by Inês M.
It's no use running away from the past... It will eventually trap you once again.
|He sat down on his car - an old, grey Trabant that used to belong to his father. By his side, on the improvised ashtray, cigarette butts were piling up. Some old newspapers and newspaper clippings from the Frankfurter Allgemeine right next to the ashtray. On the back seat, there were some old soda cans and empty pizza boxes, and Mr. Frank Sinatra playing on the old cassette player. Daniel closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, and sighed deeply, measuring the pros and cons of doing this.
“You’re not a bad person, Daniel” he said to himself “Just… Get in, do whatever you have to do, get out. Simple, quick and painless, always”.
He took the key from the ignition and opened the door slowly, as he got up on his feet and looked around. T’was a foggy, cold day, nothing he wasn’t used to in that gloomy city. He tucked his shirt into his jeans and looked in front of him – St. Joseph Krankenhaus, Psychiatric Hospital. He shivered, his trembling hands moved to his back pocket, and he took out his cigarette pack. As he tried lighting a cigarette (the lighter wouldn’t work) he began having second thoughts. She probably wouldn’t remember him anyway, she had been sick for so long now… What’s the point in visiting someone who doesn’t even remember you anymore? The son she raised for twenty years was now just a vague, faint image on her mind, like a childhood dream.
He looked up at the building again, and frowned. He hadn’t seen his mother in more than eight years, now. His conscience was troubling him, and he had felt a desperate need to see her so many times it was becoming impossible to avoid it.
“Right. Let’s get this over with.”
“The name’s Frieda, Frieda Baum” he flinched as the words came out of his mouth, he had always feared that name in this context. The young woman smiled and typed the name on the computer, a crucifix pending from her neck. He looked around, there were nuns everywhere. He disliked nuns, why did his mother had to be in a religious mental institution?
“No wonder she’s been here for eight years now” he thought, as he watched the young woman muttering something to one of the nuns in the reception “They probably say it was God that made her that way, how can that help her at all?”
The nun looked at him and frowned her eyebrow “Looking for Mrs. Baum, young man? And you are…?”
“Daniel Baum, Sister” he pursed his lips together “I’m Mrs. Baum’s son”
“Oh, a son. We never knew she had a son. She’s been here for eight years now, no visitors… Come on, then” she nodded at him “Follow me”
He looked at the young woman behind the desk again, who smiled for one last time. He smiled back, following the old nun across the halls, thinking how much he was regretting this already.
“Your mother is one of our oldest patients here, Mr. Baum” the old nun said “She’s been here for the longest time, that is. Most people either manage to get better and eventually leave or give up on getting better and give a rest to their poor souls”
“Is that a euphemism for dying?” Daniel muttered to himself “If so, it's a poorly constructed one.”
The nun stopped walking and looked back at him, with a look of disdain on her face.
“How old are you, Mr. Baum?”
“Ah, of course. Your mother has been here for eight years and no one has come to visit her ever since she was left here. No letters, no Christmas or birthday presents. Aren’t you afraid she has forgotten you? Why did you suddenly decide to show up?” the nun asked. He looked down at her, she could be very intimidating. She was small but plump, and had a little wart on her chin. She wore thick-rimmed glasses and looked like one of those nuns that scared the hell out of little boys and little girls in posh catholic schools. He wasn’t afraid, though. Not of her, at least.
“With all due respect, Sister” he smirked at her “That’s my business and I don’t see how that can be important to you or anyone else here”
She smiled malevolously “Oh it’s not important to me, you’re right. But it might be important to her” she pointed to the end of the corridor “Last door on your left, you’ll see her name on the door.”
He frowned “Well aren’t you coming with me?”
