The man closest to the window started screaming, slamming the table with his fists, launching to the floor every single piece of the chess game he was playing with a younger man. That one looked like a younger and saner version of the person that was being carried away to his room by two big men in blue uniforms. The kid looked on in disbelief and fear, as his father kicked the air and screamed nonsense. A minute late, it was as if nothing had happened on the room.
Camilla turned around and looked at her aunt Matilda. She had always had the most beautiful hair in her family: it was long and silky, jet black like the night sky. Her mother told Camilla that she had gotten her hair color from her aunt but that was everything she had that was similar to her aunt. That poor woman was now on a wheelchair and she drooled often, her mother having to clean it from her mouth and lap every few lines of a conversation that was one sided, as Matilda couldn’t talk.
Her mother had always told Camilla that no one really understood why her aunt had fallen ill like that. As far as she knew, it had happened overnight or after a night fever or something like that. Camilla’s mother liked to invent new realities every time a subject so touchy came up. It was not as if she didn’t wanted to talk about it but rather, her subconscious had created different versions of what had happened to protect her. Her story kept changing every time she was asked about it.
They stayed in the hospital for ten more minutes, then a nurse came around to tell everyone to leave as visiting hours had finished. Camilla kissed her aunt on the cheek and it was then, in a second, when she saw a flicker of something, probably life, deep inside her aunt’s eyes. Camilla didn’t have any time to respond or to say a word. Her mother took her hand and Camilla just walked until they reached the parking lot. Once inside the car, on the passenger seat, she wondered looking at the sky.
Once they got home, rain began to fall from the sky, first kindly and then harder. Camilla sat down in front of her computer and started reading about psychiatric disorders and then about the places people like her aunt were put into when no doctors could point out what was wrong. She saw horrible pictures and read awful essays and articles from all over the place and was only interrupted when her nine-year-old brother came to show her that he had caught a toad outside the house. He had spent his day with their father, playing ball in some park.
Camille humored her brother for a while but then she started thinking about her aunt again. She wondered if Matilda was curious still about the world around her. Would she be interested on a toad if she saw one through her room window or would she just stare, looking at nothing in particular? Then again, she had no idea if her aunt had a window in her bedroom. It was very likely but the place did look old and people never seemed to care a lot about mental health.
She came up to this conclusion when one her classmates, a girl called Anna, committed suicide back in high school. They still had two more years to go and the poor girl couldn’t take any of it anymore. Camilla felt awful when it happened, as she felt she had never really cared about that particular girl. She knew she couldn’t be friends with every single person but anyway, guilt is like that. Unexplainable and painful. All the girls went to the burial and they all seemed concerned.
However, the school never really addressed what had happened. They did tell everyone for a couple of days that, if they needed help, they could always go to the school therapist and tell him whatever they needed to say. A couple of girls did go but their problems were much easier to solve than the one that Anna must have had. Camilla tried hard to learn more about her deceased classmate, but she stopped when the mother yelled at her over the phone, calling her a pervert.
There were all sorts of rumors: Anna was a closeted lesbian or she was a nihilistic teenager that wanted the world to end. Others said she was always on drugs while others blamed alcohol. Camilla even heard a teacher once saying that the girl must have had a secret pregnancy or, even worse, an abortion. But there was nothing to proof any of those theories. They only knew that a girl had died and all of a sudden a world of stories was born, about someone they had never bothered to really know.
Camilla wondered all night if Anna and Matilda had anything that connected them, besides probable mental issues. She wanted to know more about the subject and she decided, very late at night, that she had to learn about it, no matter what. So the next day, before class, she decided to spend a couple of hours in the university’s library, where a towering amount of scientific book awaited her. She chose three of the ones that seemed less hard to understand and she started reading. About the brain, about the nervous system and about all kinds of psychological theories.
By the time she came out of the library, her head felt full of information. A headache haunted her for the rest of the day, at class and even after having a generous launch. Her friend Bastian asked her about what was wrong with her but she decided not to tell anyone about her hunt for answers. She didn’t want everyone to look at her as if she was crazy. Because that’s something recurring she learned from the books: people trying to get answers are always labeled as crazy themselves.
She blamed the headache for her attitude that day and decided to skip the last class, which was always very boring anyway. She did think about going home but, instead, Camilla decided to walk around a little bit. That way, she could avoid answering annoying questions at home about why she was so early at home. She wandered through some parks, a mall and several streets. She never got lost because she knew her way but aunt Matilda was always in her mind. Then, she knew what to do.
Some twenty minutes later, she was waiting in the same room she had been the day before with her mother. But this time she was by herself, waiting for a male nurse to come with her aunt. She knew her mother was not going to like this visit but she didn’t care. Somehow, she knew that the answers that she was looking for where there, enclosed in one of the many rooms that had been built specially for people like her aunt, absent almost completely from all reality and sense.
When the male nurse rolled her aunt in and left, Camilla looked straight to Matilda’s eyes and waited. She wanted to know if that glimmer had being something of one day or if signs of inner life could be seen again. Nothing happened. Camilla grab each of her aunt’s hands with her own and then smile at her. Matilda’s skin was a bit rough but she somehow knew she had being stunningly beautiful when she was younger. Her mother had failed to show her pictures of their past.
Pushed by something, some strange feeling, Camilla went closer to her aunt. Her lips were a few centimeters away from one of her aunt’s ear. She doubted for a second but then asked the question she wanted answered, or at least one of them: “What happened to you?”
She pulled back and waited. Her aunt’s eyes seemed dead for a moment, but then she saw that flicker again, a spark of life inside her aunt. Then, one word was spoken by Matilda. Camilla had to get closer to hear properly. And when she did, her world was turned upside down.