An excellent analysis of mental illness along with its obsessions
“Fall!” I heard.
Somebody pushed me in the back, and I started falling from a great height. Then, as I was about to crash down, I woke from a short nap. My body twitched in an unconscious reaction to stop a fall which was as real as if it were about to take place in reality, yet existed only in my dream. When I was dreaming though, I didn’t know that. I was entirely convinced that I was about to die.
At that same moment, I heard a loud thump on the window, just above my head. Maybe that’s what woke me up. There were two seagulls fighting over something so fiercely in mid-air that they didn’t see the window. […]
They’d left a mark on the window, an impression of widespread wings. The impact must have been very hard for them to have crushed in this way. Luckily, the window didn’t crack.
“Angels!” I recalled mother’s words. “Come on, boys, look at the angels!”
Years ago, when we were still children, mother showed me and my brother marks like those on the window. When was it I last visited her? About six months ago, perhaps a bit longer. Mother, sometimes mum, never mummy. I only called her “mum” when I wanted to make her happy, but to me, or when I talked to others about her, I called her “mother”. Mother not mum. We kissed each other on the cheek to say hello and sometimes hugged when saying goodbye. Ever since I remember, we’ve kept our distance.
She liked watching television series and nature films, playing patience and placing tarot cards, drinking black coffee, smoking one cigarette after another, and sometimes swigging a drop of herbal or fruit spirit. She’s worked at the Marriage Registry all her life, was quickly promoted to manager, and has officiated over several thousand wedding ceremonies. She didn’t want to retire because she’d miss the weddings which she kept on talking about with her colleagues:
“Beautiful! So handsome! Youth is always beautiful. It speaks for itself.”
“But did you see that other one? Old cow, pretending to be a spring chicken. What husband is that, her fifth?”
“Every blight’s someone’s delight.”
“They look as if they’re in love. Do you think they’ll spend their whole lives together?”
“He suits her like a hunchback suits a straight wall.”
“Look at that, practically still a child with such an old boar. I bet it’s the money.”
Commenting on the appearance and choice of newly- weds never bored her. She also went to the country to see her sister, whom my brother and I had known since we were children because mother took us there. She never found herself another guy after my father, although many milled around her because she was shapely and attractive.
I think she’d have preferred her older son’s fate to have been mine. I was always second-best because not only had I been born second, but I also proved a disappointment.
Excerpt translated by Danusia Stok
An excellent analysis of mental illness along with its obsessions
Daniel Odija’s novel, Empty Flight, offers a rare insight not only into the world of the mentally sick but also, and perhaps above all, the world of those who live alongside them. In it, we observe the destructive progression of mental illness through the eyes of the sufferer’s brother, the narrator. This gives a clearer picture of how the deteriorating state of the mentally afflicted bears upon the lives of those close to him, especially his family. The destructive force of schizophrenia affects not only its victim, for whom the torment becomes unbearable and, in the end, leads to suicide, but also the brother, who falls into the grips of alcohol, the mother, who cannot cope with the suffering, and the ex-fiancée. It destroys many relationships or turns them toxic.
Both the narrator and the other main characters remain nameless, making it easier for us to identify with them. This could happen to any of us, the author seems to say. Throughout the novel, we accompany the narrator in his attempts to understand what had happened. The author’s highly skilful use of flashbacks allows the truth to be gradually revealed. This effect is further heightened by the same events being seen from different points of view, which come to light when the narrator meets his mother and his brother’s exfiancée after his death. Aside from that, Daniel Odija’s book constitutes an excellent analysis of mental illness along with its obsessions (in this case, they take on “birdlike” connotations, reflected also through symbolism), phases and relapses tensely awaited. This tension is contagious because Empty Flight is an expertly-written novel. Interesting as regards language and style, but also very informative.
Translated by Danusia Stok
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