Sunlight spilled through the open window and filled the room, so bright it shone that it must have been one of the brightest days they had ever lived to see. The file lay on the table, his file, she’d brought it with her as she entered. He wondered where they were made, the folders that hold the patients’ documents were manufactured, the ones that hold their case records, their nurse reports, their statements of release. His file was altogether an insignificant one: a light, thinly filled file, with only four sheets of paper inside. He was a new patient, and a young one. As far as she could tell, his wasn’t a case that exuded anything out of the ordinary. The boy smiled again, tapping the table lightly and incessantly, like it calmed him to do it. His moving finger was a blur as it drummed a hollow rhythm into the wooden desk.
“Good morning,” she intoned, like the statement bore little importance. He only smiled in answer. She took her seat opposite him, and with her there it would begin. She glanced at his file, a fleeting look – more out of force of habit than any actual need, she had already read his file and knew its contents –then back at him.
“Do you understand why you’re here?” she said.
“Of course I do,” he announced through a smile, almost pompously. His forefinger still tapped the desk. “I’m here because I have to. I’m here because I committed suicide.”
“Attempted,” she corrected. “You attempted suicide, Aydah. If you had succeeded, would you be here?”
He grinned. “Of course I wouldn’t.”
“But that shouldn’t concern you now,” she said. “The reasons why you’re here shouldn’t concern you. What should, Aydah, is leaving. Do you want to leave?”
He grinned, but in it was a slight nod. His finger still rapped at the wood.
“You know why you’re here, Aydah,” she said, “and why wouldn’t you? You’re a smart young man. Now let me tell you why I’m here. I’m here because you can trust me. You can tell me how you feel, and I will help you. That’s why I’m here, Aydah. To help you.” Reciting the lines almost felt a chore.
He laughed, his head tilting backward at first so he looked up to the white false ceiling, then toward her again. His look was assured. “I don’t trust you.”
“Why don’t you trust me?”
“You’re not here to help me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You’re not being honest. I value honesty, and if you value something you know what it is. I know what honesty is. And I know you’re not being honest.”
“But I am, Aydah. I’m being honest with you.”
He laughed again, louder now, the same shrill and hearty laugh that had him heave all the air in his lungs out.
“Adding more lies to the lie doesn’t make it a truth.”
“Let’s address this then, Aydah. Why do you think I’m not being honest?”
“What did the last guy think of them?”
“Think of what?”
“Your lies.” He gulped as if swallowing. “What did your last patient think when you said you were here to help him? What did the last guy think of your lies? Did he believe them? Did he believe you? Assuming there was someone before me, which is likely. A prestigious institution like this is nothing if not an old one, and you seem experienced … what did the last guy think of them?”
“My last patient trusted me. She believed me. I helped her.”
“No doubt she thinks you did.”
She looked deeper into him, searchingly. She probed his eyes and found contempt and happiness, melding into one. “You didn’t answer my question, Aydah.”
“And what was that, helper?”
“Why do you think I’m not being honest?”
“Are you familiar with bartering, Miss Helper?”
She looked perplexed. When she didn’t answer him, he did.
“Bartering is an act, you see, that has you exchange things of equal value.”
“I know that, Aydah.”
“I give you a cow, you give me a cow. I give you three green apples, you give me three red apples. So long as the two colours of apple have the same value. Long ago, people did that. They bartered. Equal exchange, Helper, and equal benefit.
“I know that, Aydah. I know what bartering is. Why is bartering important now?”
“It’s not. But what it represents is.”
“What does it represent?”
“I appreciate fairness.”
“Evidently not. You came to meet me and offered me lies. That doesn’t seem fair. Or do we have varying definitions of fairness?”
“We don’t, Aydah. I’m not your enemy. I’m here to help you. Why don’t you trust me?”
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
“All the same, I don’t trust you. I could, but I won’t. And I won’t answer your question until I’m given what I want.”
“What do you want?”
“A truth. You give me a truth, and I’ll answer your question truthfully. You trust me, so you’ll trust me to ask first.”
The sound of his tapping became the background of the room, low, almost imperceptible, blended with the sound of the room.
“Good,” he said. “Do you remember when you entered this room, Miss Helper? I’ll remind you. Bright room, boy sitting a chair opposite you. You said ‘good morning’ as you entered, and you lied to him, even as he had been just honest with you. It was the first time you lied to me, and you said ‘I’m here to help you.’ Do you remember, Miss Helper?”
She nodded. His smile widened.
“Why are you really here?” he asked.
“You’re my patient. I’m here to treat you.”
“Wrong. Try again, Miss Helper. Why are you here?”
“Aydah, I’m here to treat you.”
