‘I think there is something wrong with me,’ said the woman.
‘What seems to be the problem?’ asked the doctor.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘I am so tired all the time, I feel as though I am losing blood. I am turning blue and my veins have started showing themselves all over like neon street signs in a foreign language, and …’
She paused in discomfort, but the doctor said nothing and waited for her to continue.
‘And, you have to understand, there is a great gold dagger in my chest with a hilt like a serpent, and a sword in my stomach. I can feel it ripping me apart when I move and eat, and when I lie awake in bed at night.’
‘Would you say you have trouble sleeping?’ asked the doctor.
‘Yes,’ said the woman.
‘And this pain,’ said the doctor, ‘could you number it on a scale, with ten being similar to the experience of giving birth to quintuplets on horseback, and one being a mere annoyance (as in you shouldn’t even be here at all, you time waster, you cowardly woman!)?’
‘Five?’ said the woman tentatively. She did not want to complain.
‘Very well,’ said the doctor, ‘can you tick the relevant boxes in this list?’
The woman tried to look at the lists and tick the right boxes, but after a while she began to think she was just imagining it after all, because none of the things on the list seemed exactly right, though they all seemed about half-right as if they described a televised version of her, whose illness interrupted a life more healthy and well-arranged than her own, full of work functions and functional relationships where anything out of place could be noticed and marked down as disease.
‘Do you think it’s just depression?’ the woman asked.
‘Do you think it is?’ said the doctor.
‘It could be,’ said the woman. ‘Sometimes I don’t know if I am tired or sad. Sometimes I don’t know if I am imagining things.’
‘Very well,’ said the doctor, ‘there are some pills you can take.’
The woman hesitated. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Well,’ the doctor shrugged, ‘it’s like we always say, if you feel bad, why not? There’s no harm in trying.’
The woman assented and went home to swallow her first pill with a glass of water. The next day, new pains began. First she realised that there was a spear in her foot and then two arrows in her thigh and soon she had a dull ache from a club to the shoulder. Her skin began to tighten, her fingers and toes going numb and stiff to the world.
All night she listened to her heart. It went crrrrrrrrr and then began beating in three-four like a waltz, and then for a long time she was sure it did not beat at all. The dagger was still wedged into her left atrium. The hilt with its gilded serpent seemed to leer up at her. She waited for a heart attack and considered calling for help. But how silly she would look if it were not a heart attack. Instead she wrote a short note to her family, apologising for not having called for help, so that they would not hate her so much when they found her body and realised how cowardly she had been.
She began to notice, then, that her hands had been replaced by someone else’s hands. They were pale, much skinnier, and clammy, as though they had been stored in a jar for many years. They moved only in stiff jerks that seemed just a little detached from her intentions, as though someone else were manipulating her hands in a way that was meant to convince her she was still in control of them. She began to develop suspicions.
The following day she was a bit better and had gotten used to the spears and arrows and even the dagger. But the sword in her stomach was unsettling, and she could not think of eating.
She swam in the ocean and became the ocean, feeling no joy, the water sliding in and out of her brain. She began to feel the brain behind her cheeks turn to statue – the once fertile breeding grounds for new and surprising thoughts now fossilised.
She could not do maths anymore. She returned to the doctor and told him that she had taken an IQ test and she had dropped twenty points. She told him about her hands being wrong, about the spears and arrows that she could not seem to remove. But she didn’t tell him about her heart, or the note she had hidden crumpled into a fist beneath the rotting banana peels.
‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘it was you who called it depression, don’t you recall?’
The woman went home again on the bus, with the dagger in her heart and the spear in her foot and the arrows in her thigh and the sword in her stomach. She bled onto the floor of the bus and this made her tired. On the bus, too, was a woman with an axe in her brain, wedged in as neatly as you would wedge it in a block of wood while it wasn’t in use. On the other side of the bus was a woman with her stomach cut open – her baby was sitting across from her, still attached to its umbilical cord, crying and waving its little pink arms. That heartless woman did nothing to comfort her baby, just stared at it, unaffected, as the poor thing ruined everyone’s bus ride with its bawling. Everywhere was blood, drying into the seats, the dank, sweet rust smell permeating everything. She couldn’t even read the paper.