The psychologist’s demeanour and aspects are not funny to Ujada. Looking at the man, she nearly quipped to his hearing, ‘What a strange mélange!’ In her eyes, the man’s oval face and windswept white mane resemble Einstein’s, his eyebrows thick as those of Bertrand Russell, while his large tummy reminds her of the overstuffed tummy of a clown. His attitude generally strikes her as unfriendly.
Because Ujada already detests him, coupled with seeing only a caricature of geniuses in him, she quickly removes Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell, leaving only clown, which she believes to be quite in place. Even the man’s unshorn, matted hair now clearly appears to her as the mad scientist’s, instead of a genius’s.
As she wonders what entered her head and led to the mismatch, she nonetheless, and almost unconsciously, gives herself to reminiscences of the seminal ideas of the two great thinkers. Einstein was for her the person of the last century, just as he was for Time Magazine, especially because of his theory of relativity, while Russell, one of the few who could boast full knowledge of this theory, manifested his own genius by simplifying Einstein’s theory in his ABC of Relativity.
Still on the comparison, she looks for substitutes, medium-sized personages who may have features the psychologist shares with them, but finds none. She then turns to predators and immediately settles for the tiger, the African white tiger, because of the man’s white and grey hairs that cover his head and the hairy parts of his body, and even because of his seemingly tigerish eyes.
However, unlike the tiger, he wears eye-glasses, though he prefers to look at things from over the upper rims, thereby giving the impression of a stern character.
Without caring to respond to Ujada’s greeting, he asks her to sit on a chair that looks like a barber’s. Unlike a barber’s chair, it is set in such a way that the person sitting on it will be forced to place his or her head on the headrest, making the ceiling the only possible place to view.
Ujada is hesitating, already frozen by fear like one asked to sit on the electric chair. Everything in the room, from the psychologist to the smallest object, is a cause of trepidation for her.
She is confused. She prefers to stand, but what matters is what the man wants. This is why she at last finds herself on the chair without knowing when and how she slipped into it. The man’s oracular voice and forceful words must have done it.
She is asking herself what crime she has committed. All her fears are seen in her eyes, which have become larger, though receiving fewer things in spite of their enlargement.
Her attempts to say something are unsuccessful. If she did say anything, the psychologist did not hear it; his mind is focused on the application of his therapy. He is eager to discover the problem that has brought her to his studio. He is so obsessed with his method that he will not be tranquil till he has confirmed its diagnostic power one more time.
‘Miss, start talking about yourself, from your name and place and date of birth to all the events of your life you can remember. You can start anywhere. Say whatever comes to your mind, even in the style of Tom Hanks in his role as Forrest Gump. Chronological order or coherence is not important; what is rather important is that you are talking, saying something consciously. If unconscious things arise, they will also be welcome. Even your silence is communication in itself.’
The psychologist stops, to insist with looks and body language. He sits down for some seconds, looking at Ujada without saying anything; then he gets up and starts inching to and fro with his arms folded behind him. His head is bent, showing that he is thinking. When he has come to the end of this ritual, he starts talking again.
‘Miss,’ he calls a second time and then says things that are a mixture of information, criticism, lesson, personal situation or worries, and even boasts. They are things that, apart from making him look curious, are also curious in themselves, as they do not seem to have anything to do with either her or the occasion.
‘I think you have thought enough that by now you must have remembered enough things to say,’ he tries to encourage her. ‘Now start: along the line, what your case is all about will manifest itself. Self-cure therapy, my brainchild, has never disappointed me even once. You see, as the name suggests, you are your own curer. What I do is marginal; I only facilitate things, like the obstetrician that helps the woman in labour to deliver her baby. The woman is the one that delivers the baby, not the obstetrician. This is why your case, and hopefully its successful diagnosis, will be another confirmation of the potency of my method. I am convinced that not even this will make my detractors give up their attacks. You see, they ridicule my school of thought so that the miscellany of Pavlov, Skinner, Jung, and others they parade as theirs would have some weight. History will vindicate the just. In my method you are the one that will uncover the mystery of your problem, as well as handle it afterwards. By the time we get to the end of the diagnosis you will see how simple, dare I say revolutionary, my method is. Miss, to verify my boast you can start talking. First of all, steady yourself in the chair.’
