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05 November 2005 @ 04:42 pm
20  
Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

All employees must wash hands.

- Jin, you’re back!
- Have you been waiting here at the door for long?
- Nah, couple minutes, tops.
- Glad to hear it. Let me get this open and make yourself at home.

After they’d walked in, Klein had moved in for a welcome hug which Jin had pulled away from unexpectedly.

- I’m sorry, I need a moment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see you but for right now, I need you to stay away from me. I’ll explain why later.
- All right.

Klein hadn’t been sure of why that’d been so important to him, but figured he must have had a good reason for it which it may have been rude to ask about. Besides, if Jin had asked not to be touched, he’d figured that he’d have had to be a fool to argue.

- I’m going to be in the shower for a few minutes now, and I’d like to have it all to myself this time around, no offence meant.
- None taken.
- Thank you for being so understanding about this.
- No problem. Hey, you’ve got your things, I’ve got my things, we’ve all got our things, you know?
- Can I ask you something that’s probably going to come off as weird, then?
- Sure.
- ... Could... Could you try to be careful to not step on the exact same spots on which I’ve stepped on my way to the washroom for now?
- Umm... Okay.
- You’re a real sweetheart, Klein. I’ll see you soon.

Klein had plopped himself down on the mattress crossing his arms behind his head as he’d stared up at the ceiling listening to the sound of the water coming down, wondering. When the washroom door had opened, he’d sat up to see Jin bent over cleaning the spots he’d stepped on after having come in, then he’d looked away when he’d noticed it’d been making him feel self-conscious about it. When he’d been done putting his rag away, he’d looked up at Klein before lowering it apologetically.

- It’s a weird thing for me to have to be doing, I know.
- Well, everyone does clean things.
- I know, I just don’t think most people do it quite the way I do, do they?
- That doesn’t make it wrong.
- It’s not something I’ve told that many people about.
- It’s just something you feel compelled to do, right?
- Kind of.
- What do you mean?
- That’s part of it, but there’s more to it than that. It’s complicated and I need you to promise you won’t tell anyone because it... it could jeopardize my job if people knew.
- How is that possible?
- Because I’m a medical professional and even though I do believe in the scientific method, if people knew this about me, it could make them doubt my ability to understand it properly.
- My lips are sealed, then.
- Good. Tell me, Klein, when you were back in your hotel room here, did it ever occur to you that other people could have sat naked on the furniture you were using?
- It didn’t at the time, but it sure is now that you’ve mentioned it.
- Is it going to be a concern to you now that it will?
- Not really personally, although I can imagine that most people would say it very well might, for what it’s worth.
- Do you think it would still bother most people even if they knew for sure that the person would have been physically clean at the time?
- I guess the connotation alone could still bother some people even then.
- Because when someone touches something, on a semi-conscious level, many people still believe that it transfers something from that person to that object, don’t they?
- In a manner of speaking.
- There have been times and places in which this has been believed openly. People called it contagious magic, and it was the reason for which it was believed that you had to put something an effigy’s model had touched in a voodoo doll for it to work.
- So you believe in magic?
- Not necessarily, but there’s definitely something in that belief that I can relate to. Let me put it this way: if you walked up to a perfect stranger and their suitcase was on the ground next to them, would you pick it up?
- Of course not. It’s theirs.
- And the fact that it’s theirs would be enough for you picking it up to bother them even if you’d put it right back down, wouldn’t it?
- That would be my guess, I have to say.
- But if you’d bought that suitcase from that man or if he’d given it to you, same suitcase, okay to touch, wouldn’t it be?
- That’s true.
- So would it be fair to define the right to touch something or not as having a lot to do with whether you own that thing or not, with whether you have the right to impress your influence on it or not?
- That’s an interesting way of putting it.
- The... reason I don’t feel comfortable in crowds is the same one I need to clean up when I retreat back into my private little sanctuary here. When other people touch me without asking me, it makes me feel like it means they own me, it makes me feel like I'm being pricked by needles myself and I... I start shaking uncontrollably and having trouble breathing, I feel like crying and the needles start popping up all over me in quickly rising and falling rows like blades of grass in gusts of wind or falling dominoes and I...

