Thursday, August 27, 2009

feeding the poor

When I last saw Zachary he was held between two policemen, blood on his face, his chest bare, the samurai sword he’d fetched from his flat to attack his neighbour with lying on the back seat of the patrol car. Now he is sitting quietly on his own at a table for two in a gastro pub, a fluorescent Little Monkeys baseball cap pulled down low, one hand on his lap and the other draped across a chess board.

One of the bar staff points in his direction and waves us over. The pub has been open half an hour, but even though it only has a scattering of customers, there is a strong sense of margin around this particular section of the bar.
‘Hello Zachary,’ I say. ‘We met a few days ago. You’d been in a fight.’
‘Fight? I’d hardly call it a fight.’ He bobs his head and smiles with a patronising stretch of the mouth. ‘A fight is when two warriors come together for the purpose of practising their art. A fight is a mutual exchange of physical power. I was engaged in a struggle for my very existence on this so-called planet. For some reason – and I’ve studied the problem at a very high level for many years, my friend – as I say, for some reason, there are forces in this world that simply do not want me to live. Can not allow me to live.’
‘Would you like to come with us out to the ambulance, and then we can see what we can do to help?’
‘Of course. Could you just help me with my chess board – careful! It’s a thousand years old, almost certainly the most valuable object in town today.’
He hands me a crudely knocked up article in pine with a chipped walnut veneer and a rickety drawer slung underneath.
‘Oops! Looks like the drawer’s coming off.’
‘It’s a thousand years old. What do you expect? Be very careful my friend.’
The barman smiles and waves.

Outside on the ambulance Zachary lowers himself carefully into one of our chairs, and I sit opposite him on the trolley. I put the chess board down next to me.
‘It’s an exquisite object,’ he says. ‘I acquired it in my travels. Hand built by one of the sacred knights of El Cid. I expect you’ve seen the film. Have a look at the figures. Incredible craftsmanship.’
The drawer has lost its ability to slide out. You have to lift the board up to get to the pieces – a throw of roughly cast nickel figures. I hold up the king. His beard looks like a glob shaken off a soldering iron.
‘I had to come in to town to find food and water. I have no “money”, so I brought something to trade with. You’d think that I could swap a thousand year old chess set for something to eat and drink, but this world has no honour, no love, nothing for me or my kind.’
I put the king back.
‘So how can we help today, Zachary?’
‘I need to go to Southview and talk to the medical experts there. It’s been a difficult time for me and I need some help.’
‘We can certainly take you down the hospital and find you someone to talk to, if that’s what you’d like?’
He winces and bends at the waist.
‘I have pain all over. Chest pain, stomach. My arms and legs are full of cramps.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He takes off his baseball cap and lobs it onto the trolley. He has dyed his stubby Mohican purple and orange. It runs back to front along the crown of his head like a strip of carpet, whilst around it the scarred and lumpen skin of his skull rises and falls, features on a raised-relief map, the hard ground beneath his shifting monologue.

‘I'm a samurai - but you know that. Since I saw you I’ve had three fights in the temple. Training fights, I can’t say much. But I’m sorry to say that I've been thrown out. Yakumoja has spoken. He has said, and I quote: “You have chosen the way of the fool and not the way of the wise man.” I think that was from Lord of the Rings. Saruman vs. Gandalf. Christopher Lee vs. Ian Holm - or Ian Mckellen, I can never remember which. One of them is gay. Don't know about the other one.’

The ambulance lurches off the pavement. Zachary groans, but quickly recovers himself.

‘I'm a genius. It may sound big headed to say it. Maybe it doesn't. But a fact’s a fact. Anyway, it's not my judgement. Mr Stephen Fry has met five Prime Ministers, and he has put it on record that not one of them could stand toe to toe in the grid against me.’

‘My daughter is amazing. She’s confounded all the experts. She's like Mahatma Gandhi, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ all rolled into one. Elvis Presley himself would not have a thing on her. She's incredible, remarkable. Maths, Physics, Cookery, The Arts. So why society has such a problem with us, won't let me be with her, won't allow me to live .. I don't know.’

‘We're going on a world trip. We’re getting out of this place. Europe, Africa, South America. Perhaps I'll meet ambulance people in those countries. Or maybe not. Hopefully we'll just be travelling around, quietly and anonymously, following The Code, learning, teaching, observing.’

