The first time he really got me. I unlocked the door, unexpecting. And there he was, waiting, with the eyes of the devil. Next thing I knew a barrage of tiny fists flying at my face. He had small hands like that, but furious. I was taken aback. Retreated into the corridor. One of his fists connected with my jaw, I lost my balance and fell backwards. The world blacked out.
I guess I must have passed out because I woke up with my head on the third step of the stairs. It hurt like the dickens and the corridor was empty. No sign of Eustace Jones. What in the name of madness was that for?
When I got up and entered the apartment in search of ice for my head Eustace Jones wasn’t in his room. Nor did I see him for a couple of days afterwards. But following that first incident and for the next three months my life turned into a special kind of hell because of him.
Most afternoons after work I was prepared for battle even before reaching home. Sometimes he waited for me in the corridor of our shared apartment, other times he attacked the moment I stepped out of my room or when we were both in the kitchen. I always knew beforehand. He had that stare, that sick mad look which invariably precipitated a fight.
I admit I never understood his motive. It couldn’t have been because I’m black. I’d seen Eustace Jones hanging out with another black guy at the IT store where they both worked. Plus he didn’t strike me as the racist kind of guy at any rate. Nor had it anything to do with us renting in the same apartment. I kept to my room, used my own kitchen and bathroom utensils, cleaned regularly, didn’t make noise, never borrowed or messed with his stuff. So what had I done to deserve this frantic hatred that drove him to physically assault me every other day?
He was a funny little man. Quite fat and round, and he had these small blinking eyes. I suspected he might be mentally challenged or otherwise suffering from some psychological condition seeing as I had never provoked his inexhaustible wrath. He had some strange aura about him. I don’t know how else to describe it. He wasn’t mute and yet he almost never talked. Apart from work he rarely went out, didn’t socialize often, didn’t even own a TV. I had no idea what he did all the hours he spent alone in his room when he wasn’t fighting me.
Of course after that first ambush he wasn’t a real threat to me in any way. You see, Eustace Jones was about five foot six and relatively slow compared to me, even during his rages. I on the other hand stand at six foot nine. And honestly, without wanting to show off, the first things that anyone looking at me observes are my biceps and my six pack. I’ve been hitting the gym since high school. My physical appearance is important to me.
And yet Eustace Jones and his paranoia transformed my daily routine into a struggle. True, he never caught me unaware again. But not one day during those three months went by when my mind was at peace. I was wary of him every single moment I spent in the apartment, and my comings and goings were without exception accompanied by the constant worry whether Eustace Jones would attack me the instant he saw me. Why?
The devil never said. Several times I resorted to calling the police or the neighbours did, though these interventions didn’t effect any visible change on Eustace Jones. Many times the officers sat him down and pressed him to answer what he held against me. They, too, were baffled at the absurdity of his persistence. Why would you consistently and with such fierce passion keep attacking someone that much bigger than you and get beaten up every time? Someone who furthermore had not given you any reason to do so, because as I said I never had anything against Eustace Jones. Of course when cornered he resorted to mumbling that I started these fights, avoiding my eyes when he lied. And then he typically failed to explain to the officers or to our landlord why it was I that always called for help and not him, or why he never accused me. The whole thing was irrational.
Police intervention was futile, apart from inconvenient for continuing to rent at the apartment. But this was the least of my troubles. Every afternoon I returned home I was forced to put Eustace Jones down. I didn’t have any other option. How would you deal with an insane person that’s determined to attack you? Stand there and take it? I tried not to hit him hard or cause him damage but it was impossible. He fought like a demon every time, scratching, clawing, biting, kicking, tearing up my shirts and headbutting me while I struggled to get on top of him. I roughed him up a couple of times, shouting at him all the while. My desperate pleas to make him stop mixed with his freaked-out screams in a delirium of madness. Inevitably the fight ended with me holding him by the neck until he was subdued enough to give up. And infallibly it was resumed the next day.
‘I will fuck your life! D’you get me? Do you?! You. Crazy. Fucking. Piece. Of. Shit? I will annihilate you if you don’t quit!’ I screamed in his ear, desperate one night.