Ujada does not know what to do, or from where to begin. She does not know whether to complain she is not the patient or to see herself as an agent of the man’s healing of himself – of megalomania, and probably of psychosis.
Her decision at the end is to free herself from the chair that reminds her of the electric chair and run out of the studio, but fear of the man’s reaction constrains her to remain and suffer in silence. With her legs and arms strapped to the chair, any attempt to liberate herself would be futile.
‘I cannot understand why you have chosen to be adamant’ – the psychologist appears to be irritated – ‘Note that if you were sent here to forestall my efforts you are bound to fail, because your silence already divulges more than enough information. However, I wonder how you will expect others to comply with you if you don’t comply with me. We have all heard about the Golden Rule, which compels us to do to others what we want them to do unto us. The paradox about the Golden Rule is that those who ignore it are also those who want others to apply it in their dealings with them. I will not be surprised to see you angry with your husband, daughter or son for not applying it in their dealings with you.’
The last words shock Ujada; she sees herself as being indicted. Gripped by fear, she tries to jump out of the chair, but ends up quaking like one undergoing electrocution. Enigma is what crops up in her perception of this man. Even the atmosphere has suddenly turned eerie, making her shiver.
‘Miss,’ the psychologist calls in a loud voice, ‘Now you really have to tell me why you left your house to come here to stare at me and ignore my words. I can understand that coming from a lady lacking in culture and even in beauty, but not from one as exposed as you appear to be, or one whose dazzling beauty is for the first position in a beauty contest.’
The words ‘first position’ and ‘beauty contest’ strike her as a clear evidence of the man’s foreknowledge of her as an ex-Miss. This apprehension awes her and increases her shivering. She has no more doubts about the mysterious power of the psychologist.
She is naturally very uncomfortable with people who see everything in the minds of others, so finding herself where a stranger seems to know about her makes her uneasy. It seems the time has come for her to say something. The problem now is what to call the man; convention demands that she turn to him with a title. Doctor and Magician are the two in competition.
‘Doctor, I am not a mistress in the sense of Miss but in its other sense of Mrs, because I am married.’
Ujada has preferred to make this point of correction rather than start with any of the other variables. It is a wonder her choice did not go to the fact that she is not the patient. Many people would have quickly clarified this point, but no matter how inadequate a response is, a good psychologist will always have a better interpretation.
‘Voila!’ the psychologist starts the reading of Ujada’s response. ‘One of your problems has already manifested itself clearly. The quick successful diagnosis shows that it is not chronic, meaning that there is no cause for alarm. In a few words, you are haunted by what we technically call folie de grandeur, that is, delusions of grandeur. It is nothing important yet, but you have to be careful not to allow it to degenerate into any of its dreadful consequences. To be specific, title or the way you want to be addressed is your problem. Don’t tell me it is not true; I have no patience with people who oppose my views. Here I am the only one who has a say, a final say for that matter…’
Ujada quakes in her attempt to liberate herself from the chair. She loathes people who are full of themselves. The man, on the other hand, looks at her and continues with his discourse.
‘The diagnosis, as I was saying, has already shown your problem. Coming to that, let me now ask you: what does it matter to be called one thing instead of another; for instance, aunt instead of mum? If you are a mother that I don’t know about, there is a ten percent possibility that I call you mother without difficulty, forty percent that I treat you like a mother without calling you mother and fifty percent that I neither recognise you as mother nor even address you as one. Do you know that your attachment to address is deep-seated? When you entered this studio, you called me doctor, but I am not one. I merely studied psychology. People call me KD, the initials of my name and surname. It makes me feel like an intelligent mother whose child calls her by her name and she makes no fuss about it. My dear, know it from today that every woman is a miss, whether they are married or not. In the same vein, everyman is a mister, independently of whether they are a chief, a doctor or a holder of a newly created title.
