The man with the beard and the round glasses who sold luxury bags for a living said: leave your history at the door when you enter this house. I complied and poured it all over the carpet that said: welcome home.
I tried to see myself as the person whose life unfurled in that home.
I felt light through the eyes of an astronaut, emptied of dichotomies and air. Free of the color of my skin. Finally free of my womanhood.
Repeat after me: first confusion and then clarity!
The man with the beard said: do your job. And I descended under the blanket, turned and tossed like a possessed woman, and spilled the truth over his pajama pants. He fell asleep afterward. He spoke in his sleep. He said: the future is not in the drones hovering above us. I hugged him and thought: my man, the prophet. He continued: the drones flying above us do not carry the future on their fairy wings; the highest truth has already been reached in the past when we put armchairs in the air. The future is in the memory of it.
I sang: I am the mother of me. History, my past, laid out in a graph like the seats on a stadium. And as I sang, I saw dust motes lit by sunlight, and I saw the weights he trained with on the windowsill, I saw his arms holding them and wondered whether he felt the same when he held me down, against the bed. In his sleep, he was implacable, adamant about the future.
This future in which I could not exist.
I sang: oh, the stadium where I was little and ashamed, put down on the grass for the first time, heavy men working above me, all of them sweating.
I saw the tip of a needle pushing through the skin, stretching it to the point of rupture. On that skin, the faces of people spread, too, like soft butter on hardened bread.
I took my history back on my way out and left the man with the beard in the doorway. He said: let’s see each other again. We hugged, but the man wasn’t in it. And I was already somebody else. I’m very good at that.
That was the last time I saw him.
On his way to the shop, the child, like any child, fell from the sky in the village of his grandma. He landed on his knees and elbows, all at once, like a broken cat, breaking the skin. Or perhaps, the child thought, some internal animal, eager to come out, tricked the child into falling on his knees and elbows to make the blood come out. The child thought he was the Messiah. The blood did come out, first shyly then stubbornly, like a playmate who refuses to leave when the game is over. In the open flesh, He saw the world.
The child ran back home crying, and the father suggested he wash his wounds with soap. The mother disagreed and instead placed the child on her extended feet, rocking him from side to side until the pain subsided. The mother’s feet, as you all know from those biology classes, were close enough to the womb. The child was aware of all this, so much so that he remembers everything. Even today.
The child had to wait for the wounds to heal and he grew impatient. The skin around the scratches turned hard, then brown in a series of slow-motion moves. The child looked forward to peeling off the hardened surface and so, to make time pass, he played on the soft grass, and read books on a blanket in the garden.
Then the day would finally come when the brown skin revealed the delicate pink surface beneath, the incarnation of an awkward kiss. That other skin would harden, again, and renew itself, still, imperceptibly.
The child was the animal Messiah. Not unlike any other animal Messiah in the schoolyard but somewhat different, more like a frown on a woman’s face when she saw horseshit on the side of the road. More like a fart everyone heard. The other children felt uncomfortable around him. The animal Messiah broke a sweat whenever he masturbated.
The houses in grandma’s village were the same. They were painted differently, of course, according to the taste and financial means of the owners, but they all had the same look. Like a child’s drawing of a house. Two big rooms with small windows to keep the cold air out. A kitchen at the back of the house, to be used only during rough winters. Most of the kitchens had slanted ceilings as if they were an afterthought. Added at the last moment, just in case. Opposite to the kitchen, there was a storage room that housed fruit in the winter and was dark enough for monsters to live in it. At night, the animal Messiah was afraid of going in there the way children in American movies are fearful of basements.
And then there was the attic, where clothes were hanged to dry during winter.
The houses were built around winter, and in those houses, they lived their lives.
The sky above the animal Messiah was so unavailable. A girl, a cousin of his, had told him he shouldn’t say the sky is blue. The grass, the grass he would encounter later on his trips to grandma’s village, on late November mornings like hair parted to the side. Counterless were the heads he had to cross on his way to school every morning. Those mornings like the amber droppings of cherry trees in the summer. The ground beneath his feet so sterile and unkissable that the neighbors’ grapes were sweeter and more inviting. On that ground, the cherry trees refused to grow, they said: no sir, not here, we don’t do business with you people, there’s only sorrow in this earth. Apparently, some rituals had not been performed correctly, the soil too young to give birth to anything appealing except for the children who needed to be kept away from harm at all costs.
The world beyond the front gate, so evil the children had to jump over the fence and live with the bruises that flowered, numbly, between their thighs. Fate grabbed them by the legs and bruised them and mother appeared like the Virgin in the doorway when they ran away.
As they ran, the trees fell from the sky like grandma’s heavy words. Grandma brushed her hair and her words in the morning, and the brush felt like wood against teeth. She dyed her hair only just above the forehead, the side that was most visible from under her headscarf.