It was the only time I lost control. I’d returned to a peaceful apartment after a late going out that involved too much alcohol with friends. Eustace Jones attacked me when I left my room for the bathroom. I’m not sure what happened exactly because of the haze in my mind. For sure I was tired of our living arrangement. Sick of having to physically fight someone I didn’t want to harm for half an hour or even longer every day. And in the madness of the moment I decided to beat it out of him. I gave him a thrashing that left him bloody on the kitchen floor.
‘Are you listening to me, you sick fuck?! I will take you to court or I will fucking kill you!’ I intoned the words striking his head on the floor at every pause. He passed out.
Three days later, the same story all over again. Eustace Jones waiting for me in the corridor, his bruises not yet fully healed and his eye gleaming for a fight. Jumping at me the moment I entered the apartment. I would flee and return hours later, silent in the dead of the night. I was known in the building as the crazy guy that ran back down the stairs a minute after he’d climbed them up to the fifth floor.
Eventually I moved out. I had asked my landlord on numerous occasions to send Eustace Jones away but she said he couldn’t afford to and that he had paid her six months in advance when he moved in. She wanted the money. So in the end I left even though I could barely afford it.
My life returned to normality once more. I avoided passing by the IT store where Eustace Jones worked and if I happened to spot him on the street, because my job at the time was still quite close to his, I turned around and ran or crossed the street in a frenzy, cars or not. I was afraid he might seek me out again, even though I was renting elsewhere. Shivers ran down my spine at the thought he could have waited for me with a knife any evening all these months. He was likely too thick to consider using a weapon or maybe his madness didn’t work like that. But what assured me when such an idea might occur to him? I had grown paranoid that now I was gone he might not hesitate to track me down and attack me even in a public place, in front of my friends, colleagues, my girlfriend.
A few months later I found a different job and moved away from that area altogether. The panic of having Eustace Jones around vanished. I got promoted at my new job, met the love of my life, moved in with her. Zyana and I travelled a bit, expanded our circle of friends, started saving up to buy a place of our own. I hadn’t heard of Eustace Jones for five years.
Until a week ago I drove by after work to the apartment in Bucks that Zyana had asked me to see. As I waited for the estate agent to buzz me in I read the names on the doorbells for the third floor. At one of them a wave like static sped through me. Eustace W. Jones. Surely, it couldn’t be him? Here, after all this time? The name was quite unique. At the buzz I opened the door like a butterfly.
Eustace Jones wasn’t anywhere to be seen when the lift let me out. The estate agent welcomed me in and showed me around the apartment and the terrace. From it, I looked over the decorative rattan fence at the windows of the adjacent apartment. I couldn’t see anyone. When the estate agent was done, I inquired vaguely about the neighbours living on the same floor. He didn’t know anything except that they were respectful, quiet professionals. He was responsible for selling only that one apartment.
The estate agent locked behind us and offered to see me out. I kept expecting to see Eustace Jones on any doorstep we went by, but he didn’t appear. Not when the lift opened for us, not when its doors smoothed us out into the ground floor, not at the main entrance to the building.
But fate’s doors aren’t always doors and I met with Eustace Jones outside, on the street. He had in fact just parked his car behind mine, and as the estate agent had followed me there he stopped in his tracks and regarded us with a curious expression. He recognized me, there was no doubt. Struck, his gaze travelled suspiciously from me to the estate agent, paperwork tucked under his arm, to the building he was holding keys to. And back to me again.
Noticing him the estate agent said ‘Hello’ but other than that the two of us just stood there looking at each other. He had changed, I thought, and he hadn’t. He was heavier and rounder but also the same as always with his small hands and blinking eyes. Still a funny little man. I saw his tiny fists clench and I wondered, was he going to attack me right then and there?
Then I saw him exchanging that look with the estate agent. And I don’t know how to explain this, but he had done something. When I looked at Kevin, the estate agent wasn’t himself any more. He eyed me in a way that was… It sounds ridiculous. But I swear to you, it felt as if Eustace Jones had inhabited the estate agent’s body and was looking at me through him. I had no time to think or comprehend what was happening. Kevin the estate agent was on top of me, directing blow after blow to my head, shouting incomprehensibly.