Klein’s arms had gently closed around him as he’d begun speaking faster and faster without relent.

- Is it okay for me to be doing this?
- Y... Yeah. Of course. If it hadn’t been okay, I hate to say it, but you’d be full of holes right now.
- This is different than if someone else had touched you in another context, isn’t it?
- Yeah, because I already told you it was okay for you to touch me, so unless something happened that made me tell you it’s not, it’s always going to be okay.
- Is it mostly about needing to be able to control what happens to you, then?
- Not really. It’s just that... When people touch me in a crowd, it’s because they want to be where I am, and since two people can’t be in the same place at the same time, it means they wish I wasn’t there, I’m in the way, there’s too much of me, life would be better for those people, by their own evaluation, if I didn’t exist.
- I hadn’t thought about it that way.
- I already have a lot of trouble justifying my existence to myself as it is, so to resist integrating that notion, I have to resist the crowds that are pushing it on me.
- Does that have anything to do with why you became a doctor?
- It hadn’t occurred to me, but probably, now that you mention it. It’s just a pathetic attempt to justify my existence to myself, it’s not working very well, and when you stop to think about it, it’s only a very selfish thing for me to be doing in that regard, isn’t it?
- I wouldn’t call it that. The intention and the result are both to help and that deserves pride to be taken from it in and of itself, doesn’t it?
- I guess that’s a matter of perspective. In the meantime, it’s still an influence I feel like I need to remove from me by force, to have a small place of mine in our big insane world in which it can’t reach me.
- You still haven’t told me why it’s different when I touch you.
- The difference is that when you touch me, you’re not wishing I wasn’t there for you to touch, you’re doing it because you want me to be there so that you can. In other words, when you touch me, it means that to you, it’s a good thing for me to exist.
- I think I see what you’re saying.
- I want your influence to be impressed on me, because even if you did own me, I’d trust you to use me right.
- Maybe I should have read the instruction manual before playing.
- I can usually figure out controls to games I’ve never played on my own and I have faith in your ability to do the same.
- I usually don’t know what I’m doing.
- Feel free to call my helpline if you have any troubleshooting questions.
- Is it okay for me to come in here without washing up like you?
- Always. That’s because, as my ambassador to the rest of the world, you have to have diplomatic immunity to avoid international incidents. Don’t ask.
- Heh, I’ll try to keep that in mind.
- I figure since I’m a surgeon anyway it can’t hurt my job performance for me to have clean hands, can it?
- Not unless you wash them so much that it makes you skin so dry it bleeds.
- I’m a sea-dweller, remember? I’m meant to be wet to begin with anyway.
- I guess that makes sense. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a moment now.
- Shoot.
- Everyone has the right to exist, Jin.
- Do you really believe that?
- Yeah. I try to have as few certainties as possible, but I try to make them count.
- Do you believe that nothing people can do can make them lose that right, no matter how horrible it can be?
- Based on what I know about you, I don’t think you could ever do anything that bad, not even if you tried.
- ... Thank you, Klein.

Jin had often asked Klein rather abruptly to hand him various implements as fast as possible whenever he’d been cleaning, and Klein had wondered privately whether that could have had anything to do with him having had to ask for medical implements to be handed to him urgently all day long or not, but he’d chosen to remain quiet on the issue to avoid coming off as rude and to simply comply with the instructions he’d been given as quickly as he’d been able to. Nevertheless, this certainly hadn’t been enough to make it the last evening he’d spent at Jin’s place during his stay in Brazil.

