He pushed past the nervous little man with the owlish glasses who immediately cringed, staring at the floor. He reached for the door knob to the inner office and turned around, smiling. The receptionist, whose name he had never really bothered to find out, was staring at him, beady little eyes blazing with anger. She looked stunning in her two-piece suit, hair held back in a cute pony-tail. She always dressed professionally, he had noticed, with just the right touch of make-up and cheeks that blushed ever so slightly. Another time, another place, and she’d be on the cover of a magazine. Not Vanity Fair or GQ, she wasn’t all that. However, he had to admit, she was beautiful, but her eyes were … weird. Even when she wasn’t angry, her eyes told the world to fuck off.
She started walking briskly towards him.
“Sir! You must wait your turn. This gentleman…”
The door slammed in her face.
“Hello Doc.” His voice, rough and raspy, with an edge of steel.
The woman at the desk looked up from the dossier she was reading and sighed. He caught a glimpse of the little be-spectacled man’s picture on the topmost page and read the name. Henry Ojok. He filed away both name and face. Noticing his keen gaze, she quickly threw the file into a drawer and leaned back in her chair, swiveling slowly, back and forth, eyes riveted on him.
“James, it’s always good to see you, but your next session is not due for another three days. To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?”
“Quit the sarcastic bullshit, Sharon. You’re my doctor. I’m here because I don’t want to be here and you are less than pleased to see me. So let’s not fuck around.”
He sat down in the middle of the reclining couch, legs shoulder width apart, elbows on knees, brought his fingers together, resting his chin on the crest his hands made and fixed her with an icy gaze, lips tight, jaws clenched.
Sharon leaned forward and matched his gaze. James was not the kind of man whose eyes you easily looked into. There was something there, always. Something dark and mysterious, and this always made people nervous, but when he was angry… there was death in those eyes. A weaker man would’ve flinched, but not her. She knew James, had been his psychiatrist for years and she knew he had one hell of a temper, but he also knew his boundaries, and right now, she was all that stood between him and what he wanted. He could not touch her.
“Okay James, talk to me.” Calm, measured words.
“No, Sharon. You talk to me. What the fuck is going on here?” He was biting the words, controlling himself.
She reached into another drawer and pulled out another dossier, with his name plastered on the front. She opened it and began quickly scanning it. She knew this file inside out, but she always read it during his session. To buy some time, to pace herself… to pace him. James was her most delicate patient and right now, she really needed him to calm down before they could proceed. He cursed.
James Mukasa. Date of Birth: 15th June 1975. No known relatives. No known acquaintances outside work. Last assignment, DRC, 2002. Her mind trailed off…
When James had walked into her office for the first time, he was a mess, but you would never tell by looking at him.
The first thing she had noticed was the crisp black suit he wore, with the subtlest of pin-stripes. It was obviously custom made, it fit him like a second skin. Savile Row, from the very looms of Ozwald Boateng, he’d said, with a smile, when he noticed her appreciative look. She’d smiled back. He had a pleasant face. Not particularly handsome, but it had an odd attractiveness to it. Maybe it was the laughter lines around his eyes. Maybe it was the rough unshaven fuzz around his cheeks and mouth. Or maybe she was attracted to the way his face lit up when he smiled. There was something she couldn’t quite place, and she was good at studying faces.
“James. The name that comes with the face.”
“Ah.” She’d blushed ever so slightly and shook his hand. Firm professional handshake on both sides.
“Sharon Atieno. I’ll be your doctor from now on.”
She showed him the couch and walked back to her chair, picking up the single dossier lying on the desk. She flipped it open. Fresh and empty, save for two lines:
Date of Birth: 15th June 1975
“So, James, tell me about yourself.”
“Dammit, Sharon! I do not have time for your games!”
Her mind jerked violently back into the present. He was standing over her desk, fists on the table, tight enough to draw blood. His eyes told her everything she needed to know; he was on the verge of collapse. Actually, he had always been on the verge of collapse, but today, there was something different about him. After all the years of treating him, she had made very little progress and now, very soon, unless she trod carefully, it might all be for nothing
But something else kept nagging her as she looked up at him. Something her always-switched-on subconscious told her should be making her very worried. She tried to place it, gave up and brushed it aside.
Sharon suddenly realized she didn’t like the way he was hovering over her and she stood up angrily, their faces inches from each other.
“James, I’m trying to help you here, you fool!”
“Then act like you are! I’m not one of your other pathetic patients who you can play your mind games with. I need answers and I need them now, Sharon, or God help you. God help all of you!”