The trees they climbed to steal fruit, or bypass fences ran along with them. Cherry trees were particularly precious. Old men guarded them with sticks and stones, and if they dared to steal the fruit, they ended up with a good beating and the silent treatment for days on end.
The words settled at the bottom of the sink. The words mother found on father’s clothes, the words that were as long as a woman’s hair. Mother said: these are not my words. My words are not as long as that. The condoms that mother found in father’s winter coat.
In winter, the mother smoked by the stove, and the smoke got sucked in the puzzled mouth of the furnace. She tried to get the father’s attention and threw a box of matches at him. It flew through the room and hit the father in the groin. When the children were not looking, the father made a face, and in that face, the children witnessed their parents’ adolescence and understood that adults were not the adults of books or those on TV. Those were not the adults who set on voyages not knowing where they went to seek a cure for mysterious illnesses.
The box of matches was still flying when father was in prison. Grandma said: stop smoking girl, you have your children with you. It is still flying through the room as I write this.
The bedrooms in those houses had to be big enough to accommodate large families. To save on firewood, the families had to stick together, elbows scraping against each other. The other rooms were used as storage places and for Christmas trees. Since Christmas trees had chocolate bars on them, besides the twinkling lights and other merry paraphernalia, they had to be kept in cold rooms. Not because of the temperature, the chocolate bars didn’t melt quickly, but because the children had to be kept away from them. Especially the animal Messiah, who was overweight. The tree was there for the pictures they took every year. In the photos, the children wear heavy woolen caps and bulky sweaters that were as itchy as they looked. The children didn’t go in there alone. They just knew they had a Christmas tree in a part of the house that was inaccessible to them.
Clothes were stored in the other rooms, and they were cold when they were brought in. People and clothes had to be separated that way. They needed their intimacy. Grandpa’s heavy leather jackets were particularly bashful. Akin to distant relatives they were brought into the warm bedrooms only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to Sunday mass. And like distant relatives, they brought with them a smell of their own. It wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave, deodorant, and somberness. That wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His smell was that of chewed grass and hay and baby sheep. Little lambs that were brought into the house to sleep with the children on cold winter nights. The children didn’t mind it, they knew no other smells.
They built their lives around winter, and in those lives, they thrived.
What did you expect? They were used to seeing their own shit, and that of others as well, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. And if they had to use the bathroom late at night, well, good luck to you, my friend! No matter how well they dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, their balls suffered nonetheless. They had to pull their pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. They gave up quickly because of the cold. Their asses froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in their shit-and-piss concoction.
The houses were all the same. Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men ate the women, and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew up to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions strengthened over time. Their heads turned hard, and their heads held the sky.
The animal Messiah rarely put things on his head. His head was big enough. If he put stuff on his head, such as a cap or a hood or a big idea, his head was bound to look bigger, hence disgusting. Nobody wants to feel that way about a part of their body. Unless something is going on in your head unless it’s messed up and the only thing that can make it right is reprogramming, the traditional brainwash, mental shampooing. Use a clean and soft piece of cloth for your eyes, you don’t want to scratch those LEDs. You’ll wreck the high definition. Yet, when he did put things on his head, and then took them off, he needed time to realize there’s nothing on top of his head. He put his hands over his head to tell his brain there’s nothing there. Eventually, the brain got it, and he forgot about it.
When the animal Messiah was little, a log fell on his head. He started running home the moment it happened, but the other kids stopped him and calmed him down. They said: there’s nothing wrong with your head, except that it’s too big and it stood in the way of the log. His brain understood it was still in one piece. It had been a big log. If he were to put his fingers around it, they wouldn’t touch. Not even close. He knew the trunk was going to fall on his head, so he stood his ground beneath it like a retard, just to see how it feels.
The instant it fell the pain at the top of his head told him to stand his ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. His feet dug into the ground, and since then he’s been swimming in the dirt. The other kids didn’t want him to tell. They egged him on to see it fall on his head.
The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of his cousin, the girl who had told him about the blue sky. The animal Messiah had a swing made of wrought iron, and the cousin got really jealous, and she said to her grandpa she wanted one as well. So her grandpa put the log in between two trees and tied a rope around it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half-holes at each end made sitting on the string comfortably enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung for long periods, the log would rotate until it unhooked from the trees.
It went: plunk!
Nothing happened, really, except for the swimming in the dirt thing. Messiah’s head got more prominent because of that realization. His ears as well, to fit the size of his head.
Cousin’s granny said: your head is so big; you have the ears of a donkey, and your brother’s life will amount to nothing.
Cousin’s grandpa said: you stay away from that girl; go home and leave her alone. He was trimming the trees on the street, and the animal Messiah was just a little boy. He took his oversized head and went home, which was not very far because they were neighbors.
