It’s not about winning, Floyd!

We didn’t quite get along in the beginning – Floyd and I. We had our little scrap together. When I came to the ward, I wasn’t yet allowed to carry a phone, while Floyd had an iPhone with earphones on all the time. Quite well dressed despite being in a hospital ward and too normal to be spending time with me in the same place. I kept my distance because I thought he subtly looks down on me and doesn’t respect me like an equal being.

He has black hairs with tanned skin, so initially I thought he must be mixed in spite of his well-spoken quintessentially posh London accent, though in fact he’s hundred precent from here, with a mum from Latin America. Dad is English. 

We had respectful exchanges but never a proper chat until I saw him holding a book titled “How to win friends and influence people”. I instantly judged the book by its cover and told him off for reading a non-fiction. I said stop reading non-fiction, Floyd! Read fiction. To win friends, you need to read fiction. He asked why? I said because non-fiction is about facts, but fiction is full of lies compromising a bigger truth. To win friends, or love, you need to be truthful to the ultimate extent. 

Floyd disagreed. He said winning friends is about appreciation. You want to find friends who you appreciate and that appreciate you back. I asked, what is missing in your life, Floyd? He said, I don’t have friends, I’ve never fallen in love.

Floyd turned out to have been an international hopeful to become a key mountain climber. I mean an international sportsman. He was in Team Tribune. Tribune signed him up as a team member if he accepted to participate in their sports enhancement scheme which is impossible to detect but ultimately illegal. Well, at the end, they screwed him up. His biological passport didn’t match at the end and he wasn’t allowed to climb up the Everest not to screw up the whole team even though he was always touted as the overall winner. He left sports at the age of 25 “due to personal reasons”. Anyways, he never reached the climax, he never reached the peak, he never won. They fucked him up. He said, I did it to myself – “we always have choice”. I said you were vulnerable at that age. 

I said Floyd, it’s not about winning. It’s about the journey. You go up the mountain – imagine you’ve reached the top, what’s there? Nothing. The view from Hampstead Parliament Hill is better than the Everest, isn’t it? They deceive you, to think that it’s about winning. He took me to the ward’s gym, where a quote from Vince Lombardi was inscribed on the wall. “Winning means you’re willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.” 

I said, Floyd, that’s exactly your problem. You’re mixing fact and fiction. Lombardi’s quote is about winning in a fictional world, you reach the top of the Everest, but nothing is there, so you have to pretend you have actually seen something amazing. Love is a mixture of both, it’s both fact and fiction. Love is not about winning, Floyd, I said – at least according to my philosophy. Love is about losing. Losing yourself. Winning is about yourself, losing is about allowing someone else to win. That’s the primary difference. 

Floyd said he needed to sleep over our conversation. In the morning, Floyd said he dreamt of falling in love with a Persian girl who was teaching him how to fly. He said “but Persian is finished, isn’t it?” It’s Iran, now, I said. I said well, Persian isn’t finished, but we don’t call it Persia anymore. Iran is a more inclusive term. Not all Iranians are Persians. But we still speak the Persian language, but Iran is actually a better name than Persia, I said – it’s more inclusive.

I told Floyd in the morning that you can compare love with slavery. When someone falls in love with you, they willingly become your slave, but the key to their freedom is ultimately in your hands regardless of how you feel about them. So you can’t just ignore them and say oh, I don’t love them back, so fuck it. I said because the key to their freedom is in your hands, you have responsibility for them. I said Romain Rolland said either in Jean Christophe or L’âme Enchantée that “sentiments are the most important things that we have”, but I said Dostoyvskey also said that “we’re responsible for other people’s feelings”, because we may have no feelings for them – those who fall for us – but the key to their freedom is in our hands. We have to set them free, even if we don’t love them.

I said loving someone unrequitedly is like a butterfly circling a glowing candle – it wants to get closer to the light, but the closer it gets, the more difficult it becomes. Its wings gets burnt, but it can’t help it. Love is complicated, you can hardly escape the candle. The candle is there, the butterfly is dancing. But it’s a dangerous dance, it can be the dance of its death. “The third one threw himself into the heart of the flame and was consumed,” I recounted.

(This is a fictional diary written by me while being in hospital. Any resemblance to people in real life is merely a coincidence.)

Love and squalor on Christmas Day

Nurses asked in the morning if I’d have any visitors today – I said I’m not expecting anyone. I said Emma came from work yesterday, the work’s been super supportive, I said. Everyone been asking. But a few hours later I went back inside the ward’s office room to ask if I can go out a bit later when Sebastian comes for a visit. The African nurse with the curly kinky ponytail in her late forties said that should be alright. I said: “Thanks Amy”. She said: “You’ve been here for over a week and you still don’t know my name, Saeed?” I said I’m bad with the names. She showed me her badge. It was clearly written Rita. 

I had told Sebastian not to come for a visit over the Christmas now that he lives with his parents while I’m in hospital. The overground isn’t working, it’s over 15 miles away and I said it doesn’t make any sense at all. By the early afternoon, he texted to say he’s coming – his dad is driving him here even though the police had come for the forensics earlier after their car been broken into. 

