“I know the rules,” the young man said as he sipped his water. “I know the rules. I am tired. I think it is time to go home. We should continue this tomorrow.” He put down his tumbler and slowly got up, supporting himself on the little side table as he stretched his back. Every bone in his body was aching now.
“The first rule,” said the doctor, blocking his guest’s way to the door, “is you do not make the rules. So please sit back down. We are not finished yet.”
The young man looked up into his host’s face. “I know, Norton. But I am exhausted. I believe the two of us would benefit from some rest. My head is not properly functioning anymore. I need to get home. I will see you tomorrow to continue this experiment. Also, I think I should probably go to the hospital.” He looked around the room. “And apologies for all the mess, I don’t know what I was thinking. I will help you clean up first thing in the morning.” He moved towards the door, but the doctor continued to block his way.
“The second rule,” the doctor continued, “is you cannot control the situation. All you can do is react, so react wisely. It will cause you less pain.”
“Norton, please, I am too tired to do this now, just let me go.”
“You are not making the rules, my friend, you are not making the rules.”
“I told you I cannot think anymore. If I am supposed to train my mind, I need a clear head. I need some sleep, Norton, desperately.”
“How often do we ever find ourselves well rested and clear headed, my dear Burke? Most of the times we are tired and exhausted and preoccupied. But we still need to be able to react properly. Consider this to be a training under real-life circumstances.”
“Norton, you are crazy. I am not doing this right now, ok? I am out. I am not playing your game.”
The doctor picked up the iron rod that was lying besides the door.
“Don’t even think about it, Norton. It is not funny anymore.”
“I did not realize it was funny to begin with. It is not meant to be funny. We are here to learn. You are here to learn.” He struck the young man across the ribs.
He coughed and held his side. “Stop it now, Norton“, he whispered, catching his breath. “Stop it, please,“ he repeated a little louder. When the old man was about to lash out again, he managed to get hold of the iron. “Stop it,” he screamed now, “for Christ’s sake, stop it!” The two men struggled, staring into each other’s faces.
“I’m not playing your fucking game, Norton! I’m not playing your fucking game!”
“Oh, but you’re playing it already.”
The young man freed himself from his host’s grip, tipped over his glass of water which shattered on the floor into a thousand splinters, and ran towards the door.
“You can run, my friend, but we are still playing! You do not make the rules, remember?”
“You are insane, Norton!”
“And you are repeating yourself! Calm down now and come back.”
The young man hasted into the lobby and tried to open the entrance door. It was locked. He quickly turned around and scanned his surroundings for possible exits. He ran up the staircase where at the end of the dimly lit corridor stood the doctor’s wife. She seemed not the least bit surprised by the sight of her guest running towards her. He spotted an open door – it was the doctor’s study. The shelves were overflowing with books, and the computer monitor was casting a bluish light in the otherwise dark room. The window was open, and the cold breeze made the curtains dance an elegant duet. He was standing in the middle of the room when he turned around a saw the doctor at the entrance. He slowly moved backwards away from his host, and decisively stepped onto a chair that was standing beside the window.
“What is this now, Burke. Are you really going to do this? After everything we have achieved tonight?”
“I told you, I am not playing your game anymore, Norton, so let me go now.”
“It is not my game, my dear friend. This is not anyone’s game. In fact, this is not a game at all. This is life, you need to accept that. And life has its own rules we all need to follow. You, I, my patients, everyone. We cannot run away from it! Sometimes it is painful, yes. But we can learn to turn this around.”
“Then why, dear Norton, do I get the impression you are immeasurably enjoying torturing me right now?”
“Enjoying torturing you? Oh dear Burke, why would I enjoy this? On the contrary, I find this circumstance highly unpleasant. There is no possible gain on my part if you choose to throw yourself out of this window. First of all: all the work we have done so far would have been in vain. Secondly: I would have to clean up the mess downstairs after your skull shattered on the concrete – not a pleasant thought at all if you ask me.”
“And yet you are still smiling. What is it exactly you find so funny about this situation, friend?”
“Oh, I apologize, dear Burke, I did not mean to be condescending. This is just the mere satisfaction of when I recognize certain patterns in people. We are all so predictable, don’t you think? It’s almost comic. Or dull. I can never decide.”
“Doctor, I have great respect for you and your work, and I was – and still am – very honored to be working on this with you. But this has gone too far. You need to let me go home, or otherwise…”
“ – or otherwise what, dear Burke? Are you really going to kill yourself? You would not do that, you are too rational.”
“Maybe you underestimated me.”
“Maybe I overestimated you.”
“Maybe you did not estimate at all, dear friend. Maybe it just does not sum up. Maybe your assumption that people can be put into scales and numbers and be predicted and calculated and formed into a certain image and mindset just does not equal reality. In the end all is just a lucky guess.”
“Experience tells me otherwise.”
“Maybe it is about time you learned something new about life and people.”
“That people cannot be calculated and measured.”
“Is that what you feel I have been doing with you, dear Burke? Measuring you?”
“You certainly expected me to react in certain ways. And now that I am stepping out of your expectation, you still cling to your initial plan. With all due respect, doctor, but this is not very professional.”
The old man smiled. “But Burke, you are not overstepping any line here. Your behaviour is still entirely inside the spectrum of my expectation.”
“Let me go home then, Dr. Norton. I mean it. Let me go home. I will be yours to toss around again tomorrow.”
“I am not letting you go home, Burke.”
“What do I need to do to get home to get some sleep?”
“You need to learn.”
“What do I need to learn now, Dr. Norton, at this time of night? What could I possibly learn now?”
“You need to learn that nothing is in your control.”
“You cannot be serious.”
“I am as serious as ever. Now step down from this chair and drink some water.”
The young man stepped onto the window-sill.
“Again, Burke, are you really going to do this?”
“Why, doctor, yes I am. I will not be part of your calculations. Yes, I am a rational man. But I am also a man of pride – another unfortunate characteristic of the human kind. Unlike ratio, however, it is one we share with animals. Is it helpful? Maybe not. It depends on your ends I suppose. Right now my pride might not protect me from harm, but it will grant me great satisfaction. It gives me greater pleasure than the prospect of being crushed on the street could cause me pain. Do you really think I would grant you the satisfaction, the pleasure, of torturing me? The pleasure of correctly predicting me? No, dear friend. It might not fit into your pattern, but I certainly found my own way of evading pain. I learned a lot from you tonight, thank you sir for sharing your wisdom.” He made a little bow and tapped an imaginary hat to complete the gesture. “Knowing I destroyed your plan is satisfaction enough for me. It was a pleasure to meet you doctor, but the pleasure is all mine. I am taking this with me, I am not willing to share this with you. My pain is my pleasure, and you don’t get to take part in it. You’re a vulture. You would like to see me suffer now as this would cause you great enjoyment. The truth is, though, I did understand what you told me tonight. My physical body is worth nothing. The pang when my body hits the concrete is already forgotten. All I anticipate is liberation.” He closed his eyes and leaned backwards.