- So, how was work today?
- Are you just being polite, or do you really want to know?
- I’m really asking.
- I should warn you, it’s not going to be pretty.
- I figured as much before I asked.
- It was terrible, Klein. I don’t know how much more disillusioned I can get. I can’t believe how most people treat themselves knowing what I know about what can go wrong with the humanoid body. I go out on the street and I can’t help seeing health hazards everywhere I look.
- It must be very emotionally draining for you to have to be looking for something wrong with everyone and everything you see all the time.
- The whole process of detecting threats and diseases depends on that, Klein.
- I know.
- There’s just so much of the damage I have to deal with that could have been avoided if someone had cared enough to implement a few simple preventive measures. I’m sick of feeling like I’m the only one who cares. I’m tired of having to save people from themselves.
- So you really think there’s a lot that people could do on their end which could spare you from having to do more than you can on yours?
- Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I blame most individuals themselves, but there aren’t enough ways to educate people, to motivate them to take care of themselves, to give them the right tools to do it properly. Institutions keep getting paralyzed by bureaucratic regulations.
- I’ve seen that from way closer than I wish I had, yeah.
- When neither patients nor institutions are to blame, I get to see patients who received damage from other people. I have to go out on the street and try not to be scared of people knowing what they’re capable of. When none of that’s to blame, the blame falls on me, and I have to do my job with the pressure of knowing that.
- I’m sure most patients care more about the fact that you’re doing your best to help them than about pinning blame on someone.

Jin had chuckled bitterly, sounding more cynical than usual.

- Then you haven’t met enough patients. Besides, they’re right. If I could forgive myself for losing patients, I wouldn’t deserve to call myself a doctor. No matter how many times I wash my hands, I can never wash the blood of lost patients off from them. Do you know what it’s like to have to live with being responsible for someone’s death?

Given how much of a hard time Jin had seemed like he had forgiving himself, Klein hadn’t had any idea of whether he’d have been able to forgive him or not for what had happened back when he’d worked at the factory before he’d run away from home, so although he’d felt bad about not going into details, for the sake of argument, he’d decided to tell himself that a limb hadn’t been the same thing as a life and that he wouldn’t have lied by answering in the negative.

- Can I ask you something, Jin?
- You don’t have to ask me if you can ask me something. Just ask it.
- Okay. Is it true that hospitals can be breeding grounds for new diseases?
- Sometimes, unfortunately, they can be, yeah. The sterility of the environment means microscopic lifeforms don’t have as many helpful bacteria to keep them in check and mithridization can create new and extremely vaccine-resistant disease strains. That’s why you’ve got to be vigilant.
- And is it true that stress weakens the immune system?
- To a certain extent, it can, yes. What are you getting at with this?
- I think stress can be just as contagious as diseases can be, and I think that when you try to keep a physical or emotional environment completely pure, you’re making it less resistant, less adaptive, and less efficient. It’s good that you’d care enough to want to help, but you’ll help more people if you don’t worry so much that you catch something yourself and if you can keep enough professional detachment to stay focused, you know what I’m saying?
- That makes sense on paper but it’s a lot easier said than done. With all due respect, I’d like to see you try.
- I know I couldn’t do your job, not by a long shot. I’m not trying to imply it’s supposed to be easy. I admire the hell out of you for even having the courage to try. That’s exactly why I think you deserve to be more lenient with yourself.
- I would if I thought I could afford to. Look, we could argue about my job until I’m blue in the face, but when I come back home from work after having spent a whole day submerged in it, don’t take this the wrong way, but I need to be able to pull my head out of it as much as I can.
- I can see why you would.
- Part of the reason for which I wash when I get here is that I don’t want my workplace to impress its influence on the place I spend most of my time away from it in.
- I understand. This is where you keep things that help you forget about work, right?
- Heh, not really, come to think of it.
- Oh?
- Everything in here reminds me of my job somehow.
- How so?
- I sew up those plush animals on the ground to practice sewing up real people, for one thing.
- What about the gaming console?
- Studies have determined that surgeons who play video games on a regular basis obtain better operation results that surgeons who don’t because doing so helps them develop better reflexes, precision and hand-eye coordination. One reason I went to the club instead of the arcade on the night we met was that I knew the guys wouldn’t have counted the arcade as somewhere fun for me to go to because they know I take it as seriously as I take work.
- Noted. How should we find a discussion topic not related to your job, then?
- Why don’t you take a moment to tell me about yours instead?
- I hate to say it, but my studies didn’t end up leading me to as many job opportunities as I’d hoped they would, although I guess I’m at least partly to blame for that. I’m not entirely sure about what I’m going to be supposed to be doing with my life when this seminar will be over.
- Have you thought about trying to find a job in which you’d get to help other people?
- Is that something you think I should do?
- I honestly don’t know. On one hand, it’s the most important kind of work there is, and we can never have too many people doing it. On the other, I have to admit, it’s brutal. It’d have to depend on how much self-sacrifice you’re willing to put yourself true for your convictions. Have you ever given any blood, Klein?
- I used to want to, but the doctor told me I had low blood pressure so they couldn’t be sure about what effect it’d have on my health. Besides, he also asked me a few private questions about my life that I didn’t feel very comfortable answering, but to make a long story short, he told me that patients wouldn’t have wanted to receive any blood coming from me.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- I’m sorry I brought the topic back to what it was before we tried to shift away from it.
- Don’t worry, I realize I kind of drove you to it with the question I asked. Here’s a better one: how’s that seminar of yours coming along?
- Amazingly well.
- That’s good to hear.
- Thanks.
- What’d you call what you’ve been learning in it again?
- Capoeira.
- I’d never heard of it before.
- It’s a martial art that was invented by people who’d been taken away from their homes and who’d wanted to gain freedom from the slave labor they’d been put to.
- Their enslavers must really not have wanted to do the job that had to be done themselves, huh?
- Guess not.
- What does it look like?
- Hold on, let me see if I have enough space... Yeah, here, stand back, I’ll show you some of it.