Man as man existed before these things. Any time you hear someone refer to you as a miss, be happy. Be happy also if your daughter or son calls you by your name. Though it is opposed to convention, it however neutralises the unnecessary formality between family members. Apart from this advantage, it ought to make you feel younger. The time will come when you would wish you were younger. All you can do then is to recall youthful memories of when you were a miss. So accept whatever you are called.’
The words of the old psychologist chilled Ujada’s body because of their revelations. Despite the chill, she is sweating like one with symptoms of high fever. She is weird out by the right guesses.
Notwithstanding her position, which makes seeing different parts of the studio difficult, she still manages to cast some glance at the man. She wants to see if he is a clairvoyant in the guise of a psychologist. The little idea she has of psychology does not tell her that insights of this kind can spring from it. She also reasons that if it is a case of chance occurrence, the right guesses may have stopped at only one.
At one point, her mind goes to the fact she walked into the studio and passed for a patient. She reflects on this for a while, but rejects the suggestion that she may have been the one that has need of a psychologist, instead of her son.
Reacting to this thought further, she summons courage and breaks free from the chair. She can accept any other thing, but not this. As she transfers to a stool, she feels highly relieved. The way she now looks at the chair shows she suspects that it has occult power which aids the psychologist in reading her mind and correctly guessing her problems.
Shifting her attention to the man, she steals looks at him to know how he has taken her breaking free. As no reaction is coming from him, she starts to reflect on the different things he said. The right guesses have continued to overwhelm her.
‘Many thanks:’ she finally starts to say something. ‘Unfortunately, you diagnosed the wrong person. I am here for my son, who calls me ‘ma-amte’ (aunt) instead of ma-am. The fact is that at one point I felt the lights inside me going off, so I had to liberate myself. Perhaps I am too alert to be hypnotised. I regret the failure of your experi…’
‘What experiment are you regretting? God! There is nothing that cannot be attributed to my method. Now it is hypnosis; the other day it was something else. If I may ask, who was hypnotising you? Please look elsewhere; your thirst for hypnosis cannot be satisfied here. I am sure one day it will be said that my chair has curative power and that it takes care of patients while I am out playing dice. Please, free your mind from its hallucination. My chair is like any other; what differs is its form. I gave it that form as an expression of my creative genius. If by so doing I have also breathed a diagnostic soul into it, I then consider myself an Ubermensch (superman). Given that I don’t want to deceive myself or anyone by claiming a power I don’t have, I would prefer to say that it is a chair like others. Coming to your bragging that I have diagnosed the wrong person, my answer is that it is not true. At any point of our life we have one psychopathology or the other. I couldn’t care less what you want to believe; the important thing is that you did not say I diagnosed the wrong illness. So there you are. By the way, why didn’t you tell me from the onset that you are here for your son?’
‘I didn’t tell you because there was no time for that; not even time for greeting did you allow. I stepped into the room; you took off in that frenetic manner, making me wonder many things. I thought of ejaculation and orgasm that might have been provoked by my presence; I thought of frenzy, of paroxysm, even of fugue – in short, of many things. To be frank, my mind went neither to diagnosis nor to therapy; both were completely far removed.’
‘So few things you thought and wondered! You couldn’t find more? If you have finished with your negative impressions, you can then present your child’s case. Your opinion about what I am doing and how I am doing it is not important. What is rather important is the result you go away with; that is my response to your impressions. If I may ask, why didn’t you bring your child along with you?’
‘I wanted to discuss the case with an expert first and then know the steps to take.’
‘This is the right place for the discussion, and for you to avail yourself of my expertise, you must tell your story. I am all ears.’
