How I met Kraai

by P. Jonas Bekker

Rocus Kraayenveld III, Kraai to friends, is my best friend. He is the son of Rocus Kraayenveld Jr., former supreme court judge, former senator, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and special advisor to the Crown of The Netherlands, about whom the vile and vicious, but therefore not necessarily untrue, rumor was spread a few years ago that he was in the habit of walking onto his fifteen acres of forest and grass-land in the morning, stark naked and toting a double scotch and his .270 Winchester, firing away at everything that moved. They took away the gun and with the medication he is doing much better but I seriously doubt whether he has advised the queen on any critical matter since.

I can declare, cross my heart and hope to die, that Kraai inherited none of his father's madness but that's only because I was also able to declare to my agent, cross the same heart and hoping to die equally sincerely, that the first draft of my book would be on her desk within two weeks. That was nine months ago. Therefore, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I met Kraai when I was temporarily institutionalized after a little episode that involved me deciding I could never leave my room again because the world had become too frightening. Eventually, medical personnel, assisted by the police, dragged me out in a chaotic event in which I may or may not have, depending on whose version you believe, attacked and/or injured some people. But that is another story altogether.

I always had the looney bin figured for something of a holiday. Three meals a day, lots of time to read books. But it is truly hell. I never realized how full these places are of actual lunatics. People who will get into fights over missing chess pieces. People who will smear their shit on walls to get the staff's attention. People who scream all night. And everybody smokes. They smoke, smoke, smoke and then smoke some more until their fingers go brown and the wall and ceilings go brown and your hair and your face and your lungs go brown and finally, after a while, your thoughts and your mood go very, very brown.

And I was in a very brown mood when the New Guy came into the rec room. The reason of your little visit to this place falls under medical privilege. Everybody knows that. So, of course, before you even make it past the front desk, all the resident lunatics know your entire medical history. The New Guy was coming in from Detox. Amphetamine addict. Rich boy pill popper. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was that face. He had the most handsome face I had ever seen. Angelic even. He had these ice-blue eyes, unbroken by what must have been two weeks of hell in Detox, and walked into the room with his back and shoulders straight, not even coughing once in the thick blue cigarette smoke. Someone must have been bringing him clothes, because the institution laundry could not have washed and ironed his slacks and double-cuffed shirt so spotless and perfect. Everyone was looking, including the staff. He was the most beautiful thing anyone in that dreadful place had ever seen.

I hated him.

As his eyes scanned the room looking for a place to sit, I realized I was sitting next to the only empty chair. Before I knew it, he was right in front of me.

"Excuse me, is this chair taken?"

At first, I didn't know what to say. I had barely understood the question because I couldn't stop staring into those eerie blue eyes. But then I said:

"What, they didn't bring you a leather armchair with that fancy outfit, dandy? And how about a Cuban cigar and some fucking cognac?"

He smiled and became even more handsome.

"Look, you fat maggot, it's not my fault you look like a troll in a tracksuit. Now is the fucking chair taken or not?"

There was a large glass ashtray on the rec room table. For a while, I had wondered why the staff allowed it to stay there while in the hands of a raving psychotic it would obviously make a lethal weapon. Then I came to the conclusion that it must have been planted there. God-damn sadists put it there hoping one day they could watch one of us split another guy's head open with it.

So I picked it up, jumped out of my chair and swung it at his head as hard as I could. He ducked it and punched me in the stomach. As I curled up moaning, he kicked down on my knee with the heel of his shoe, sending me to the floor.

The staff was even slower than usual in responding to this incident and as the rest of the residents gathered around us I grabbed the New Guy's leg and bit his calf until I tasted blood through the flannel. With his free leg, he kicked me until I let go but I pulled him down, managing to make his head hit a table-leg. Then his fist was in my face. And again. And again. I was able to parry the fourth blow and lock my hand around his throat as we rolled the cigarette-butt covered floor.

Then he pushed me off him and we both scrambled to our feet. We stood opposite each other, circled each other. As we stared each other down, his eyes seemed less cold. As if a barrier had been lifted and they were now showing me their full glory. His face, too, was, though no less handsome, much more human, friendly even. His mouth was an ear-to-ear grin as I felt mine was.

I felt good.

For the first time in a long time, I was actually doing something. For the first time in a very long time, I was at one with myself, with my body, instead of feeling like a scared to death twelve year old trapped in a smelly, alcohol-drenched, 230-pound, twenty-seven year old body. For the first time in a very, very long time, I was having fun. And I could see he was, too.

Still smiling, I grabbed a coffee mug and busted it across his eyebrow, staining his shirt with old coffee and blood. He hurled a backgammon board at me which I ducked. And then we tried throwing chairs but they were heavy and we were tired. And finally, we just sat on the floor amidst the rubble of our fight and looked at each other and laughed.

As four big man-nurses took us to isolation, we bothered to neither cooperate or resist. We just dragged our feet, limp with hysterical laughter.

"That was quite a fight, " the New Guy said. "For a fatass."

"Didn't do too bad yourself, pretty boy."

"Rocus Johannes Kraayenveld the Third is the name. Kraai to friends. And you are?"

"Pythagoras Jonas Bekker, to serve you."

"What kind of a fucking name is that?"

"One you'll have to remember because we are going to be friends for life."

"We are, aren't we?"

And the isolation cell doors slammed shut.