He walked off towards the window, a casual saunter that did nothing to betray the physical strength beneath the light cotton shirt. Pulling a cigarette and lighter from his coat pocket, he pushed the blinds aside and looked out.
“What mind games? James…”
A grunt in response. He drew the lighter to his lips and lit the cigarette.
Nothing. He closed his eyes, puffed a few times and savored the nicotine, letting it fill his lungs before exhaling.
“Dammit James, you can not smoke in here!” She was shouting now.
He turned around, his eyes darker than she had ever seen them, a glint of insanity in them. She had seen that look before, in one of her other patients, right before she ran out of the building and straight into the path of a hurtling truck. James was stronger than that… she hoped.
“Really, Sharon? I can’t smoke in here? Why? Is it because you care so much about my health? Oh, hang on… it’s another one of your fucked-up rules!”
She couldn’t hide the surprise in her face. He grinned, bit the cigarette and took another puff.
“You know what? Fuck you, Doc. Fuck you, and all those stupid rules you and your bosses keep throwing at me. I’ve done everything you wanted. Everything you kindly forced me to do. I’ve obeyed orders like a shitty three year old kid begging for permission to go play. You have stripped me of everything while fucking me over three ways till Monday. You’ve taken my honor, my job, my dignity. And now I can’t smoke? I can’t fucking smoke? Goddammit… fuck you all to high hell!”
He took one long puff, blew smoke in her direction and turned back to the window.
Sharon collapsed into her chair, mouth open. James had been her patient for close to three years, but the person standing at her window, looking out the window… that person, she didn’t know.
James drew the blinds aside little more. He loved this view. He could see the little sail boats lazily making their way into the lake, lovers taking an evening slow stroll along the wharf and a brilliant setting sun that reflected, shimmering, off the ripples in the lake and bathed the skyscrapers with a fiery flame. There was a time when sunsets meant something to him. Somewhere in the dark recesses of his mind, there was a memory that had almost faded, a memory with a sunset and a world that wasn’t burning around him.
“So… are you going to talk, Doctor?” He spoke slowly, she could barely hear him. The sun’s rays were now in his face, and they cast a long shadow behind him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a shrink. I simply ask the questions. You want answers, talk to my superiors, they know everything.” Sharon got up, walked to the chair beside the couch, noticing a small twitch in her right calf, a twitch she hadn’t felt in almost fifteen years.
The sun seemed to be setting a little faster than usual. James hadn’t moved since he’d walked to the window. Cigarette ash littered the floor next to his feet, some of the ash had gotten onto his Adidas runners.
“No, Sharon, you’ve been in my head. You have seen the deepest and darkest recesses of my mind. They know nothing. You, my doctor friend, know everything. You have been controlling me for years, with your calm, measured words, with you haughty airs and holier-than-thou questions, with your mind-tricks…”
“James, I don’t… ”
“Shut the fuck up, you lying bitch!” The sudden change in his voice made her jump in her chair. The twitch in her calf became more urgent, spreading lower to her ankle.
“Tell me Doctor, how much do they pay you?” Soft voice now, he was struggling for control.
“How much do they pay you to keep me mentally drugged? Is it worth it?”
“Is it worth destroying a man from the inside? Does the money help you sleep well at night, knowing that you are fucking people right inside their fucking brains?”
“What… are you talking about?” Her fingers suddenly felt very clammy.
“Oh come on, Doc. This is between us. You know, fucking patient-doctor privileges? You swear by them yet bend over backwards like a whore when the big boys above come knocking.”
Sharon’s heart was beating a little faster now, and her breathing was getting shallower and more labored. He was bluffing, surely, she thought. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She forced herself to stay calm and quiet, hoping…
James refused to move, the view at the window held him captive, the memories fueling the rage he felt. He was quiet for a long long time, the silence dark and suffocating.
Then he laughed. A deep throaty laugh that shook his upper body. His cigarette was almost done now, and gone with it, her precious rug, a small section ruined by burning embers and ash.
“Do you know what five years in the jungle give you, Sharon?”
Silence. Shallow breathing.
“You learn to smell fear… and death.”
He turned around, and the sun’s last rays fell on the side of his face, brilliant and fiery, the other half cast in deep shadow. In the darkness of the room, silhouetted against the fading light of the evening, he looked as striking as he had done, the first time she saw him, tall and strong and… dangerous.
“And right now, Doctor, you are positively reeking.”