Her hands lashed out to my cheeks. Pain and soreness registered to my face. I rubbed my flaring skin with care, wincing. Was it something I just said? I tilted my head to meet her eyes, looking at the petite girl whose body was buckled in the wheelchair.
Her lips were pulled to a snarl. “Don’t talk to me ever again.” With six words of curt command, she wheeled towards her room. I stared at her retreating figure without a word. Unable to collect my thoughts, I scrambled to the floor and collect the fallen patients’ document. Particularly her, Abigail Rose.
“Are you having a hard time playing doctor, James?” my uncle’s voice Genesis pulled me from my trance. Hands tucked under the pockets of his lab coat, Genesis flashed a handsome grin. “You know, you can move on to other patients. I can let the upper ups handle her.”
I frowned at my auburn-haired uncle. “I’m a doctor too, Genesis.”
“You’re a trainee!” Genesis waved his hand in the air. “Look, there are many other loco-minded patients you can deal with in my clinic, but Abigail is a special case.”
Speaking of the devil, the door to Abigail’s room screeched open. She seemed to have abandoned her wheelchair and doggedly made her way to the bathroom. Her ebony shoulder length hair fell upon her bony shoulders. From the distance, her skinny legs looked like twigs under a dying tree. In fact, Abigail’s arms were firm against the wall, struggling to stand. Nurses and doctors stalked past her, not sparing her a bat of an eye.
I looked up Genesis, giving him the ‘what should I do look’. My clean-shaven uncle stared back at me lazily. Not offering me a look that encourages answer, but somewhere between confusion and pity swum in his unreadable gaze. He finally said. “Do what you want James. Make sure you don’t waste this intern.”
“Are you saying I’m in charge of her?” if I were a dog, my tail would be wagging to and fro.
Genesis’ peculiar stare never left me. “If you insist.”
It had been three months since I was interning in my uncle’s psychology clinic. It wasn’t until my second week of work that I encountered Abigail. I caught her sneaking into the hospital cafeteria at night, stealing some food from the kitchen’s fridge. Despite carrying two bags of Dorittos and three blocks of cheese to her room, nobody in the hospital batted an eye. I consult to Genesis about this matter. With Abigail’s abnormal skinny exterior and eating habits, Genesis concluded that she was diagnosed with Bulimia, a type of eating disorder.
I started locking up myself in the hospital library, raving into books about eating disorder. If it weren’t for Abigail’s bony state, she was a fair girl with jet black hair and opal eyes. After three nights of sleeping less than four hours, I believe that I needed to make Abigail confident of her own appearance to stop starving herself.
So, I approached her one day and said. “You’re beautiful, Abigail.” And I wasn’t lying.
That was how I got slapped.
I locked myself in the clinic’s library again. Most of these books were thick with complex vocabularies and terms that I just couldn’t knock them to my head. With a sour mood, I assembled the books back to the shelves until a syrupy voice with thick British accent caught my attention.
“It’s unusual to see someone like you coming into the library.” She wrapped her arms and smiled at me. She was wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope hanging on her neck.
I grinned nervously. “You mean a trainee like me?”
She placed a hand above her mouth, and then she smiled again. “Well if you think otherwise. I’m Lena from the Nutrition department.”
We shook hands. “I’m James.”
She looked up to the shelf before glancing back at me. “Are you looking up for books about Bulimia?”
“I’m trying to help a patient.”
She glanced at me before shifting her gaze back to the bookshelf. “Is it someone called Abigail Rose?”
“Wow, someone actually acknowledges her presence.” I voiced my thoughts grimly. “It seems like the doctors never care about her at all…right?”
Lena didn’t say anything. She remained her ground as if she was anticipating this attack. After a long moment of silence, she finally turned to me. “Encourage Ms. Rose to exercise and eat healthy. Please refrain from talking about personal things.”
“You haven’t answered my question.” I retorted.
“At least I’m making your job a little easier.” With that, Lena left me alone with more questions than answers just like all the doctors in this clinic.
Even though I took her ignorance with a grain of salt, I acknowledged her tips. I started visiting Abigail’s room and encouraged her to exercise.
At first, it was hard. Abigail refused to leave the bed, and even if she did, she would end up stumbling to the floor. I needed to support her just to make her stand. It took a week until Abigail could stand on the floor properly.
Every morning, I knocked into her room with a plate of milk and cereal. Despite her complains, I forced a spoonful of cereal to her mouth like feeding a medicine to a cat – because Abigail would claw at me if she was in a sour mood.
At noon, we would practice some cardio exercises. While Abigail laid flat on the ground with her knees folded, I would hold her legs together as she dragged her torso upwards for a sit-up. Then, we would go on all fours on the floor to do some planks. I joined the exercise with her, mostly to demonstrate her how these exercises work. We spent the last three months digging into Youtube Videos for some workouts.
I also played a huge part to control Abigail’s diet. I would monitor her four twenty-four hours to ensure that she didn’t sneak out at night to get some unnecessary food.
