The day I almost lost my sanity

I WAS expecting a deluge of abusive mail and calls after my recent column about a former teacher of mine who went stark raving mad and came to school to give us a bizarre show.

I WAS expecting a deluge of abusive mail and calls after my recent column about a former teacher of mine who went stark raving mad and came to school to give us a bizarre show.

Happily, I was disappointed. Nobody seems to have noticed, and if they did, they did not care.

So, I take my chances again, having gone to visit an uncle of mine who has been living in an asylum as far back as I can remember.

I have been to the facility countless times, being quite fond of my malome. But this one time my visit made me want to doff my hat to those men and women who spend their lives working with the poor, sick, unfortunate - and plain bonkers.

It also made me quite ashamed of myself for not doing much to help. It takes a special person to work with hundreds of people with various forms of mental illness - and remain sane.

On the day, 15 minutes after my arrival, while still waiting in the reception hall, I felt myself going bananas.

I had arrived in the late afternoon when the day shift staff was already going off and visiting hours were long past.

First was the lady (patient) who approached me to ask for R2. I gave it to her and she left. Then another came, and I gave. A queue was beginning to form, but I did not have enough coins, so in my own patronising way, I thought any coin would do (they would not notice after all).

But they did, and they wanted to lynch me, accusing me of giving them money that "does not buy".

I escaped by pretending I was going to fetch more money from the car.

Moments later I was back, hoping they had been locked up for the night.

I was wrong. A chubby fellow with a half-moon shaped face ran up to me and started dusting off my shoes with a cloth he had in his hand. My attempts to stop him were in vain.

When he was done and the shoes were indeed shining like I had never seen them shine, he looked up to me and demanded R2 - very much in the tone of a cop demanding your pass.

He barked: "Ek het jou niks gepla nie. Gee my R2!" (I did not bother you at all. Give me R2).

This one had earned it. I also decided to up my game and offered him a R5 coin (I had run out of any other coins). Besides, none of the other patients was in sight.

He obviously understood the value of money, for he jumped up and down like a little boy who had just been bought a Ferrari toy, and ran off to God-knows-where.

No sooner had he disappeared than another one appeared. He did not come to me, but walked past me as if I was not there, punching the air clumsily while repeatedly chanting Muhammad Ali's mantra: "Float like a butterfly ... sting like a bee ..."

Only, he floated like a bee and could sting like a butterfly.

God bless the keepers of these delightful people.

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