Chapter 8: Empathy
            I had forced Ashur to drink calamus tea with me. He told me that it was unprofessional of him to be conversing with a patient. He said that he could prescribe medicine, but not take medicine with me. I told him that this was part of a physician’s job, to make sure the patient recovered. He just requested me to defend him if Salim were to appear. Now, we were sitting in the courtyard in the Queen’s quarters and after several long sips, Ashur had asked, “Your headache has disappeared? Salim says that the headaches should go away after taking five drinks.”

            Feeling a bit guilty for lying to him, I answered, “I never had a headache. It was more like heartache.”
            “Heartache? What is that?” He jumped from his seat, rattling the tea cups. “Does the heart pound too quickly that you cannot breathe? Does your chest hurt?”
            “No.” I giggled at this studious kid. “It is more as if I am heartbroken.”
            “When your heart breaks into pieces?” He tilted his head to a side. “Is that even possible?”
            “No.” I laughed again at his innocence in between a sip. “You have much to learn.”
            “I do. That is why I help Salim. Salim is supposed to—“ He squealed once he saw Salim’s overbearing shadow. It was amazing how I had not even noticed him until he too was a few paces away from me. “Sh-sh-she was the one that told me to have tea!”
            Salim shrugged his shoulders, tilting his head to the right. “Oh, is that so?”
            “Yes,” I explained, “I asked Ashur to accompany me. It was a patient’s request.”
            “Then, run along, Ashur, because I will accept Your Highness’ request,” Salim noted to the boy who bustled away. Salim then poured himself more tea in Ashur’s cup before sitting down. “So . . . what troubles you?”
            “Nothing,” I muttered.
            Salim rubbed his chin and adjusted his bangs hanging from the side. “I was told by Calla that you had fainted and had slept for a long time. I believe that is not called nothing.”
            I grinned, knowing that there was no sense in lying to a doctor, especially this type of doctor. “Then, what is my disease?”
            “I do not know. I only know of another patient, except he suffers more than you,” Salim clarified. “He becomes possessed by another being. His character completely changes and when he awakes, he has no recollection of what he has done.”
            “And the cure?”
            “No cure has been found yet.” He attempted to change topics by commenting on my situation, “I find your case particularly interesting. Every time this happens, do you dream?”
            “What do you dream about?”
            “A lady’s life.”
            “Just any lady?”
            I must have been silly to think that he would help me. I was surprised too at how easy it was for me to tell the truth. How long had it been since I last said truthful words? “Why are you so curious?” I asked.
            He steadily poured more tea into my cup before replying, “Because I want to find my patient’s cure and your cure.”
            “I thought you preferred poisoning others,” I snickered while remembering to glare at him. 
            He almost choked on his tea due to his excessive laughter. “He cannot be poisoned. He’s living poison himself.”
            “Immune to poison?”
            Salim had a habit of stroking his forehead whenever he contemplated. “Every poison has practically been used on him by his mother.”
             “But why?” I wondered aloud.
            “No one really knows why.” Salim sighed relentlessly. “She simply despises him.”
            I felt pity for this victim. Even though I did not know him, I could understand how he felt. I had been despised by own mother too. Perhaps, her hatred had not been to the extent of his mother’s, but having a mother hate her child from the beginning was too much to bear.
            Salim must have noticed how I felt for he suggested, “If you would like to help yourself and him, then allow me to accompany you to observe what happens during one of your reactions. If there is some common point, then I could perhaps find a cure.”
            “What would I need to give for your assistance?”
            “A detailed account of your dreams.”
            “An invasion of privacy.”
            “Then, in turn, you could know his dreams?”
            Apparently, patient confidentiality did not exist in this realm. My curiosity too was overbearing. I had to know, and so I agreed, “Then, tell me about his dreams first.”
            Reaching his hand to his satchel, Salim found a tattered book. He opened to the first page, and dictated, “Age six. Patient is unable to sleep for days, claiming that there is a monster.”
            “So, a nightmare?”
            He nodded and continued to describe the events, “Age seven. Brother of patient claims that the patient is moody and irritable. Patient sometimes shows violent tendencies.”
            “Violence? At such a young age?”
            Again, he only bobbed his head. “Age eight. Patient becomes excessively violent. He kills and hunts without a heart. Family believes it is the death of his brother that causes him to change, but he turns normal again. No one knows why.”
            “Age thirteen—“
            “Why was there such a large gap between the entries?”
            “I was not the physician at the time. I only became his physician when he was sixteen. These were my master’s notes,” he noted before continuing his explanation. “Age thirteen to fifteen. He begins to dream again, but these dreams possess him further. His cruelty has escalated and his compassion is nonexistent. After every episode, he has no recollection of his violence. He awakens once his hands are drenched in blood or once he collapses from fatigue. He pleads to me and asks why. He says in his dreams, he sees a lady. He does not know her name, but whenever he sees her, he wants to harm her. He says he wants to trap her forever.”
            “And then?”
            “Age sixteen. My master has passed away and so it is my duty to look after this patient. His dreams have become intimate and sadistic. He tells me that he has to have her. He does not know why but his body wants to take her. I recommend him to release his urges.”
            My throat was almost clogged by an unwarranted gulp of tea. I had to painfully swallow the burning liquid before verifying, “He hired a prostitute?” 
            “No, he found a replacement for the woman in his dreams.”
            “His desire runs strong then.”
            “You have to understand that this was the only way to stay himself.” Salim’s eyes perched upwards and his hand curled tightly around the handle of his cup. “To stay sane.”
            “Who does he change into then?”
            Salim closed the book and answered, “He never says. He just says that he becomes a monster, but he says he already is a monster.”
            This man must have been suffering too much to admit that he was a monster. A true monster would never admit his or her faults and would even attempt to conceal the problems.
            “I believe we are all monsters at heart,” I declared.
            “How welcoming, Your Highness.”
            “How polite, Salim.” I smiled back at him.
            “Then, I believe we have an agreement?” He lifted his cup as a signal of our promise.
            As our cups clinked, I answered, “Perhaps.”