She laughed a little “Oh I’m sure you won’t need help finding her. If something goes wrong you can press the alarm button on her bedroom and security will attend you. I must warn you though… She’s probably not the same person you knew eight years ago”
Nuns never scared him but mental institutions managed to creep him out quite a bit. As he walked down that long corridor, it seemed as if it were longer than what it really was. Yellowish walls that could have once been white surrounded and suffocated him, and there were grey doors with numbers and names on them as if he was in a high-security prison for dangerous criminals. He shivered as he heard distant cries from one of the rooms. He approached the door and read the file: “Ada Friedriekson, 31 years-old; Schrizophrenia, Dellusion; potentially dangerous – drowned her children at Lake Wannsee” – and he suddenly remembered the Friedriekson case two years ago, when a young couple, on a boat stroll at the lake, came across the corpses of four children. The story had made headlines throughout Germany and Daniel himself followed the story rather religiously. When it became public that the children’s mother, Mrs. Friedriekson, had been the murderer, she suddenly vanished from the face of the Earth and even though it was guaranteed by the Mayor himself that she had been put in a safe place, he had never imagined she could have been put there.
He got closer to the door and tried to take a peek of the woman inside, he could see nothing. He just kept hearing the cries of the poor woman. “Why did I do it, why did I do it?”, she asked herself outloud countless times. She cried, softly, and Daniel wondered why she was considered “potentially dangerous”, as he jumped away from the door and continued walking, faster, nervously. It seemed that the corridor simply would not end!
After what seemed like an eternity to him, he got to the end of the corridor, and turned to the door on the left. It was a grey door, just like the others, with a number on it. The file read “Frieda Baum, 50 years-old; Alzheimer, Schizophrenia, Paranoia; no potential threat to other patients”
He tried reaching for the hand knob, but restrained himself. He could still turn around and drive home, it wasn’t too late. He looked around to see if anyone was looking but he was all alone in that dark, badly-lit corridor. He remembered the words of his father, a man he could never please in any way: “Grow up and be a man. Stop hiding”.
“I hate him. I hate him so much” he bit his lip, and gained enough courage to knock faintly on the door hoping she was asleep. Instead, he got a vague, distant response – “Yes?”.
He opened the door carefully as he peeked in. He let his eyes wander around the room – yellow walls, a simple bed, a table and a wooden chair, some books on the table that looked almost untouched. He then looked at the figure standing in the middle of the room. It was the figure of a pale, thin woman, with the lovely long brown hair he always remembered turning grey. Wearing a long, white sleeping gown, the woman looked at him, her eyes open wide. “Do I know you?”.
He knew this would happen but deep down he was hoping it wouldn’t. The weight of having vanished from her life for 8 years suddenly fell on his shoulders.
“It’s Daniel, Mum.”
She remained silent for a while as she looked up at the ceiling. She joined her hands together and started praying quietly, as Daniel watched. He got in the room and closed the door, laying against it, waiting for a response.
“Oh Daniel, my son!” she ran to him and hugged him, her arms around his body helding him close remembered him of those days when he was a young, hopeful boy and when his mother was still healthy and sane. He wrapped his arms around her and smelled her hair, the hair he had always loved. She kissed him on the forehead, and smiled as she pulled back and let go of him.
“You’re so grown up now” she giggled, caressing his face with her small, wrinkled hand “I wouldn’t have recognised you if I passed by you…”. He smiled at her, and took her hand and kissed it. He had never loved any other woman but his mother. To him, she was the only one who mattered. And maybe his sister…
Daniel had not been an only child, although he would have preferred it that way. When he was three years-old, his parents decided it was time to try again and to enlarge the family – a baby girl was born. They named her Anneliese, and she was a beautiful baby, with rosy cheeks, lovely blue eyes and her Mother’s brown hair. She grew up as a blessed child, being her father’s favourite, which was unusual to have a father who preferred a girl to a boy. But his father was in love with her, for every smile she gave him he would smile back, and every time she laughed he would laugh too. Daniel tried hard to please him in every way but always the old man would always turn him down and tell him how he felt like a failure to him, the great Alexander Baum. He would be sitting on his armchair in the living room, looking up and down at him as he smoked his pipe, saying “I am very disappointed with you, young man”. Nothing would please him, other than little Anneliese. Not even his wife.
