He sat in the chair, day after day, staring at nothing.
Always the same chair. Always the same posture. Dipping into a slouch but not wanting to leave the upright. Right leg over left, knee to knee. Foot swinging a metronome of neglect.
And always the same vacant stare. Did he see anything? Everything? Nothing?
To say he was in a world of his own was like saying Everest is a big hill. You could lean in close, shouting 'BOO!' and he wouldn't flinch. Waving your hands wildly similarly raised zero reaction. Once, Jersey had even, giggling to himself, spat in his face.
Thankfully, Mickey was sitting nearby and had his roll of tissue readily to hand. As the Mucous one gently wiped away the gob of saliva, he looked into the other's eyes. Afterwards, when Bender and I asked what he could see, he said:
That's him, Mickey, not me, Sin. When pressed he didn't really have an explanation of what he meant. The eyes were hazy green with a darker outer circle. The pupils were black dots, almost dabbed on simply to break up the colour. They looked like, he said, the outer colour was the REAL iris, and the inner had been bled away, drained of life.
Now, it's not often that Mucous Mickey gets so descriptive and, trust me, I haven't embellished his words. In fact, it's not ever that Mickey manages much between his sniffs. In this instance, however, he had seen, somehow, himself, and it had briefly opened him up to a whole new way of speaking.
Unfortunately, a couple of Kleenex later, Mickey was back to being the 'Me' he'd seen and his vocabulary was similarly bunged up.
After that, I wanted to see for myself what my friend had seen. It wasn't as if I was going to be stopped, now was it? If phlegm in the face hadn't met with any reaction, me just looking at him would barely register. Still, the momentary transformation of Mickey had given me pause. Eerily so.
What was there to worry about? I mean, here was I, locked away not for my own good but for that of others. What did I have to fear that could top the ghosts that haunted me? Yet... It was as if Mickey had woken up. As if the snot had suddenly gone to sleep and was no longer assaulting his sinuses and the chairs. Granted it had woken up quickly enough but I was still wary.
What if parts of me were to wake up too? Parts I wanted to remain in slumber?
I didn't know this man. Three weeks he'd been here and no-one had found out his name. The orderlies were not forthcoming either. They liked to keep us questioning sometimes. They liked to have that snivel of power over us. He was just there. He was just... staring.
Yesterday I looked. I took a breath and walked with it trapped in my lungs for fortitude. An inner armour, for what it was worth.
I walked over and sat close to him, watching the hypnotic swing of his legs, the fold of his arms and the sightless stare of his eyes. He did, on this closer inspection, look sightless. His eyes seemed glazed.
I let my captive breath out in the hope that it might stand between him and I, an invisible barrier. I stood before him and leaned in, eye to eye.
It was odd. His eyes looked through me, as if I wasn't even there, but I could see that they were perceiving something. They weren't simply lost and unfocussed. They were settled on something, just not me. Not anything here in the recreation room.
Then the focus shifted and he did see me. That was when the tear crept silently out from the corner of his eye and ran down his cheek, curving around the set of his lips and dropping off his chin onto his trousers. I watched its course, spellbound, then looked back up.
That was when he screamed. That was when he pushed me away and he fell backwards. That was when the orderlies pulled me to the side and dragged him, kicking, out towards Room 101.
The man isn't here today. I'm not entirely sure we'll see him again. I'm not entirely sure I want to.
His chair is empty, though. It seems nobody wants to sit in it.
Maybe they're afraid of what they'll see.
I know I am.