Zachary stares through the slats of the window at the busy afternoon crowds, gently spidering his fingers backwards and forwards along the multi-coloured strip of hair.

‘Feeding the poor,’ he says.


Anonymous said...

Oh, Zachary, where to begin? Is there a scrap of truth in anything you say?

cogidubnus said...

I'm sorry...As someone who has had some family experience of the issues involved, I have huge sympathy for anyone so obviously suffering from mental illness...

But how come somebody, so clearly unbalanced, that he took a samurai sword from his flat, with which to attack his neighbour, is still out and about, presumably unattended, on the streets?

This is SO wrong on SO many counts... not the least of which it certainly isn't fair on Zachary...

...unless that is, you're somehow testing us all, without actually disclosing all the relevant information...

Either way, Spence, it ain't right...

lulu's missives said...

I really love the two versions of 'reality'.
Zachary is certainly a character and a half.
And it was Ian Mckellen, not Ian Holm, he played Bilbo Baggins.
Oh how I love/loved those stories and the films did them justice.

Spence Kennedy said...

kmkat - I would guess the only element of truth in Z's story is that he has a daughter he's estranged from. I bet she is pretty bright, but perhaps not to the extent Z was describing.

cogi - I agree. In fact, when I read your comment I made an effort to do a follow up with the mental health team.

I told them that the first time I met Z he'd had access to a sword and been involved in a serious altercation, was in police custody at the hospital and was led away to the cells after being d/c. The second time he was in a pub trying to sell a chess set - which was a shock, as I'd thought he'd been sectioned and out of harms way. I told them that in conversation Z had seemed dangerously delusional - especially with regard to the sword and his secret samurai covenant. (Although I must admit I didn't see the sword myself. That detail came through on the notes, and I can't remember if the police on scene verified that or not).

But I was amazed to find out that although Z is certainly known to the mental health team, having presented at A&E on a number of occasions, he'd been fully assessed and not diagnosed with any personality / psychotic disorder. His problems were deemed to be more of the anti-social / eccentric / potentially violent type, and as such were a police matter.

So I hereby renounce any claim to be able to second guess what constitutes a psychotic condition. I've met a few psych patients in the 3 years I've been a tech, and I would put Z high up on the list of people to watch. But there you are!

Sorry to hear you've had family experience of this. I hope the situation is better now, or at least well controlled.

Jo - Although Z scared me the first time we met, this second time (without the blood and without the bitter Pam Penistone angle) he was good value. I loved the fact that he transformed that junky old chess set into a priceless heirloom.

I liked LOTR as well. Viggo Mortensen - what a hero. I'm looking forward to seeing District 9, produced by Peter Jackson, I think.

Thanks for all your comments!

:0) xx

cogidubnus said...

Ah yes...the convenience (for certain psychiatric health workers) of placing an altogether different label on a composite and complex set of problems so as to avoid providing a diagnosis...

I well remember that...

In our case (one of my daughters) alcohol was repeatedly quoted as the disease rather than just a sympton (attempted self medication)

Fortunately she got herself off the booze and is now receiving the help she needs from peer groups and the voluntary sector...

loveinvienna said...

Poor Zachary. It seems so wrong for him to be out in the street, not least for his own safety. Some yob somewhere might take offense at what he says and hurt him very badly. Seems people can see this (you can obviously Spence) but the rules dictate this, that and the other and they can't do anything about it. It's a shame.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. Excuse me whilst I got off into an uncharacteristically girly daydream. :P

Liv xxx

Manda said...

Thank you for all you do - even if it feels like little. You treated him with respect and dignity. My brother, here in the states, is very much like that sans mohawk. He currently believes he is a state trooper (policeman) swat team member.

Spence Kennedy said...

Cogi - It is very difficult to resist reading some of these diagnoses as rather expedient. I mean, in Z's case he seems to exist in a complex fantasy world that doesn't relate at all to how things really are. And some of the aspects of his fantasy world are violent - which is quite a worry. All I can think is that when he talks to the psych team he appears very much more normal.

Sorry that your daughter had such a rough time. Glad to hear that she's coming out of it now.

Liv - The last time we picked up Z he'd been quite badly beaten, and I think he must surely be at risk from violence again. It's surprising that nothing more can be done, but we'll see what happens (hopefully nothing too awful).

BTW - VM in A History of Violence - excellent!

Manda - Sorry to hear about your brother. I hope he's okay and getting the help he needs.

Thanks for your comments! ;) x