He decided to go himself to unveil him. He grabbed the piece of sheet that covered the head and draw it quickly from the patient, up to the level of the belt of his pants.


Martin was caught by a visceral terror.


The chest of the patient was in an advanced state of putrefaction and was swarming with little white maggots…


The eyes of the one who has until now stayed frozen stretched immediately, staring at the face of the one who has just unveiled him. His right hand raised swift as lightning from the stretcher and the deathly grey fingers of the corps grabbed Martin by the neck.


The man on the stretcher started screaming:


“Save me, Mr. Doctor! Save me!”


Martin suddenly opened his eyes, as his entire body jerked into life. Sophie, who was sleeping next to him, woke up, too.


“Have you had a nightmare? Come on, calm down, everything is all right. You are with me, in our home.”


“Oh, what a dream…,” murmured Martin.


His forehead was sweating. He stretched out his hand for the lamp next to the bed and switched it on. Sophie lifted herself onto one elbow and looked curious and puzzled. Martin asked her:


“Has Robert returned home?”


Sophie sighed.


“Not yet. Please, let’s not discuss over and over again about this subject. Even if Robert is our son, he is nevertheless at the age when he can live his own life. We did everything that anyone could do. We offered him everything that was the best. But you know well that, from a certain point, you cannot control his life.”


“And what do you want to do, Sophie? To sit and watch him destroy himself? How could we live with the thought that the son of a well-known doctor chose to live amongst low life scum? A young man with such hopes and opportunities to become a drug addict … Do you still love your son, Sophie?”


“If I love him? He is our only son, Martin! For me, Robert will always be the sweet little boy who came to me to tell enthusiastically about how he managed to fly another kite. And I am still the mother who was so happy when her son passed his first the exam at the University of Medicine. Do you remember how proud we were when we received congratulations from all our friends for the excellent results that Robert obtained in the entrance exam?”


“Yeah… What a pity that we could not control everything … I cannot understand how he could end up living amongst those wasters.”


Martin’s vacant stare remained lost somewhere on a spot on the ceiling. He spoke as if to himself:


“Maybe we pampered him too much? I don’t think so; we gave him all the conditions in order for him to develop… Look, it’s two o clock. It has been a long time since I slept peacefully through the entire night, I would rather have the times when every night I treated the incoming emergency cases, when we worked in a big hospital in San Francisco , rather than struggling as I am doing now to fall asleep due to the fear that at any time somebody will inform me at the door or by the phone that my son has been found dead on the street or in a filthy crack house, after so many days spent with all the types of maladjusted drug addicts and alcoholics.”


Sophie listened submissive and calmly to her husband, till they both fell asleep. They both woke with a start when as the sun was rising, their son opened the door of the house and entered the room that had been kept empty, waiting for him to come home. Robert, a young man who had recently celebrated his 21st birthday, no longer kept many of the smooth features that were supposed to accompany the freshness of youth, when others born in the same year as him enjoy the pleasures of a life lacking in such vices.


With his disheveled uncut hair, unshaven, dressed in blue jeans and an old and worn out leather jacket, the son of the two doctors had gotten into the habit of coming home late at night or in the early hours of the morning.


Not caring if his parents were asleep or awake, Robert headed quickly to his room “wall-papered” with posters of popular rock stars all smiling down at him.


And, after every such entrance, Martin kept prompting Sophie to try once more to have a civilized discussion with their son who was on a slippery slope into perdition.


He prompted her again this morning. After a half-hearted protest she went to the doorway of the room where Robert was just about to fall asleep after who knows what adventures he had experienced a few hours earlier.


“We were worried all night,” started Sophie with a hesitating voice. Robert, my dear, do we really deserve this from you? We believe that we were the best parents in the world. Give us at least the chance to know what happened to you. Do you have some heavy burden and you cannot tell us about?”


Sprawled on his bed, sighing as if he wanted to let them understand that he is pissed off with the care shown to him, Robert condescended to say:


“Mother, please, I am a grown man now and I know how to live my life.”


“Robert, at least tell us why your life is like this. Of course, we cannot dictate to you how to manage your life. But we deserve at least a small chance to know if we made a mistake to you or not.”


“Oh, mother, some things can be understood without many words. And there were so many occasions where you could understand it so well…”


Robert gave up his sprawled position. He stood up, lit a cigarette and sat on the extensible armchair next to the bed.


Sophie took a seat on a little chair nearby, encouraged by this quite unexpected gesture. Their son would turn his face to the wall and act as if he was asleep when one of his parents came to his room, intending to have clarifying discussion.


After taking the first puff of the cigarette, Robert said:


“I was admitted into the University of Medicine because I had a good memory. Then I realized that it was not for me, from the moment when I first saw a person dying right in front of me, in the hospital where I had my practice. The suffering of people is what I would like to keep as far from my mind as possible. I am simply not the right fit for medicine.”


“Do you want to give up on university?”