Daniel began to reject his sister, feeling like she had taken away from him his father’s love. Little Anne did not understand this, and she idolized her brother, and followed him around wherever he went, which irritated him. Years passed and he ignored her, believing that the only person in that family who ever loved him for whom he was was his Mother. It was only in the end of his adolescence that he realized how amazing his sister could be, and how he wasted so much time of his life not paying attention to her.
When he did notice her, and when he did try to make an effort to get to know her better and to help her in every way that he could, it was too late.
The woman walked up to the wooden table and searched some of the books. She picked one with a green cover, which Daniel immediatly recognised as the Bible, and remembered how his father would make him read a passage for him everyday. Her fingers wandered around the pages and she suddenly stopped and took something out – she smiled and showed him an old photograph – himself, his father, his sister and her in a lovely family photo.
“They didn’t let me bring anything personal with me when I came…” she sighed deeply “I found this picture and hid it inside this Bible. They would never take the Bible away from me”.
He smiled back at her, not knowing what to say. That photograph was the evidence of days that were long gone and existed only in memory. Things had changed so radically, it was hard to keep track.
“Where is Anneliese? Did she come too? Is she here with you?” Frieda asked, hopeful. Her eyes glistened as she looked at him, smiling, and watched the smile slowly vanish from his face.
Anneliese? Didn’t she remember? Daniel couldn’t understand. It was after his sister’s death that his mother had started hearing voices and fell into a big black hole of delusion and paranoia. That’s when his father decided to leave her at that hospital and to never come back for her. That’s when his father, the amazing and most loved Alexander, evaporated from his life, bought a little house in Hamburg and never ever talked to him again. Had she forgotten? Eight years in that place had made her forget what put her there in the first place. What was he going to say?
“Mum… Don’t you remember?” he asked, holding her hand. The woman’s eyes kept glistening, as the smile on her face insisted on staying.
“Remember what, dear?”
“Anneliese died, Mum. On that shooting in the Tiergarten underground station eight years ago...”
She kept smiling and didn’t say a thing. She turned her back to him and walked slowly to the bed, and sat down. She was facing away from him and he could hear her silent sobs. He crossed his arms, trying to protect himself as he used to do when he was a kid and expecting trouble. In his mind he searched for comfort words, but it all seemed so strange… Anne had died eight years ago, it had been too long. He didn’t know what to say.
“You killed her” Frieda said “You killed my daughter! You were supposed to have picked her up that night!” She turned to him again and grabbed his arms, her nails clawing him.
“Mum I was about to pick her up! When I got there it was too late! It wasn’t my fault!” he tried to reason with her, calm her down “Mum, please!”
He was pushed away from the warm, fragile body of the woman who had raised him for almost all his life. Her hands were now grabbing her head as she kept pulling huge pieces of her hair off her head, that precious hair. “Get out. I don’t want to see you. You’re a murderer, get out of my room!”
Sister Dalia was talking to one of the novices in the waiting room; she was telling her the story of Mrs. Baum and how she had never expected to see her son there. Until a few minutes ago she didn’t even know the poor soul had a son! She only knew about her daughter, and that the girl had died in that awful shooting some years ago in the Tiergarden station. “May she rest in peace” said Dalia, and the novice nodded.
They heard a bang, and both turned around. Daniel Baum, the woman’s son, was rushing out of the building. “Is there anything wrong, Mr. Baum?”. He didn’t seem to have listened, or at least he didn’t reply. He rushed for the door and opened it, the cold rain now pouring from the grey, foggy sky.
“May God be with you” Sister Dalia said, and sighed. Screams were coming from the patient corridor, and the alarm went off. “Emergency!” yelled Sister Augusta, and one of the doctors showed up followed by three other nuns.
Sister Dalia did not move or say a word. She grabbed her crucifix and got on her knees in prayer, her eyes closed and her lips slightly open. That boy had remembered poor Frieda... She wouldn't last much longer.