A Short Story

Oday Baddar

August, 2012

I'm awake.

I heard so much about him, but I had to go see for myself. I got the directions from a friend of mine, a former patient of his, and went up there around seven o'clock in the evening. His clinic was set up in the middle of the biggest public library I have ever seen. The ceiling was at least three stories high, maybe four; and the walls were stacked with what looked like endless layers of shelves filled with books of all the sizes and colors, and that was only one of the five buildings that comprised the library. The lights were bright, and along with the thick red carpet, the books seemed to absorb all the echo.

There were comfortable black leather seats for his waiting patients near his oak-wood, shiny desk. Each seat had a number, and there was a silent, bright red prompter that indicated the patient's turn. He sat there on his black, tall-back office chair, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope hanging around his blue shirt's collar. As I walked towards the clinic and took my seat, number five, I couldn't take my eyes off whom I believed to be his nurse. She was just drop-dead gorgeous, with green eyes, shoulder-length wavy brown hair, small but full lips. She also had a white lab coat on, sitting there elegantly cross-legged, at the right side of the desk. My friend didn't mention seeing her, and I'm sure he wouldn't have forgotten!

Every patient who got up there had to roll up their sleeve and have her check their blood pressure. She would fit the cuff snug on the patient's arm so delicately. I could swear that her slightest touch on the patient's arm, and her soft spoken voice as she instructed them what to do, were part of the healing, if not most of it. It sounds so cliche, but that's what I witnessed. And although the conversations were not loud, the quietness of the library made their voices audible to those waiting their turn.

Patient Number One
Swiss Chocolate

Doctor, I've been unable to sleep these days. I think I'm really worried about this job offer I got in Switzerland. I mean, yeah, when I think of Switzerland I think of chocolate and prestige, but I don't know anyone there, and I don't speak the language. I wouldn't even consider this job offer if I weren't so desperate for a steady income and a normal life again.

DOCTOR: How long have you been unemployed?

PATIENT: Almost eight months now. The economy is really bad as you know.

The doctor wrote down the remedy list on a piece of paper then gently tore it off the clipboard and handed it to the patient.

PATIENT: What are these numbers?

DOCTOR: If you're not familiar with the Dewey Decimal system, Dr. Lina will assist you. I prescribed for you two books: the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. And that's all there is to it.

PATIENT: So, you mean, after I read these two books I will figure out whether I'm gonna accept the job offer in Switzerland or not?

DOCTOR: Oh absolutely my friend.

PATIENT (getting up): Thank you doc. I trust you.

DOCTOR (smiling): Have a safe trip to Switzerland.

Patient Number Two

I feel like I'm going crazy. I mean, I'm not that big on conspiracy theories, but I mean, the cameras everywhere? Every cell in my brain is telling me that we're living in a fascist system. Do they really have to have cameras in elevators? Sure they say it's for security, but we all know it's not. There is no more privacy, and I'm not just talking about the internet. Doc, sometimes, just sometimes, while I'm brushing my teeth, I keep wondering whether they installed a camera behind the bathroom mirror while I was gone. Or you know what else? You can't make a transaction at a shop without having a camera proving you were there and that you bought the things you did. And if cameras weren't enough, supermarkets give you these discount cards in order to keep track of your purchases. That's why I don't use discount cards or credit cards or debit cards or any cards! All these cards have tracking devices, I mean they can know where I am at any minute of the day. I know this isn't normal but I can't help think about it.

DOCTOR: My friend, do you have any great secret to hide? I mean, are you some kind of spy?

PATIENT: Haha no, of course not.

DOCTOR: Obviously you wouldn't be, because if you were, you wouldn't come to see me about this. But since you are a logical person, tell me, how many people would it take to watch all the footage of the millions of cameras scattered across the country, to track every credit card and discount card and whatever card, and to sneak into peoples' homes and install cameras in their bathrooms?

PATIENT (after a long pause): You have a point there.