“I fought all the time the thought that I might disappoint you. I could not give up my studies because I didn’t want to disappoint you both. I looked for desperately for a middle ground. Then one day, accidentally, through a colleague at the university, I was introduced to the drugs world. He suggested that I try something “soft”, a substance that was supposed to be mild and inoffensive, just to give me the strength not to feel like fainting when I was near a dead body on a dissection table. And then, from a friend, that substance that seemed so inoffensive became one that took over my mind and my body. Do you think that it was easy for me when I started to understand that I had become an addict? And do you think that I did not realize day after day what pain it would cause you later on when you realized the trap that I was caught up in? But I didn’t realize it until it was already too late. You will never understand the constant fight of a drug addict. His enemy is not only the world around him, but also the perfidious powder that was smiling so charmingly in the beginning. A smile that became a hideous grimace.”


Sophie listened carefully to her son, struggling to adopt an expression of her face that could help him notice that she, his mother, was indeed concerned about the truth of what he was saying.


The door of Robert’s room remained open during all this discussion. From the place where Robert was sitting, he was unable to see anything that was happening in the hall. Sophie noticed, after she turned her head a little, that Martin, her husband, was standing in the hall, in a place specifically chosen so as not to be seen by his son, but just good enough to listen him talking.


She saw the face of Martin and remained dumbfounded.


*


Everybody has to make a choice at a certain moment. The question is: the one who makes the choice, is he acting automatically, as if he was conditioned totally by a specific thing? The answer is NO. People make their individual choices depending on their own system of values. For example, somebody who considers the family as something extremely important in their life. And then, the chances to choose a solitary life, far from any type of relatives, are almost nil, because he has a system of values very well rooted. But how does a man behave whose system of values is not very strong, namely somebody who gives almost no importance to the family? The chances that such a person leaves his family are very high, of course. The system of values influences the decisions of people.


- Excerpt from the Big Book of the Soul –


*


Under the caress of the hot stream of water from the silver showerhead, James felt the pleasant torpor of welcome relaxation. He was satisfied also with the excellent climate control in the hotel, of their stereo system in the room and in the bathroom, the mini-bar with the best quality drinks. All the electrical devices in the room were designed in such a manner so that the light and the sound could be as everybody would want them.


After his shower, James got dressed in a tailored light grey suit and left the room. He had time now to tour this famous hotel.


All the employees were very affable and friendly. He entered the main bar of the hotel and ordered a coffee. He savored it without hurrying, felt even more animated, rose and explored passing by the sauna of the hotel and then the small gym room.


James was delighted by the fact that everything in this hotel was immersed in luxury. His enchantment was noticed by another journalist who seemed to have had the same tour of this elegant place.


“Are you also invited to the conference that is starting tomorrow?” asked the man affably, in perfect English.


“Yes, I’m the scientific reporter for the ‘Harmonics’ magazine.”


“Smith Dean is my name. I am working for ‘The New Science’ Publication in London.”


“James Hoover. You have made me a nice surprise. You are the first native English speaker that I have met since arriving in this country.”


Only now, James noticed better the perfectly groomed chestnut brown moustache of the Englishman. The owner of the extremely common name Smith was wearing a plain starched white shirt. The Englishman invited him to go to a table on the outside terrace of the hotel restaurant. They order a fresh drink.


“We are now in a hotel whose history began around 1600,” said Smith. “I almost feel the presence of the figures that passed through this place: Dalai Lama, Queen Elisabeth the Second, even Napoleon Bonaparte.”


“Yes, we are lucky to have this experience,” said James while he let himself be enchanted by the beautiful view of the Rhine.


“This chosen place is excellent for this conference. The perfect place for an event that has already been announced to be of good style.”


“This Englishman is talking so calmly!” said James to himself. ”It seems as though he has spent all his life only taking part in prestigious conferences organized in luxury places such as the one we are in.


“Indeed,” said James, “I find myself in a famous and luxurious hotel, having the mission to save the magazine where I am employed. It seems that something does not fit… But, anyway, this is part of the journalist job, too. You are now in a quiet and luxurious hotel and tomorrow you may find yourself writing an article in God knows what area full of mortal dangers.”


“You are perfectly right, you know… I have always thought that the journalists are some kind of supermen.”


“Yeah, supermen…”


“I do not think it is an exaggeration,” continued Smith. “You heard for sure about journalists that were beaten or who even died while doing their job. The hard workers in the mass media are people that sacrifice themselves for their profession. They risk their health, their life, even their family…”


“Their family?...” asked James a little puzzled.


“Yes. This is possible, too. But it is just a possibility. Do you have a family? Are you married, Mr. Hoover?”


“I am recently married. My wife is working for an agency specialized in market research. Unfortunately the management of this agency is very tough, imposing an almost infernal rhythm of working. We could not even enjoy our honeymoon as we should. It is somehow a good thing from a certain point of view. Betty, my wife, will go easier through her longing for me and through my absence. Her work will keep her mind occupied and she will not have too much time to feel how slowly the time passes.”


“You see? It is exactly as I was telling you. It is possible that the family is affected. In many ways, it is not only the longing for the one who left. Or, it is possible not to be the case…”


“Are you married, Mr. Smith?”