“No one believes me. I’ve tried talking to family members, friends and other…,” he waves in my general direction, so I can only assume he means medical professionals. “It’s a normal phenomenon, apparently. Most people see them.”
“Sorry, what?” I make a quick appraisal of my last patient of the day. He is unremarkable in every way except that his eyes are constantly moving, from the carpet, to the walls, to the window and up to the sky outside.
He looks at me for the first time since he arrived. “The faces. I see them in fabric, in trees, in clouds, everywhere. Just occasionally at first, but now…constantly, all the time.”
I make a point of looking fascinated and pick up my notebook and pen. If I start scribbling something down, he will believe that I find his problem interesting and have a solution. “It’s called pareidolia,” I say as I begin doodling. “Many people see different faces in inanimate objects; in fact, it’s often a sign that our brains are working as they should. Why does it trouble you?”
“Because I don’t see different faces, I see a face, the same one.”
I stop doodling and glance up. “Do you recognise the face?”
“Of course,” he replies, “I would know him anywhere.”
I find myself resuming my doodle because I know what’s coming next. He is going to tell me it’s Jesus. “Who is it?”
“Show me the picture you’ve been drawing,” he says.
I look up and meet his intense gaze.
“Please, I’m not stupid, you’re not making notes, you’re drawing. Can I see?”
I turn the pad over and he closes his eyes for a moment and nods. “It’s him; I knew it would be.”
I quickly flip the pad back over and register for the first time what I have been drawing. It is the face of a boy. I have no recollection of drawing a face, it was just a doodle, a scribbled shape. But this is a lifelike portrait of a child with dark, despising eyes and a scar from the right corner of his mouth to his ear. I have drawn his jaw offset as if it’s broken.
“It was just an accident,” he says. Tears are welling and his lip shakes. “But if I hadn’t been drinking, I might’ve stopped in time when he ran out into the road.” He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and stands. “You can’t help. He’s coming for me.”
Then he is gone. I stare at the drawing, but all I can see now are random scribbles; the boy has vanished. I walk to the window and stare out onto the busy street. My patient is crossing the road, but he is not looking at the traffic, he is looking upwards as he steps into the path of a taxi.
Just for a moment, in the broken glass and pooling blood, I am sure I can see a face.