DOCTOR: Now unless they had a good reason to track a specific, suspicious person, I doubt they would spend a single minute on them. So although the technology exists, they are still bound by the need for a human being to assess the value of information gathered, and that's beyond human capacity no matter how sinister their minds have become. But that being said [doctor starts writing], I'm not disproving your fears about some elements of fascism in our government. Here, get these two books.

PATIENT (reading from the prescription note): 1984 by George Orwell. I heard so much about this novel but I never got around to it; [continues reading] and Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. Sounds familiar. Thanks doc! You're a life saver.

Patient Number Three

So, ah, doctor, my problem is not as severe as your typical patients. I have a problem with Muslims. I think I just have what they call, ah, cognitive dissonance, I believe. I looked it up the other day on the net. Correct me if I'm wrong but, it's like, ah, you can't reach the grapes on the tree, after many tries that is, and then, ah, when someone asks you if you've had any, you tell them that the grapes are sour. It's not the same as lying because, like, the grapes might be sour, but the grapes being sour or not is not the reason why you haven't had any grapes.

DOCTOR: Yes, you got it right. That's cognitive dissonance.

PATIENT: Yeah so, ah, you see I hated Muslims ever since I got to read about them in the papers and watch them on the tube. They just seem to me like they just came out of medieval times. I mean, I thought we were done with the dark ages, right? But then a Muslim family moved into my neighborhood and I couldn't even tell that they were Muslims at first. They looked just like everybody else. We met several times at social gatherings and they invited me and my family to dinner, and long story short, I found out that they were Muslim, and that just confused the hell out of me. So I figured maybe it was cognitive dissonance. Maybe all this time I hated Muslims for being backwards and dumb, but that was like hating the grapes for being sour, when I didn't know whether they were or not.

DOCTOR: It seems like you've cured yourself by yourself then.

PATIENT: I guess I'm more open to new ideas now, since everything I learned about Muslims do not apply to these specific neighbors of mine, but I mean how can there be all these lies about Muslims? Surely someone must have seen something wrong and based their judgment on it; surely those experts on the tube have done their research. I just need to figure out whether my neighbors are the evidence I need to be looking at, and ignore all the experts and books out there telling me otherwise, or whether I should think of my neighbors as the anomaly.

DOCTOR: Of course I can give you the answer, but then I'd just be another one of those experts, and my opinion will become another card in your deck of expert opinions. So why not just go straight to the ultimate authority on this subject? [doctor starts writing the prescription] tell me, friend, do you have allergies towards any other religions?

PATIENT: Ah, maybe a little bit allergic to Jews, but it's a mild case in comparison.

DOCTOR: No worries. These two will fix you up.

PATIENT: Hmm... the History of God: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by Karen Armstrong, and the Noble Quran. You mean, ah, you want me to, like, read the whole Quran?

DOCTOR: It's the only way to figure out who to believe. Although I think by the time you're done reading the second chapter, you will have figured it all out.

PATIENT: Got it. Thank you doctor. As a matter of fact I believe I'll start reading them right here in this fine library. Have a good weekend.

DOCTOR: You too. Salam.

Patient Number Four

I don't know what to do. I'm madly in love with this girl. Doctor, I'm 24 years old and she's 19, but I mean, she's nothing like any girl I've ever met. She's too smart for her age, and she's way smarter than me, I know that much. She's not a super model or anything like that. But once you sit with her and talk with her about anything she becomes prettier than any person ever!

DOCTOR (smiling): Yes, you are in love. That's been established.

PATIENT: Well yeah and, anyway, we had our first kiss, under a full moon and a clear starry sky, in a cool autumn night breeze. And every time I wanted to get back to my car she would pull me back to her and kiss me. There was no more room for doubt. We were both madly in love with each other. I never thought this could happen to me, but it did!

DOCTOR: Let me guess, you want me to help you stop loving her.

PATIENT: YES! Doctor, she broke my heart last week when she stopped answering my calls or emails or messages. I even bought her flowers, red and white roses, and left a note in the bouquet I placed in front of her door, saying in it that I love her and miss her. Then finally she answers my call and tells me that it's all over, because her ex-boyfriend came back for her and that she wants to be with him. How could she do this to me, to us? How could she change hearts so quickly?