Klein had gone down on his left hand into a right sweep then on his right hand extending his left leg into a short series of turning, front and back kicks ending with a smirking, side splitting handstand.

- They sure make you touch the ground an awful lot.
- Hey, there are things you can do on the ground that you can’t do anywhere else, you know.
- I don’t doubt that.
- Don’t worry, I’ll go wash my hands.
- You don’t have to. I always keep the floor in here clean enough to eat off of, you know.
- Now why does that not surprise me?

When he’d gone to the peace march with Mano later on, Klein d talked with her about the caste system in India, and although he’d been rather sure that Jin hadn’t thought he’d been better than most people, he hadn’t been able to help but to think back on that conversation when she’d mentioned that people of higher castes had felt like they’d had to wash their hands after having touched people of lower castes than theirs. A week and a few days later had left Klein with only a few more days before the day on which the end of his trip had been scheduled to happen.

- You’re not going to leave without having told me what you think of my butterfly collection, are you?
- I... I don’t really have anything to say about it.
- Don’t worry, it’s okay if you don’t like it. I’m fine with you not having the same tastes I have about everything.
- I know.
- Just tell me the first thing about it that comes into your mind.
- I hate to say it, but to be honest I feel a little sorry for the butterflies. I mean, they spend such a long time as cocoons so they can turn from caterpillars into what they were meant to be that it seems like kind of a shame to me for them to have wasted all the effort they’ve gone to.
- Klein, everyday I stick needles in very ugly living things to help them and I never see their faces again. Isn’t it only fair that to compensate for that every once in a while I’d like to stick needles in beautiful things if it means that from then on I’m going to be able to look at them whenever I want?
- I’m not telling you not to do it or anything. I just don’t think I could personally capture something beautiful if that meant having to destroy it in the process.
- You have some nerve coming here into my house and telling me that!
- Whoa, I’m sorry!
- You know I already feel guilty a lot about not being a good enough person as it is, don’t you?
- You’re right. You do more than enough to be much more of a good person than a bad one, you can be 100% sure of that and I never meant to imply anything other than that.
- Honestly!
- I wouldn’t have said that if I’d known it was going to hurt you so much.
- I... I guess I may have overreacted a little. I did insist on you telling me after you’d resisted initially. I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been a bit tense lately.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- The needles I put in people come and go, Klein.
- Yes, and...?
- They may be gone at the end, but they always leave a thread behind to keep things together until they’ve been patched up.
- It sounds like you’re asking me something, but I’m not sure exactly what you mean, would you care to elaborate on that?

Jin had smiled a casual smile, throwing a mock punch into Klein’s shoulder before pulling him toward himself to wrap his arms around him.

- Make sure you stay in touch with me, okay?
- I promise.
- I’ll miss you, you know...?