Dr Schwinleger had grown accustomed to the visits over the years. These days, his daughter-in-law dropped in once a week and the nurses and volunteers did their duty with the bathing and food. So life inside his few small rooms was so routine as to provide no interest whatsoever.
His son, the narcissist, had been badgered into monthly phonecalls which were tedious for them both. The nurse with the mild atelophobia had relocated because of her husband’s work and the new one, who seemed somewhat orthorexic, was pleasant enough but mostly fairly dull. And, though people would insist on activating the television that his family had foisted on him, he loathed the device’s artifice and faux examination of non-issues. “For company,” his visitors would say, clearly downgrading their own ability to provide any such contribution of merit. Dr Schwinleger wouldn’t tolerate the blaring banality in their absence and he only allowed it during their time there so as to console them for the unpleasant tasks they had to undertake. So having diagnosed every television personality during those cursory viewings as sociopathic or delusional, the world outside his window was the only true source of cerebral engagement with genuine humanity.
So he watched for signs of life and the tell-tale behaviours that could signal a challenging impediment, an intriguing history.
Typically, the delivery men suffered from stress, dysthymia … one or two may have been obsessive compulsive. There was a woman who walked daily to the bus stop whose gait hinted at domestic intimidation. And a family whose occasional appearances displayed a sibling dynamic that would merit further scrutiny. However, the most fascinating subject of all was the young man with such an extreme phobia that he had constructed a device and uniform to ensure his contact with the world was never tactile. Dr Schwinleger longed to set up consultations with the young man. To discover what lay at the heart of his aversion. But having been housebound for decades, he knew that his own lot was just to speculate, to view life fragments from a distance and ponder. So all Dr Schwinleger could do was make the most of the opportunities to do just that.
From his windows he’d seen significant changes in modern living – mowers had become noisy machines fuelled by liquid beyond simply the sweat from a man’s exertions; all manner of devices had become more tiny, portable and anti-social than he could have imagined when he had been engaged in the activities of the society. So much so, that now every generation seemed to feel the need to carry and examine miniscule gadgets thoroughly in public – to the detriment of human interaction, as far as Dr Schwinleger could see. But the doctor himself didn’t care so much for engineering, mechanics or technology. He was interested in people. And the ways they reacted to, dealt with, existed in their changing environment. So the young man with his ankle and ear protectors; his gloves, glasses, hat and long trousers; and mostly the repelling machine he used to ensure that the random remnants of daily life were kept at a distance was a source of endless fascination.
What could have led him to such a psychosis? How did the rest of his life – the activities and interactions away from his regular journeys along the pavement of that particular suburban street – play out? Dr Schwinleger was intrigued. But, beyond the young man himself, there was an illuminating phenomenon. The true revelation was the genuine acceptance from others of the young man’s condition. Passers-by never gave an indication of the aberrance of the behaviour – there were no wary gazes or careful scrutiny … people went about their business with a nod of recognition or even total disregard. As if such a severely afflicted phobic was merely doing something as routine as mowing or sweeping.
And it was this that gave Dr Schwinleger hope for the world. In the years before his physical impairment, he had encountered many whose conditions were challenging but whose greater suffering came from society’s attitudes to their difference – a difference not of their making but of biology, of circumstance. So after decades of experience, of study and practice, the resonating conclusion that Dr Schwinleger had been left with was that civilisation wasn’t civilised until it could accept diversity with the same dedication as it celebrated the trivial. As far as he was concerned, to make an anguished person a pariah was akin to a crime against in humanity. So his frustration at not having the capacity to treat the young man was assuaged by the acceptance of the populace for someone suffering such a burden.
So he watched the young man armed against the external world blowing twigs and leaves from his path back and forth (so long as they were ‘away’ from him, it didn’t seem to matter where they eventually lay) and hoped that he was under good professional care.
And Dr Schwinleger took solace from the fact that perhaps humanity was not fated to become the disparate mass of greedy egotists that he had concluded during his life outside – and inside – the walls of his own deterioration.