poor fellows, only leave them alone and see to it that they should not go short of anything."
While listening to his words I could hardly keep from smiling. Before my very eyes there was this tiny unseeing man gabbling away and officiously explaining what can cause the obsession of colours and how it was to be cured.
"But still, what do the Behins actually do?"
"Non-existing things. Speech is fit for communicating only existing things so I could not even tell you the essence of them, but this much I can definitely say-their deeds are very similar to yours. There is, for example, one who paints his shoes saying that it increases their usefulness, while on the contrary it covers over the pores of the material so that the feet cannot be aired. They do not dress in the clothes as they are made by our factory, but before doing so they alter them, each in a different way with a lot of senseless work."
I felt the former greatness of Zatamon diminish into nothing. I no longer even paid attention to his words, I was interested only in how I could get among the Behins to shake with tearful eyes the hands of my poor, outcast, zealous fellow-men.
"Where are the Behins?" I asked.
He related that they lived behind the hospital in a spacious settlement, encircled by a wall. They lived within the enclosure in normal flats; the Hins provided them with food and clothes, but otherwise they lived completely according to their own incredible system. The Behins, however, not only endured each other's company : they were, in fact, unable to live outside it. Internment was not therefore a punishment, of which concept the Hins were unaware, but merely the separation desired by both sides.
"How can I get in there?" I asked.
My question somewhat surprised Zatamon, and he anxiously warned me of the "madnesses" to which one was exposed among the "crazy people" which could not be tolerated by the sound mind. He remarked that they took in people only in very grave cases and that perhaps it would be better to experiment with some other cure for the time being, as maybe "there was still hope".
I, however, claimed I felt myself to be completely hopeless and demanded to be taken among the Behins.
"Be warned also," he continued, "that on no account do we intervene in the Behins' life, so if you suffer from their crazinesses we cannot help you."
And he commenced to explain that every Behin had a different opinion from the others, even concerning the simplest things. Because of this they sometimes quarrelled. It happened on such occasions that one of them would ask for the protection of the Hins, which he was given. But it always came to light that the Behin did not want to reach kazo and peace — he only wanted to impose his own fixed ideas upon the other Behin who had hurt him. This was why the Hins intervened to restore order only in the more serious disagreements — for, regrettably, such fights occurred. Otherwise the Behins managed their own life, which could not in any case be understood with a sound mind.
Smiling, I reassured him that I fully agreed to the principle of non-intervention, and stated that I was not afraid of anything. He consented, and said that he would take me to the Behin settlement the next day, if possible, but first he had to study my symptoms carefully.
With this he brought a syringe, took blood from my arm, cut a sample of my hair and then left me alone.
For my own part, I spent the night sleeplessly — but now it was from joy. Before my soul, parched in the desert of the Hins, the long lost hope of warm, colourful human life dawned with an ever brightening red glow.
Oh, had I only known what was to come!