On the train, on my way to work, as I was reading through the manuscript, I thought about the animal Messiah and what he must have seen that day returning home. He must have seen mountains growing on the inside of his guts, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, the air in between them, the world bloated like a corpse left for too long in the open. He must have felt the shame of broken shoes.
A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. Yet it cannot remember what happened to the toy stolen from grandma’s house. The grandma on the father’s side of the family had a home unlike their own, and in it, there was a room that had no power outlets, no lights, no heating. The father’s twin brother and his wife slept in there in winter. The warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets, and they slept.
They built their lives around winter the way you put a scarf around your neck, and in those lives, they slowly withered.
In that home, there were toys unlike those the animal Messiah and his brother had, and one of the cousins insisted he hid one under his shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house, the toy vanished. The animal Messiah expected, even after reality set in and he finally got home, the toy to fall from under his t-shirt. He looked for it in the folds of his pants. To this day he’s still looking for it, still waiting for it to appear.
How could a head so big forget about the toy?
In high school, a classmate said: your head is so big, why is your head so big? The animal Messiah moved to another bed. Where else could he tuck his head if not inwards? How could he renounce this large house of dreams?
The world must feel like a constant clearing of the throat.
The father’s car got a remake, and it got painted in a putrid red, the color and texture of overly ripe grapefruit. The day after it was brought home from the repair shop, the thin woman who was their neighbor and whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it. She must have wondered how much money went into that paint. At times, the animal Messiah went into the car to listen to music on the radio. The car became his headphones. He listened to that song, Hotel California, without knowing what it was about or why the musicians had decided to call it that. It was the only song he liked, and he built his life around it.
The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, and chocolate bars, and yogurt. An empty backseat was a source of disappointment. Once, on his birthday, the seat was empty. He had been showered with gifts a couple of days before, but that didn’t count as much as the vacant seat. He wanted the game console that resembled a computer keyboard. He could write on it. Play word games. Which, in the end, he didn’t play because they were boring. Yet just having the possibility of playing that sort of games made him go mad with desire.
On that day, he was around the school in the afternoon, and he saw his father’s car approaching. There was nothing in the backseat. He wanted to cry. At home, he sat on the front steps of the house and acted really sad. He told his father about the game console. Father said: rest assured, you’ll get it soon. His father the traitor, the unloving father.
I had a pole in my chest, and people held on to it as if they were on a bus. I can’t recall what happened to the animal Messiah. I closed all the cupboards and doors in the house. The man I had called over the phone was then crossing the front yard, and I couldn’t help but think I didn’t like him. What had I been thinking? When I opened the door, he looked around the house, a puzzled look on his face, as if somebody else, some pilot, had taken over the control of his actions. Then he turned towards me and covered the silence with words and steps, and his tongue was in my mouth, and I felt the excitement of a bladder emptied of worries.
Fungi growing where my womanhood should have stood.
He gravitated nakedly around the bed while he spoke with pathos about what he’s going to do to me. I ground my teeth and felt sugar crystals between them.
He had a name for each action, and they all spoke of how I was giving myself away, selling myself cheap to a man I had willingly let into my house. I thought of what the children would say even though I had no children.
This man like a disease walked all over me. He moved above me with the certainty of a surgeon. He shifted until I felt a warmth in my chest and I couldn’t tell the difference between outside and inside any longer.
He said: you’re no woman; you’re good for nothing.
After he left, I used bleach to wash my body, but the words wouldn’t go away. The fungi blossomed on my belly and chest.
The man stretched in my bed and sat at my kitchen table as if he owned the place. I had made sure to do the washing up. There were no dirty cups in the kitchen sink. We talked and while we did that I caressed his shinbone with my toes. His mother was in the hospital with cancer, and he spoke about her with a disdain I could not acknowledge. He was at my house, and I felt powerful. He had seen the books in my room, and his skin had touched my sheets.
His mother was going through the second round of chemotherapy, and she had given up hope, struggling against the doctors and the nurses who kept telling her everything was for her own good. To him, having a cancerous mother was a nuisance, because he had had to take some time off from his job to be with his mum. His father had taken his place at the mother’s side when he came to my house. He was here on borrowed time.
Then he started talking about his ex, and I felt pity for myself. After he left, I didn’t even dare to look at myself in the mirror. I made the bed and scrubbed myself clean. I replaced the sheets and used bleach to clean the shower cabin, the taste of his tongue in my mouth. Still, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, so I covered all of them.
I thought of the animal Messiah. By then, it had become an obsession, and I searched through my notes feverishly, hoping to find something, a detail that had perhaps escaped my attention and which might explain all this. At what point in his life had he decided he couldn’t live outside somebody else’s presence? The search took my mind off things. I wished, oh how I wanted, to go back in time and tell him he should, by all means, do his best to be happy on his own.