On the way to the shop, the sexless child, like any sexless child, fell from the sky in the village of grandma and into the arms of an overweight priest who tried drowning the sexless child in abnormal water. On the way to the shop, the child fell on knees and elbows, breaking the skin. That’s when the child acquired a gender. The sexful child became he.
Such joy. A boy to carry the name on his shoulders. A name like a dead body.
Wait. Or perhaps some internal animal, eager to come out, tricked the child into falling on his knees and elbows to make the blood come out. It was the devil that the overweight priest tried to wash away with the abnormal water. The blood came out, first shyly then stubbornly, like a playmate who refuses to leave. The child ran back home crying and the child’s father suggested he wash his wounds with soap. The mother disagreed and instead placed the child on her extended legs, rocking him from side to side until the pain subsided, so that the child faced the womb and go back the way he came.
But the child did not know how to get back.
The child had to wait for the wounds to heal. The skin around the wounds turned hard, then brown. The child looked forward to peeling off the hardened brown skin and so, to make the time pass, he played on soft grass, and read books on a blanket in the garden. The child used to look at the sky and think of it as the glass belly of a bottle. Then the day would finally come, when the brown hardened skin revealed the pink fragile skin beneath, the incarnation of an embarrassing kiss or of violence discovered at a later date. That other skin would harden, again, and fall, again, imperceptibly.
The child was an animal. Really.
Not unlike any other animal in the schoolyard, but somewhat different, more like a frown on an adult woman’s face when she sees horse shit on the side of the road. Indeed, more like a fart that everyone heard. This animal broke a sweat every time he masturbated.
[The shape of the sky is the shape of your life]
The houses were the same. They were painted differently, according to the taste and financial means of the owner, but they had the same look. Two big rooms with small windows. A kitchen, at the back of the house, to be used only during rough winters. The kitchens had slanted ceilings. A storage room that housed fruit and was dark enough for monsters to live in it. And an attic, where clothes were hanged to dry during the winter.
In those houses they slept, and fucked, and ate their lunches and every other meal.
The blue blue sky so unavailable. The grass, our grass, on late November mornings like hair parted to the side. Those mornings like the amber droppings of cherry trees. The ground beneath their feet so sterile that the neighbors’ grapes were sweeter. The cherry trees refused to grow and only gave them limited access to their fruit. Some rituals had not been performed properly, the ground too young to give birth to anything appealing except perhaps for the children who needed to be kept away from harm. The world beyond the front gate so evil the children had to jump over the fence and endure the bruises that flowered between their thighs. The bruises that mother would discover when she washed them on Wednesday and then on Saturday.
The trees fell from the sky like strands of hair. Grandma brushed her hair in the morning, the hair she dyed only just above the forehead, the side of the head that was most visible from under her headscarf.
The trees the children climbed to steal fruit or simply to bypass fences. Cherry trees were particularly precious. Old men guarded them with sticks and stones and if you dared to steal the fruit you ended up with a good beating.
The hair at the bottom of the sink. The hair mother found on dad’s clothes asking whose hair it was. This is not my hair. My hair is not as long as that. The condoms that mother found in father’s winter coat. About which we heard but hadn’t heard.
In winter, mother smoked by the stove, the smoke getting sucked into the puzzled mouth of the stove. She was trying to get father’s attention and she threw a box of matches at him. The box flew through the room and hit father in the groin and when the children were not looking, father made a face, and in that face the child saw their adolescence, and how adults were not the adults of books or the adults they saw on TV. These were not the adults who set on voyages not knowing where they went to seek cure for obscure illnesses. These parents were the parents who were content with what little they had.
The rooms had to be big enough to accommodate numerous families. To save on firewood, large families could crowd in one of the rooms. Most often, the other room was used as storage. And Christmas trees. Since Christmas trees had bars of chocolate on them, besides the twinkling lights and other merry paraphernalia, they had to be kept in cold rooms. Not because of the temperature, of course, the chocolate bars didn’t melt easily, but because the children had to be kept away. The tree was there for the pictures. Which we took with large woolen caps on our heads and heavy sweaters that were as itchy as they looked. We didn’t go in there. We just knew we had a Christmas tree in a part of the house that was inaccessible to us.
The other room was also where the good clothes were stored. People and clothes had to be separated that way. Clothes needed their intimacy as well. Grandpa’s heavy leather jackets were particularly shy. Like distant relatives, they were brought into the habitable room only on the nights preceding special events. Such as going to church. And like distant relatives they brought with them a smell of their own. The smell did not conceptually belong to grandpa. His heavy leather jacket, the suede kind on the outside, with white sheep hair on the inside, occasionally smelt of aftershave and deodorant. That wasn’t grandpa’s smell. His smell was that of chewed and digested grass and hay. His smell was that of sheep. Little lambs, that were sometimes brought in the house during cold winter nights. We visited them in their shed and took the smell with us. We didn’t mind it, of course, we knew no other, better, smells.