I have God to thank that I’m a big guy and all the years I’ve spent caring for my body. I don’t know what would have happened had I lost consciousness. I managed to throw Kevin off me and crawl away enough to stand up. By that point I must have moved through the space between the two cars because when Kevin attacked me again we were exchanging blows in the middle of the street.
Everything is blurry after that. There were shouts and I heard a car braking. I clearly remember shoving the estate agent away from me and turning around, though I could not tell where he landed or if he got up to pursue me. I got into my car and drove away like a madman.
When Zyana got back from work the same day I was in our kitchen. Still in shock I guess, but I’d had a couple of vodkas to steady me. She came in bringing the air of the city with her, tiptoed to kiss me, smelled what I was cooking and went to open the balcony door to let the cat out.
She lit a cigarette next to the rack of laundry I’d hung to dry.
‘So did you go by the apartment?’ her voice came back in. ‘Did you like it?’
I guess I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t reply. She thought I hadn’t heard her. After a while she came to the door and asked again. I sort of broke down and told her everything. About Eustace Jones and my living with him, about the viewing, the estate agent and the fight. I was mortified she was going to laugh at me.
The most brilliant and intelligent woman that she is, Zyana quickly dispersed my metaphysical as she called them anxieties and suggested a rather more logical explanation over lunch.
‘What remains,’ she said, ‘is to find out how this guy, Eustace Jones, tracked you down and how he knew you were viewing the property.’
‘You don’t think they had a plan? And that he was late so Kevin was stalling me?’ I tried to keep my voice even not to scare her.
‘Let’s not jump to conclusions. Maybe he’s the owner of the apartment. Didn’t you say he lives next door? He could have seen your name on the visitors list and decided to get a friend of his to play the estate agent’s role. Pay you back for beating him up all these years ago. Don’t you know where he works?’
‘No,’ I said helplessly. ‘He used to work in IT but it’s been years. He might own the estate agency. Or maybe the apartment. Or Kevin is his friend that works at the-’
And then the phone rang from the living room. Zyana and I looked at each other and she got up to answer it. I didn’t dare move from the table and tried hard not to listen for any words. I felt sick and wanted to be far, far away.
The phone call lasted a long time. When Zyana returned to the kitchen she looked very worried.
‘Baby,’ she said and her eyes were big. ‘They say you attacked a man and pushed him into the street. Where a car hit him.’
‘I didn’t attack anyone!’
And then I noticed Zyana’s stare. It wasn’t the same as before and I don’t know how I made the connection but it was the phone, I knew it. Eustace Jones, somehow he had managed to take control of my fiancés mind. I jumped to my feet.
I wasn’t crazy. She clearly approached me with her hands raised in fists. Fists, fists, fists. My own fiancé, my love.
I was crying over her body when they finally broke the door and came in shouting. I didn’t care. I went quietly. All the fight in me was gone.
Ever since, I’ve been here.
‘And that’s how my life went down the drain. For the sake of Eustace Jones. Now, doctor, can you please sign me out?’
‘Mr. Solomon, I would that you listened to me very attentively indeed. I require your understanding and cooperation in this matter. You have been, as of today, diagnosed with a variant of what is normally referred to in medical terms as Fregoli syndrome, an extremely rare misidentification disorder which manifests in various ways but most importantly in our case is responsible for influencing the way in which your perception works. It is a type of schizophrenia of a chronic and paranoid type, culpable of making an individual believe that a person can alter their physical appearance at will while their psychological identity remains the same or even that they are capable of transferring their psychological identity into another person’s body. Now, in your particular case the person you believe you are threatened by is perceived as someone who can assume a different physical appearance; specifically, the appearance of any person in the world other than you, including even me as I’m talking to you right this moment. This is under no circumstance a reality but the result of cerebral dysfunction in your brain. Brain lesions or injuries in the lobes of the brain have been associated with delusion-inciting disorders such as yours. This leads me to ask: have you ever experienced a serious…’
‘Hold on, wait. You’re telling me that I have this syndrome and it alters my perception! How are you so sure everyone doesn’t have it to one degree or another? How do you know you’re not the one whose perception is faulty?’