I am a in
a hospital waiting room.Opposite me
stands a white man who strikes me as having an attitude problem. It’s not clear
what he’s waiting for – whether he is a patient or a visitor. He is agitated
and angry. He talks to a black man who appears to be his advocate – either a
private doctor or a lawyer. The advocate (let me call him that) seems
diffident, as though he feels awkward about his presence there. He is not as
smartly dressed as the white man who is about to leave the hospital and, I
believe, is complaining about having had to wait. I can hear him say ‘I’ve got
a business to run’, as he’s walking out.
What strikes me is that he does say
goodbye to his advocate who offers a handshake which is ignored. The advocate
looks embarrassed, left there as if marooned in an awkward position. He makes
for the exit and as he passes next to me he looks at me and murmurs something
disapprovingly about his client, that ‘he is not taking responsibility for his
own attitude and actions and blames others’ – or words to that effect.
later, I recognise the advocate. He is walking slowly, but with certainty, and
heading towards me. The setting is completely different now, but I’m sure we
are still in the same plot. I am sitting leisurely in the shade of a pergola in
a park café. It’s the 28th of July, sunny and hot. Accompanying me are two
who (unfortunately for me) happens to be a psychodynamic therapist (he is the
one who challenged me to think that fighting for ideals is a sublimation of
some kind of neurosis and to look after number one is healthy. I think I’ve
already spoken to you about that…)
and John, who is an old friend, colleague
and (at times) rival – in the same university department.
trying to solve a riddle, I think, but we’re just killing time pleasantly,
really. The advocate comes to us, looking dishevelled and dirty, and greets me
(‘hello! D’ you remember me?’ – that sort of thing). I’m standing up, out of
politeness, to talk to him, soon to regret it, because he seems to want to have
a conversation. But he isn’t going to have it – I hardly know the guy… He talks
to me as I if I were his school mate. I keep studiously quiet. He says
something about the incident in that hospital (the utterly insignificant point
at which my history crosses his). The only thing that was involuntarily
committed to my memory from that strange encounter was that he said 'people
complain about irresponsible and crooked politicians, and about the system, but
there can be no such a species as "the crooked politician", or a bad system, unless
there are irresponsible and crooked citizens'. I begin to yawn and he decides
eventually to say 'well, nice to see you again' and, as he is leaving, he
briefly shakes my hand. It was only at that moment that I realised there was
something seriously wrong with his hand: three of his fingers were missing, with
only the little finger and the thumb remaining. Long and thick fingernails curved to form hooks, which he used to pinch things, I suspected, just like a
crab. These were hands that looked dirty and menacing.
companions seem curious. ‘What was
that all about?’ shouts John and I explain that I just performed a politeness
ritual with the leader of a gang of beggars. He worksin the streets of London… ‘Yeah?
Just like in the Oliver Twist story’, Richard interrupts, and I take no notice
of the sarcasm… ‘Exactly.
But the money goes to a terrorist sect whose aim is to abolish private
property’. They know I make these things up ti see their response, of course. I add that rats ate most of his
hand but spared the thumb and his little finger (I forgot what explanation I
gave about that)... ‘I think
you are losing it, mate’ says John. I ignore the remark and turn round to ask
Richard: ‘There is
a name for the little finger in your trade. What is it?’ ‘Catalytis’
he says, and although I’ve never heard the word before, I recognise its
etymology and figure that it shares the same root as the words catalyst, to
catalyse, etc. But I respond by saying: ‘Oh yeah!
Same etymology as the Greek word “cataliksis”’,which has nothing to do with
it… just to tease Richard, who doesn’t know the first thing about etymology.
Concerning the origin of 'catalytis', I relate my theory to them – that it has
been plausibly given this name because it is used to masturbate – 'self or significant other' – and catalyse orgasm. It is also the last and smallest of
the fingers, forming cataliksis – the end of a process, “the little death” so
Richard says thatI “don’t
miss the chance to show off my irrelevant erudition”, and jokingly I complain
about the Greek language. Both my companions, of course, know I am Greek and find my
remarks funny. ‘Fucking
Greeks…’ I say, ‘They’ve given us a huge bag of words and we don’t even know
the meaning of half of them’ ‘Neither
do the Greeks’ says John, and the three of us have a hearty laugh.
laughter goes on (maybe the cannabis has helped its prolongation), I envision a
large white spherical bag, like a sun, half risen, emerging from the hilltop
behind the park. In front of it, in a green field, black silhouettes of
policemen are arresting the advocate. ‘Oh
look’, I say. ‘What?’
says john, nonchalantly? ‘Over
there… where that white balloon is rising’ I point emphatically. ‘Where,
for fuck’s sake? I can’t see anything’, says John.
Richard then diagnoses that 'we’ve got a problem here’ and John decides that it is
'too much fucking dope…’ ‘Look
man', I insist.'the advocate is being arrested’. ‘I think
you are dreaming… and, anyway, who’s the fuck is “the advocate”’ says Richard. ‘The guy
I just spoke to…’ ‘When?’ ‘Just
now’ I scream angrily, ‘I just spoke to this strange guy, for goodness sake,
why are you pretending you didn’t notice….
His hand was like a crab claw...’ ‘Okay,
okay… let’s leave it at that...’ ‘But the
it, Nick. No one gives a shit about your advocate’ John sounded unusually firm. ‘Subject
closed’ added, Richard.
about two silent minutes that felt like an eternity, one of them pronounced the
redemptory ‘Shall we go…?’