What did you expect? We were used to seeing our own shit, and that of the others in the household, steaming in the outdoor toilet on cold winter mornings. If you had to take a dump late at night or, even worse, in the middle of the night, well, good luck to you, my friend. No matter how well you dressed to withstand the thermal shock of going out at night after spending hours in an overheated room, your balls suffered nonetheless. You had to pull your pants down. In a tiny wooden shed where even your breath turned to steam. Constipation was a drag from so many points of view. You gave up easily because of the cold. Your ass froze. And sometimes a rat would appear and drown in your own shit-and-piss.
The houses were all the same.
Sad mothers grew up in them. At dinner, the men in them ate their souls and they grew like skyscrapers. They grew to become big strong men, so strong that even their convictions grew stronger in time. Their heads turned hard.
I rarely put things on my head. My head is big enough. If I put things on my head, such as a cap or a hood, my head is bound to look bigger. Hence disgusting. Nobody wants to feel like that about their heads. Unless there’s something going on in your head, unless your head is messed up and the only thing that can make it right is reprogramming, the traditional brainwash, mental shampooing. Use a soft piece of cloth for the eyes, you don’t want to scratch those LEDs, miss the high definition.
But when I do put things on my head, and then take them off, I need time to realize there’s nothing on my head. I put my hands over my hand to tell my brain there’s actually nothing there. My brain eventually gets it. My head is really free and surprisingly small, less disgusting.
When I was little a log fell on my head. I started running home the moment it happened. The other kids stopped me and told me to calm down. My head was alright, they said, and they put their hands around my face. My brain understood it was still in one piece. It was a big log. If I were to put my fingers hands around it my fingers wouldn’t touch. Not even close. I knew the log was going to fall on my head so I stood underneath it, to see how it felt.
When the log fell the pain at the top of my head told me to stand my ground. It was the full stop at the beginning of every sentence. My feet dug into the ground and since then I’ve been swimming in the dirt. The other kids didn’t want me to tell. They encouraged me to stand under the log and see it fall on my head.
The log was part of a homemade contraption, engineered by the grandfather of my cousin who wasn’t actually my cousin but it was nice to think of her as cousin. We had a swing made of wrought iron and the cousin got really jealous and she told her grandpa she wanted one as well. He put the log in between two trees and tied a thick string to it in the shape of a swing. A wooden board with two half holes at each end made sitting on the swing comfortable enough to satisfy the whims of a little girl. If you swung long enough the log would rotate until it fell out.
Nothing happened, except for the swimming-in-the-dirt thing. My head got bigger because of that realization. My ears got big as well, to fit the size of the head.
‘Your head is so big,’ my cousin’s granny said, ‘you have the ears of a donkey, and your brother’s life will amount to nothing.’
‘You stay away from her,’ my cousin’s grandpa said, ‘go home and leave her alone.’ He was trimming the trees on the street and I was just a little boy. I took my oversized head and went home, which was not very far away because we were neighbors.
On the train, on my way to work, much later on, I thought of what I saw that day while returning home. I saw mountains growing on the inside, their snowy peaks like those of homemade bread, then breath in between them, porous shame, like that of broken shoes.
A big head should house many things, even the unnecessary. But it cannot remember what happened to the toy stolen but not really stolen from grandma’s house. The grandmother on the father’s side had a house unlike our own, and in it there was a room that had no power outlets and no lights, no heating implements. The father’s twin brother and his wife slept in there even during the winter. They warmed the pillows and the covers before going to bed. They tucked themselves under the heated sheets and they slept.
In the house there were toys very different from our own and one of the cousins insisted I hide one of them under the shirt and take it home. But then, a couple of hundred feet from the house the toy disappeared.
I expected, even after reality set in and I finally got home, the toy to fall from my shirt and reveal itself.
How could a head so big forget about the toy?
‘Your head is so big,’ a classmate told me in high school. I moved to one of the other beds in the room. Where else could I tuck my head, renounce this huge house of dreams?
My father’s car got a remake and was painted in a putrid red, the color and the texture of overly matured grapefruits. The underweight neighbor whose husband lost his mind came and marveled at it the day after it was brought in from the repair shop. She must have marveled at how much money went into that paint. At times I went in the car to listen to music on the radio. The car then became a big pair of headphones. I listened to Hotel California without knowing what it was or why the musicians had decided to dedicate the song to a hotel.
The backseat was the most fascinating part of the car because that is where the goodies used to sit. Bananas mostly, chocolate, and yogurt. When the backseat was empty it was a disappointment. It happened one of my birthdays when father didn’t bring anything in the backseat. I was showered with gifts a couple of days before my birthday but that didn’t matter. Those gifts didn’t count. I wanted that game console that resembled a computer keyboard. I could write on it. Play word games. Which I didn’t play in fact, because they were boring. But just having the possibility to play that kind of games made my desires go mad.
I was around my school in the afternoon and I saw my father’s car returning home and he stopped and I got in and the backseat was so empty I wanted to cry.
At home I sat on the front steps of the house and acted real sad.
I told my father about the game console and he assured me that it was coming in the next couple of days. My father, the traitor, the unloving father.