As my days with Abigail passed, her legs were no longer looked like twigs. A few fats had grown on her calves and a new layer of fat covered her bony arms. Her cheeks were chubbier, which made her smile brighter.
She was gorgeous. Even though she drove me crazy with her rude demeanor from time to time, she was the only human in the clinic who was around my age. We became more like friends than doctors and patients.
One night, I fell asleep in Abigail’s room. When the doorknob clicked, I was roused to wake, only to find Abigail leaning on the door with a playful grin. “I was just about to wake you up.”
“Do you really think I can’t detect you sneaking out of your room to steal some snacks?” I frowned at her. “I’ve been doing this for three months, Aby.”
Abigail walked closer to me. She gained more weight now. Her body looked more voluptuous and fit. She was beautiful.
“By the way doctor,” Abigail planted herself on the couch by the window. “I really appreciate you for all the things you have done to me.”
I nodded at her with a sleepy grin. “The pleasure’s mine.”
“You know I might leave the clinic next week.” Abigail smiled wanly. “And maybe, I’m gonna miss you.”
“Patients are not gonna miss their doctors,” I said.
“Well, I can introduce you to my parents!” Abigail teased me. “After all, you look young and fine James!”
I felt blood rushed to my cheeks. Thank god Abigail couldn’t see my flaming face in the dark. “Go back to sleep Aby, please.”
Abigail climbed to her bed and nodded to sleep almost immediately. Her chest heaved up and down, followed by a gentle snore. I looked at her for a long moment, capturing her sleeping face into my mind to keep.
I’m going to miss her.
On the next day when I wake up, Abigail was gone.
Panicked, I sprinted across the clinic for her presence despite my messy bed hair and crooked lab coat. Was she playing games with me? Was she discharged from the clinic earlier? I knocked into patients and doctors alike, followed by a string of curses. I didn’t care. I needed to find Abigail.
In the middle of my panic stupor, I saw my Uncle Genesis striding on the main lobby. When he saw me running after him, he didn’t raise a brow as if he knew this was happening.
“Have I ever told you to not run away in the halls, James?” Genesis’ hand never left his pocket.
I didn’t hesitate to cut to the chase. “Where’s Abigail?”
As if my question was like a summoning chant, doctor Lena appeared behind Genesis. She and Genesis traded peculiar glances before nodding to a certain unsaid agreement.
“Tell the boy everything.” Lena scowled at Genesis. “I’m sick of getting reports that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.”
Genesis muttered. “I’m sorry.”
Genesis then returned to his room and went back with a patient’s document. He shoved it at my hands. “Read.” Was all he said.
I gingerly took the patients’ file from him. As I flipped the pages, I was expecting to read Abigail’s patient’s records and her date of hospital discharge.
I found none.
Instead, I saw my own face on the patients’ biography.
It was then everything came back to me.
Name: James Arthur
“You are diagnosed with Psychosis.” Genesis rephrased my disability as if he was having a speech. “A heavy one. Since my sister passed away, your father handed you to me. My sister’s death took a huge blow on you and becomes a trigger for your mental illness. You believe that you are a trainee here, but no, you are a patient.”
I was silent. Disbelief hammered on my skull, but part of me was convinced that I had been lying to myself all this time. My heart plummeted to my stomach. That meant everything that had happened…
“Abigail Rose never exist.” Lena quickly said what’s on my mind. “She was a figment of your imagination.”
Anger surged into me as if I’m injected with a syringe. I grabbed Genesis by the collar and bored into my uncle’s eyes with a pair of fiery red eyes fresh from tears. “Why are you doing this? Why do you never tell me about her?”
Genesis pursed his lips. “Because ever since you started ranting about Abigail, you are slowly recovering.”
“You start exercising. You eat well too.” Lena added. “You start being active on your own without the therapy’s help. Genesis and I thought that was the best for you.”
My chest felt it was stabbed with a handful of needles, slowly stitching my heart to half. I slapped a hand against my face, started choking on my tears. Since I couldn’t see Abigail anymore, does that mean my psychosis had recovered?
A few days later, I was discharged from Genesis’ clinic. On our way home, Genesis drove me and Lena to my mother’s graveyard. I stared at the tombstone and cursed at myself. How could I forget about this?
“You tried to help her back then, James. You tried so hard. It wasn’t your fault.” Genesis patted a hand on my shoulder, but I refused to look at my uncle on the eye after everything that happened.
I remembered my dad left mom for another younger woman. Since then, mom believed that she was not beautiful enough that she stopped eating entirely. Surprisingly, I no longer felt any sorrow. I felt numb.
“You are going to stay with Genesis’ house.” Lena turned to me. “Forgive him, James, he did that because he loved you.”
I nodded at her. My eyes drifted across to the rest of the marble stones on the graveyard. It would be easier for me if Abigail died and was buried in one of these tombstones. At least there was a solid evidence that she was here, but there wasn’t.
She lived only within me and my own mind.
I guessed that was not bad, wasn’t it?
“By the way Ms. Lena, what are you to my mother anyway?”
Lena’s eyes steered to the graveyard with a small frown. “I was in charge of your mother when she was diagnosed with Bulimia.”