DOCTOR: I don't think she did. She definitely liked you, otherwise she wouldn't have kissed you the way she did that night. But I think you misread her intentions. She was attracted to you and wanted to have a good time, maybe even go beyond kissing, but that was all she wanted; to have a good time for a short while.

PATIENT: Look, with all due respect, she's not that type of girl. She's too smart for that. I'm telling you her room looks like a library. She's read all the books I have read and want to read and never imagined I would read.

DOCTOR: If she was in love with you the way you are in love with her, she wouldn't be back with her ex-boyfriend now, would she? And I'm not saying she's a bad person, you misunderstood. It's just that perhaps she was looking for something more casual with you, at least for the first few months, but your emotions rushed and your love erupted and it was written all over your face and she could see that just like I see it now.

That being said, I don't think you should stop loving her. Of course, part of loving someone is to do the things that please them and make them feel good. And so if you leaving her alone to figure things out on her own would please her and be good for her, then you should accept her desires; if you truly love her. Who knows what could happen in the future? One day she might miss you and contact you again. But for that to have even the slightest chance of happening, you have to act maturely and separate now with a smile; with a positive memory. Otherwise she wouldn't be able to come back to you if she decides to do so in the future. And if she doesn't come back anyway, there is nothing you can do about it. And you certainly don't have to stop loving her even though you can't be with her. Just as love had entered your heart without your permission or consent, it shall reside and one day leave also without your permission or consent. So instead of fighting it, you should learn to accept it and even enjoy it.

PATIENT: It's so easy for you to say.

DOCTOR: Oh I've been where you are now; I've been in love before and I've been turned down before. I'm not gonna lie to you. It wasn't easy, and it never is. But that doesn't change what I just told you. And when you fall in love again, you will realize that it's not true what some say about the one true love. And if you never fall in love again with someone else, it means you were just not paying attention.

PATIENT: How can you be so confident that I'd fall in love again? What is your proof?

DOCTOR: Tell me something, how did you meet the girl you're currently in love with?

PATIENT: Well, we met at the company I used to work at. We were colleagues.

DOCTOR: Was she the prettiest or sexiest colleague there?

PATIENT: Nope, there were many beautiful girls there.

DOCTOR: So it's safe to assume it wasn't merely physical attraction that started this. Was it love at first sight then?

PATIENT: I don't know, maybe, but...

DOCTOR: But you weren't sure that it was love, until...?

PATIENT: Until we talked, until I was so impressed with her mind, how we agreed on all the major issues, and how classy and deep she was, and how she kissed me.

DOCTOR: According to what you just said, I'd have to conclude that the next time you meet a classy, deep, impressive girl who agrees with you on all the major issues and kisses you just as lovingly, you'd fall in love again. Wouldn't you?

PATIENT: But there must have been more to it than that, something cosmic, something spiritual, something we cannot fathom...

DOCTOR: She's one in seven billion, right? What are the odds that out of seven billion people on this earth, the one who was so perfectly designed just for you, ends up working in the same company you worked at, among hundreds of other employees, you two got to meet randomly?

PATIENT: Then it was fate!

DOCTOR: Alright, If you want to believe that the cosmos played a role in having you two meet, like the odds of a comet colliding with another comet in this vast universe, then why is it so hard to believe that there are other comets, and that the cosmos can play it once again and have another collision? And if it wasn't luck and randomness, or the effect of a cosmic intervention, then we can safely say that the circumstances (the environment) that allowed you to meet such an amazing girl can easily produce another similar opportunity, if you keep your eyes open to see it.

DOCTOR (while writing a prescription): Think about it this way. You go to a family-owned pizza parlor and you try their pizza for the first time and your taste buds could scream that it was the best pizza you have ever had. And once you have found such a great pizza place, it makes no sense for you to continue your quest of finding the greatest pizza in the whole world, because it's simply impossible to actually do that in one life time. And even if it was possible, by the time you'd have tried the last pizza place on Earth, you would have forgotten what the first pizza tasted like. So it makes much more sense to stick to that one pizza place that was good enough. Now, suppose one day your favorite pizza parlor runs out of business, or the great chef who made the pizza quit his job and changed careers. What would you do then? Stop eating pizza till the end of time? Or would you try other pizzas until you find the new good enough pizza parlor?