“Wrong. Again. Why?”
“I’m a psychologist, it’s my job.”
“That’s it!” He laughed ecstatically, and his finger lifted from hammering the desk and pointed, as if pointing at the truth, now uncovered. “That’s it, Miss Helper. Your first truth of the day. Congratulations. And you’re right, you’re finally right. You’re here because it’s your job to be here. And who does your job serve? It serves you. Puts food on the table, numbers and letters in the children’s notebooks. You’re here because of yourself, Miss Helper, not because of me. You’re here to help yourself. I’m a byproduct. However you help me, if you do, will only be as a result of helping yourself first. That’s why you’re here.”
He tapped the desk once so it clicked.
“Now,” he said, “I’ll answer your question. You trusted me, it would be terrible manners not to do the same. Why don’t I trust you? I don’t trust you because you offered me lies. Would you trust someone if the first thing they told you was a lie? You wouldn’t, so I didn’t. A truth for a truth, and the transaction is complete. Mago the Caveman would be proud.”
“I’m sorry I lied to you,” she said.
“Don’t apologize, you couldn’t help it. All you do is lie, Miss Helper, with occasional lapses of truth. But they’re small and few, and the truth gets buried under the lies. But that doesn’t mean the lies can’t be fished out. They can be recovered.”
“I have another question, Aydah.”
He clicked his tongue, tsk tsk tsk. His finger swayed sideways, as if saying no. “Oh, don’t get greedy now. All in good time. I don’t trust you just yet. If you have another question, you’ll have to answer one of mine first.”
“Do you consider yourself a kind woman, Miss Helper?”
“I do.” He stopped her just as she started her next word.
“That wasn’t my question,” he said. “This is: Who are you kind to?”
“I’m kind to those I love.”
“Good. A correct answer on the first try, last time it took you three. You’re getting better. Granted, it’s not completely honest, but in this case it’s a lie you yourself believe. You see, you tell people you love them, but you don’t. You love how they make you feel, the satisfaction they bring you. Love itself is a lie. The greatest lie in history. We’re only ever kind because we want to benefit ourselves. Those who are kind do it to be loved, either so those around them will love them, or so they can love themselves. Kindness is an act of selfishness. So you’re right to say you’re kind to those you love. And you love yourself, Miss. You’re kind to yourself, for yourself. This is what you care about.”
He pointed at her.
“Your turn now,” he said. “Ask your question.”
“Why did you try to kill yourself?”
“It’s funny. The answer to this question is like the answer to the last. It’s a long story, but you asked, so I’ll tell it. It begins with a boy, a boy being told many lies. The boy is brought up and entirely fed lies. He’s told many things, not the least of which is a false idea of how his life will be. He’s given a false identity and he believes it completely. The boy grows up expecting the lies to be truths, and thinking that what he knows who he is. But lies … they’re like badly tied shoelaces. They have a way of unfurling in the end. Eventually, the lie falls apart, but not until something destroys it, and here, what will destroy the lie almost destroys the boy in the process.
“The boy grows dissatisfied with life, seeing that it isn’t happening the way he’s expecting it to, doubtless because he was given a faulty frame of reference. He’s comparing his own to lives imagined, and his life falls desperately short. He is disappointed. Look in your file, you’ll see that listed as Identity crisis. He grows upset. He feels inadequate, when really he isn’t, but that makes little difference, the feeling of inadequacy remains. That’s listed too, Extreme depression in your papers. He feels … he feels like a child. That’s it. He feels like a child sitting in a moving car, looking out of his window. Out of his window are the happy ones, all the people content with their lives. He can only see them for a moment as the car drives by. Only a fleeting moment that’s enough to depress him further. He waits for life to happen, to truly begin. He can see them, the happy ones, but he can never be like them. Never love like them. Never kiss like them. Never hug like them. Never live like them. He’s not them, only the kid looking out of the window of the moving car. If he’s lucky enough, he thought, the car will take him where he’ll truly live. Where he’ll be like them, dancing like them, loving like them, finally having what life has to offer. So he waits and waits again, until one day he grows too sick of waiting and drowns thirty valium tablets.
“The lies had become his truths, and the truths, and his own life, had become his inadequacies.” A moment of silence. “So you’ll excuse the boy, Miss helper. He has great reservations about being lied to. That’s the answer to your question.”
Her watch rings, and the alarm tells her the session is over. The beep beep beep shocks her into focus again, her taken aback gaze and distraught look subside. She gathers the file from the table. He resumes his tapping after having stopped as he told the story. He smiles at her as she stands to leave.
“Our time is over for today. I’ll see you tomorrow, Aydah.”
“Bring your truths with you, Helper. Truth is the only currency.”