For the first time, Ujada without any inhibition narrates her story.
‘Sorry,’ the psychologist interrupts her, ‘you said that the man who is your husband now met you and had sex with you and went his way? And that after about three months he came looking for you but met your sister, your carbon copy and an ex-Miss too, who he married?’
‘Yes,’ Ujada responds timidly, because the old man mentioned sex instead of an euphemism.
‘Please continue with your story.’
Then Ujada narrates that Ajua her son was conceived from that intercourse, and that she left him after delivery with her sister and her husband without letting them know who the father is, in order not to put their marriage at risk. Her narration takes her to the fact that she took her sister’s place after her death and now faces her son’s obstinate refusal to call her mum. When she says he threatened her with a knife the last time she asked him to call her mum, the psychologist shrinks.
If she knew that a knife has been lurking under the boy’s pillow since that incident, she would have told the psychologist about it, and both would have been alarmed. She would have also started bolting the door of her bedroom before going to sleep.
‘It means you don’t know that for your son your presence is the reason for his putative mother’s absence?’
As Ujada hems and haws, the psychologist adds, ‘And yet you want him to call you ma-am. This shows that you don’t know the depth of his anger against you, or the gravity of your offence.’
Her eyes widen instinctively. He however asks her to continue her narration.
When she has finished her story, the heavens are let loose. She has never seen a reaction of that sort or anything near to it. Perhaps some principle of his must have been violated in the course of her narration. In short, only God knows what must have provoked his anger.
Ujada is so frightened out of her wits that she would have taken to her heels if she were near the door and finding it open too. She just recoils as the man scolds the Hell out of her.
‘Whaat? That you passed the maternity of your son to your sister, in order not to be an embarrassment to fellow divas and the society at large? God, is the opposite not the case? Again, that you hid the boy’s secret from him? How can you believe it was in his interest while in actual fact you were setting the remotest cause of psychopathy? What a paradox! Your emotions have a semblance of a true mother’s. I dare say they remind me of a mother hen’s emotions; to say the truth, the one that appears when a hawk has fled with one of its chickens. I know who is a true mother – one who does not play with the psychic balance of her child. Don’t you know the truth should be told the child from birth and even right in the womb, if possible? No truth revealed to him, no matter how bitter, will leave any scar or enduring injury. As he grows, he outgrows the negative effects of such a truth – while if it springs up later it becomes a nightmare. You have taken the child’s age for granted, but he is going to be a man tomorrow; I fear his reaction may be ferocious…’
Ujada wants to say something in her defence, but the psychologist is too angry to tolerate anything from her. Though he is fuming with anger, she all the same manages to say few things. Unfortunately for her, each of her words turns into fuel poured on a fire.
‘Please don’t tell me he will never come to know about it. He will never come to know because you will keep him permanently in a closet? In any case, I hate to be interrupted. If you want to go home with professional advice, you must listen. Your capacity to keep the truth away from him is not the issue. What is rather the issue is the injustice you have done him by not revealing what belongs to him. As nothing under the sun is hidden, he will surely come to know about it. At that point, split personality would set in with its deviational behaviour that manifests itself as drug addiction, alcoholism, non-conformism, antisocial personality disorder, agoraphobia, Oedipus complex, timidity, schizophren…’
The psychologist is still naming the pathologies that may befall Ajua when Ujada’s sobbing turns into a scream. He hurries to the door and bangs it behind him out of anger.
Hearing the scream and seeing the psychologist walking away, his assistant goes near him: ‘Can it be that you have introduced a new aspect to your method?’
‘I can’t believe this is the right moment for you to satirise. In any case, I have chosen to be drastic to compel her to accept whatever her son calls her, instead of empathising with her and leaving her to be gnawed by her problem.’
The lady steadies her eyes on him. After a little while, she starts nodding as memories of the cases the man resolved with his technique scroll up in her mind, doubling her confidence in him.
By Kaius Ikejezie