PATIENT (reading the prescription he just got handed): The Brain Doctor: A Short Story, by Oday Baddar. Is that it?

DOCTOR: Actually, you don't really need to read anything for your problem. Sometimes, there are things in life you can't figure out by reading books. Sometimes, you just have to lie down and cast your eyes onto a big green tree, or a blue sky, or an ocean, and let your mind wander, like the mind of Hayy Bin Yaqzan, by Ibn Tufail, or Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder. You'll be fine my young friend.

Patient Number Five

That young guy was smiling, genuinely smiling, as he got up and shook the doctor's hand. It was my turn now, and both doctors got up as they did with all the other patients to greet them with respect and humility. The only problem was that I didn't really have anything I wanted to cure. It's just that I heard so much about him and this unusual clinic in the middle of one of the largest libraries in the world. I didn't even know if he was a real doctor, or if he got paid for his work. The patients certainly did not pay anything. Maybe it was a charitable organization, or maybe it was just him and the beautiful Dr. Lina, being charitable and giving the community an invaluable service for nothing in return. I was curious, and I had so many questions, but I felt it would be rude to take their time to ask them such personal questions. But there I was, walking towards their desk, and I don't want to make a fool out of myself more than I was about to do by asking my questions. It was too late to back out.

PATIENT: Actually, doctor, I really don't know how to say this, but I'm not exactly a patient and I don't have a specific problem. I have just heard so much about you and I wanted to meet you. You've healed one of my best friends, you might not remember him, but he had a philosophical problem trying to consolidate religion with science...

DOCTOR: Oh yes, I remember. I prescribed him Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert.

PATIENT: Yes! That was him! He was so delighted by the book that he made me read it, and it was such a fantastic read. So I just thought I had to come see you in person and, well, I'm curious, can you tell me about yourself? I mean, how did you end up doing this?

Doctor (slowly leaning forward): I'm beginning to sense a little bit of skepticism and, maybe a dash of cynicism.

PATIENT: I apologize if I gave you this feeling, but I assure you it is not the case at all. I really meant what I said just now, every word of it.

Doctor (reclines back into his chair): That's very good to know, because my answer to your questions depends on it. The truth is, friend; who I am would explain how I ended up here. I am a figment of your imagination, and I ended up here because you put me here.

Patient (after a short pause): I'm not following... This can't be true.

DOCTOR: You are dreaming. As you well know, all human beings dream while sleeping. Some people think that they had dreamless nights, but that's because they did not wake up in the middle of a dream. Unless you wake up in the middle of a dream, none of it will be recorded in your memory; like it never happened. Of course, if you end up visiting a big library one day, or meeting a woman that looks as gorgeous and perfect as Dr. Lina, you might experience what we call déjà vu, but you'd still not be able to remember this dream you are having right now. And you forgetting this dream is not the outcome that either of us want.

PATIENT: Look, this conversation is getting a bit too strange for me and I'm really having a hard time following your analogies. And what do you mean by we? Who are you?!

DOCTOR: Look at the lighting and the colors around you, fading. You brain is about to get out of the dreaming phase and into the dreamless sleep phase, which means all of this will be forgotten. We don't have much time left. You see the yellow ladder behind me?


DOCTOR: Climb it, all the way to the top.

PATIENT: That's a really tall ladder. Alright, climb it and then what?

DOCTOR: You will know what to do.

At once, Dr. Lina got up and stood by the ladder, as though using her graceful walk and beauty to numb my senses and make me stop asking questions and just do as I was asked. I did. I moved quickly and climbed up the ladder, with my eyes catching book titles so quickly. Then I suddenly felt a jolt. I looked down and behind me, and saw the doctor about to kick the ladder (a second time). Adrenalin began to rush through my veins. I was about to fall. The last thing I heard before the ladder lost balance was the doctor yelling at me: "when you wake up, tell everyone what you witnessed here."

I'm Awake....