‘Neighbours’ by JP Sanders

I

“Mate! Mate!”
       It was a chap I thought I recognised from somewhere.
       About the same age as me, I suspected, although he looked a little older. He was wearing a grey tracksuit, top and bottoms, with dirty white trainers and I noticed without any socks. He had a black baseball cap on with gold writing on it. A smile.
       “It’s you!” he said. He stuck his hand out and said, “I’m Adam. From the flats, Adam. We get in the lift together sometimes, mate,” he continued, before laughing and adding, “only you’re in the posh flats upstairs, ain’t you? I’m the social ones.”
       I think I must have nodded, and although in truth, I couldn’t say it was the flat I recognised him from, it seemed as likely as anything. I shook his hand. “I’m Matt.”
Adam nodded to the door that led to the corridor where all the consultation rooms were.
       “You here with somebody?” he asked.
I shook my head.
       He scowled, looked confused. “What you doing here then, mate?”
       I did what passed for a smile and said, “I think I’m next.”
       He looked genuinely surprised. “You mean?”
       I nodded, before shaking my head and saying, “yup. Yup.”
       He stuck his hand out again for me to shake, saying, “I would never have guessed it. Not in a thousand million years. I mean, you’re in the posh flats upstairs.”
       “What brings you here?” I asked
       He said, “they keep saying I’ve got schizophrenia.”

II

       It was every day that week – crisis care, an alternative to hospitalisation – although it was never spelled out quite as clearly as that – but the threat still loomed large. I’d go. I’d wait my turn to see whoever was on the rota to see people who were waiting. I’d recap the story for them. They’d ask how I was feeling, and occasionally, when I was running low on meds, they’d prescribe me enough for another week – although a truth I did not tell them was that anything they gave me went in the bin, because this is how they control you – if they can’t imprison your body, they imprison your mind with medicine. I said what I thought they wanted me to say. I hid the rest because actually, I didn’t want to say it anyway. Every day.

III

       Adam was waiting for me when I got out, which struck me as being nice and weird at the same time. He asked if I was going home, and when I said I was, he said he’d come with me – he said he could do with the company. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking, but it seemed rude to suddenly change my plans or to tell him I wanted to be left in silence – I suppose I was worried about seeming like a snob. And so we talked. He told me about about his mum and dad, his family, the job he’d had years ago before he started hearing and listening to voices – as a trainee chef. He told me he’d seen me so often and had often thought he’d like to say hello to me, but the moment never seemed to come. Until today. And then he asked if I fancied coming back to his to have a smoke. I said of what. He laughed and said what did I think – and then without thinking about it, with that horrible impulsiveness I had back then, I told him, yes.

IV

       I remember the flat.
       I remember a mattress covered with a clean, white duvet, with clean, white pillows – and surrounding the mattress, there were neatly folded piles of clothing, there being no wardrobe or chest of drawers. I remember it was all really, really clean.
       I’d not smoked cannabis since I was at university. I coughed. He laughed.
       It seemed that things were happening to time and space. It seemed that some of the lines I’d been drawing to connect things together were actually way off the mark, because now, new possibilities were suddenly presenting themselves, new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things too.
       I remember kissing him.

V

       “Please, Matt,” said Ruth.
       I didn’t say anything.
       I didn’t do anything – was just lying there in bed, not moving.
       “I am going to have to call the Crisis Team.”
       She shook my shoulder.
       “I don’t understand why you can’t get up this morning. You got up yesterday.”
       She shook my shoulder again, forcefully.
       “I’ll come with you. I don’t have to be at work today until 2. We can get a cab or something.”
       She started and stopped and started again drumming her fingers on my shoulder blade.
       “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. But I’ll have to call them. Please, Matt.”
       I lay there as still as still could be – as still as death.

VI

       “Here he is!” said Adam chirpily. “I wondered if you’d be here!”
       I nodded, slowly, thoughtlessly.
       We were in a day room off the long, main corridor.
       I felt sleepy, which they said was the meds – which were now of course compulsory.
       “What a turn up for the books!” said Adam. He added, slightly sadly, “I never saw you.”
       I shrugged my shoulders.
       He smiled an easy, open smile and said, “I thought – well, never mind what I thought.” He brightened. “And now you’re here! What room you in?”
       I said, “end of the corridor.”
       He said, “well, that’s where I am too! Know what this means, don’t you?”
       I said, “what?”
       He said, “we’re neighbours again!”
       I looked beyond him to the nurses walking up and down the corridor and felt not for the first time so frightened, it almost took my breath way. I must then have said or done something, because the next thing I remember was Adam shouting for help, shouting, actually shouting, “help!”
       Like maybe I’d seen something new.

JP Sanders lives and works in London. He writes short stories, some of which are inspired by his experience of living with mental illness. ‘Neighbours’ is his debut. Follow him on Twitter at @jps126594

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