Sebastian arrived around the time Her Majesty began to address her annual Christmas speech. I could clearly hear the Queen saying “closer to home, it’s been a busy year for my family, with two weddings and two babies, and another child expected soon. It helps to keep a grandmother well occupied” as I controlled my pace to walk towards Sebastian sitting on the red leather sofa not far from the TV in the living room, where everyone else were glued to the screen. Sebastian was glued to me approaching him – almost fell over him, embraced him, gave him a kiss, thanked him for coming all the way on Christmas Day just to see me. It means over three hours of him and his dad out of their home on Christmas Day. His dad stayed outside in the car. Sebastian brought some chocolate his sister had bought for both of us, some fruits he knew I liked and a piece of other things, too. But most importantly, he brought himself. 

I asked Rita if we could go out. Before Sebastian came I asked another nurse – who turned out to be Amy – to help me with my name forgetfulness. I asked her to ask Sebastian about his dad in a way that he would reveal his dad’s name, so that I could hear and re-remember without being humiliated in front of Sebastian that I can’t recall his dad’s name.

Rita accompanied us, but tried to keep an arm’s length in distance. I told Sebastian that in spite of being here, and all that I went through, it’s been the best Christmas of my life. For the first time someone I love – and who loves me back reciprocally – is spending some time with me for Christmas, even though in hospital. Christmas never meant anything to this exiled being until this year. Three of us went to the nearby off license close to the hospital where I bought crips and a yoghurt drink and some chewing gums. On our way back, we met Sebastian’s dad – Saul – who hugged and kissed me on the cheek like I’m his son to say they missed me for the holidays and that it was a pleasure to bring Sebastian here to see me.

As they left, Rita said “they love you, Saeed”. I said “yes, I’m quite lucky”.

I asked Rita what’s wrong with most people in this country and why the country is in the state it is now. She said they don’t have this in here, as she pointed her fingers towards her heart. Rita, from Ghana, has four kids – all of whom live with her except the oldest living with his girlfriend. I asked what made you so happy in life, Rita, even though you’re here on Christmas Day taking care of me. She said her dad. “Oh, my dad always smiled.” He lives back in Ghana.

As we got back inside the ward, the ITV had moved on from a documentary about Prince Harry to the BBC showing a documentary depicting Duchess of Cambridge. The American said: “I bet the questions she’s asked on screen are pre-approved”. I did not comment. The English was still glued to the TV. I asked if he liked the Queen. He said: “Oh yes.” I said why is it that this ward is in the situation that it is now – the place, though ranked outstanding countrywide, looks as if has been badly in need of refurbishment since I was born in 1985. I said ok, NHS is good, but even hospitals in my country have better sanitary quality. The English disagreed. He said Princess Anne is a patron to this hospital.

As I went to take my stuff to my room, I told Rita “thank you for taking me and Sebastian out for a walk”. She smiled back. Her smile sank in.

(This is a fictional diary written by me while being in hospital. Any resemblance to people in real life is merely a coincidence.)

The lecture on the importance of fact and fiction – or the dilemma of Cassandra

They said no phone for a week. Sebastian – my boyfriend – asked what to bring from home. I asked for Maman Mahin’s Qu’ran and Maman Tahereh’s Hafez. These were the two things I asked to bring before I even realised I needed more underwear now that I need to be here for a little bit longer than expected. I asked Sebastian if it would be alright for me to blog about being here, he said what do you think? I said I feel no shame in talking about it. I also said your enemies goes after your weakness, you can hit them back by truth. 

Nurses’ been friendly, though they have too much to worry about. People who know me, or even those who don’t, know I’ve been struggling a bit more recently due to a great deal of reasons. Reasons are not important. Well, I struggled a bit in the beginning, particularly being put offline and off phone and computer for an entire week, but now that I’m back on it, not much has changed. The world is quite the same. 

In the beginning it felt a bit strange. After being in exile for ten years, it felt as if I’m yet in another exile. That made it like an open wound that you pour salt on. But the American wrote something on the whiteboard the day before yesterday that was quite catching. There’s a whiteboard and everyone is welcome to write a “quote of the day”. I didn’t take it seriously until more recently. The American wrote that “to hurt someone with the truth is like taking a bitter medicine with a spoon of sugar, but to make the same person happy with a lie is like having your head up someone’s ass.”

It made some sense. The French is into mathematics, he said that “zero is a number – an absolute number. Zero is useful, just like a container. Zero contains nothing. Zero is like the air, it can be cold or hot, you can create friction in it, it can contain emotions. So nothing is everything. In life, you need both zero and one to be able to create two, so the importance of zero is everything. Without zero, there will be nothing. With zero, there will be infinity.”

They call me Mr Fact or Fiction here. I tell them “you decide”. I wiped the whiteboard yesterday and wrote something for the first time. I wrote: “To reach the truth, you need both fact and fiction, but on earth you also need to be able to distinguish one from the other.” They said it made sense. Joshua said fact or fiction? I said: fact. I told the French energy equals human being multiply fact, multiply fiction. He said it makes sense according to Einstein. 

Today, I went ahead and wrote something again on the whiteboard. No-one else even noticed. There’s a sombre mood, everyone else is home celebrating Christmas. I wrote: “The only way to make peace with a difficult past is to show forgiveness”. The South African nurse was passing by. He added: “You’d also need to be able to forgive yourself.”