I could feel the welts burn into my back as I pulled on the white shirt that had been folded neatly by my bed. My head was pounding, like an old fashioned steam train roaring through a tunnel, and there was not a single muscle in my body of which I was not fully aware. Everything ached. If my belly had not protruded over the top of the corduroy trousers I had found with the shirt, I may have suspected that I had just run a marathon.
What I had been doing, I wasn’t sure. I needed to find out where I was first, and then I was certain everything would come flooding back to me. As I made it to the sturdy oak door, with the shirt loosely buttoned in the middle, I heard footsteps from the other side. Briefly, I considered running, but I barely had the strength to cross the room, let along flee who ever had bruised my back so violently. Instead, I quickly returned to the bed and sat watching the door as it opened.
The tall lady who entered, dressed in an apron and a hideously flowered dress, took half a step back when she saw me awake. She held something long and slender in her hand, but I could not make out what it was. Despite my head’s current turbulence, a thousand possibilities raced into my mind, most of them far too unhinged to repeat back to you now, but the one I settled on was that it must be a syringe. Some drug that would push me back into a comatosed state.
“You’re awake” Said the woman shrilly, taking another half step backwards as I raised myself to my feet.
“You’re damn right I’m awake, and I intend to stay that way. Where the hell am I?”
“Please Sir, you need to lie back down, you need to rest.”
“I said, where the hell am I? What have you been doing to me?” I took a step forward and, as if we were cheek to cheek in a tango, she obliging took a step back. I eyed the instrument in her hand suspiciously, not wanting to get within range of the needle. “Why have you kept me here?” I snarled at her, taking another step closer.
“Return to bed. You need your rest, you’ve been running a fever.” She said, brandishing the needle in the air as if to stab me. I darted backwards, my legs hitting the wooden frame of the bed and dropping me onto the thin mattress. My vision blurred and sunspots danced around my eyes. I waited for the pinprick of the needle, but it never came.
It was dark when I finally regained consciousness. An old style oil lamp burned in it’s wall socket and a heavy pair of curtains had been pulled across the window. I had been undressed again and returned to the restrictive embrace of the bedsheets, but this time I decided to take things more slowly. I was in no state to try to break away. I would bide my time, try to learn more about where I was before I did anything.
I pulled myself into a sitting position, pressing my back against a pillow. The oil lamp leaked a musty smell into the room, and the strange yellowed light seemed to age the room around it, like soaking a fresh sheet of paper in coffee. All it needed was a sepia photograph strung up on the wall and I might well have believed I had travelled back in time.
‘Would it matter if I had travelled back in time?’ I thought. What mattered more, where I was or where I had come from? Why could I not remember anything? What had happened to me? A thought started to seep into my mind., slowly creeping from the dark shadows of my brain, bringing the darkness with it.
Who am I?
It was an unnatural thought, alien to a human mind. No normal man ever really worries about who he is, for they are the one wondering it. The question is almost answered by the very act of asking. Sometimes, a man may reflect upon himself and wonder if he is a moral man, or maybe question what he is doing or why. They may think they are asking who they are, but really they are only questioning how to categorise themselves. They have the facts before them, they know the parts that make them, they are just wondering about where to put them.
You can ask a stranger who they are, and they will endeavour to explain their life story as an answer. They might tell you their beginnings, or explain about their job. They may even explain about their family and their ancestors, citing similarities between themselves and those who went before them. But nothing had come before me. I was only the stream of consciousness looking out through my eyes at the world.
When I asked ‘Who am I?’ all that I could respond was, I am the man in this room. I am the man with bruises across his back and little energy. I belonged to the room and the pain. I am the man with no history, the man who knows nothing.