I used to be human once. So I'm told. I don't remember it myself, but people who knew me when I was small say I walked on two feet just like a human being.
"So sweet you were, a naughty little angel. You'd stand up on tiptoe, Animal my son, and hunt in the cupboard for food." This is the sort of thing they say. Only mostly there wasn't any food plus really it isn't people just Ma Franci who says this, she doesn't even say it that way, what she says is tu étais si charmant, comme un petit ange méchant, which is how they talk in her country, plus I'm not really her son nor any kind of angel but it's true Ma's known me all my life, which is nearly twenty years. Most people round here don't know their age, I do, because I was born a few days before that night, which no one in Khaufpur wants to remember, but nobody can forget.
"Such a beautiful little boy you were, when you were three, four, years. Huge eyes you had, black like the Upper Lake at midnight plus a whopping head of curls. How you used to grin. Tu étais un vrai bourreau des coeurs, your smile would break a mother's heart," thus she'd talk.
I used to walk upright, that's what Ma Franci says, why would she lie? It's not like the news is a comfort to me. Is it kind to remind a blind man that he could once see? The priests who whisper magic in the ears of corpses, they're not saying, "Cheer up, you used to be alive." No one leans down and tenderly reassures the turd lying in the dust, "You still resemble the kebab you once were..."
How many times did I tell Ma Franci, "I no longer want to be human," never did it sink in to that fucked-up brain of hers, or maybe she just didn't believe me, which you can understand, seeing it used to be when I caught sight of myself -- mirrors I avoid but there's such a thing as casting a shadow -- I'd feel raw disgust. In my mad times when the voices were shouting inside my head I'd be filled with rage against all things that go or even stand on two legs. The list of my jealousies was endless; Ma Franci, the other nuns at the orphanage, Chukku the night watchman, women carrying pots on their heads, waiters balancing four plates per arm. I hated watching my friends play hopscotch. I detested the sight of dancers, performing bears brought by those dirty buggers from Agra, stilt-walkers, the one-leg-and-crutch of Abdul Saliq the Pir Gate beggar. I envied herons, goalposts, ladders leaning on walls. I eyed Farouq's bicycle and wondered if it too deserved a place in my list of hates.
How can you understand this?
The world of humans is meant to be viewed from eye level. Your eyes. Lift my head I'm staring into someone's crotch. Whole nother world it's, below the waist. Believe me, I know which one hasn't washed his balls, I can smell pissy gussets and shitty backsides whose faint stenches don't carry to your nose, farts smell extra bad. In my mad times I'd shout at people in the street, "Listen, however fucking miserable you are, and no one's as happy as they've a right to be, at least you stand on two feet!"
Don't worry. Everything will get explained in due course. I'm not clever like you. I can't make fancy rissoles of each word. Blue kingfishers won't suddenly fly out of my mouth. If you want my story, you'll have to put up with how I tell it.
First thing I want to say, it's to the Kakadu Jarnalis, came here from Ostrali. Salaam Jarnalis, it's me, Animal, I'm talking to the tape. Not the one you gave. That one no longer works, rain got at it, black lumps are possibly scorpion-shit. I had to hide it after you left, I put it in a hole in the wall. Long it stayed there, I never used it like I promised, now it's fucked, I guess you are thinking what a waste of shorts.
My story you wanted, said you'd put it in a book. I did not want to talk about it. I said is it a big deal, to have my story in a book? I said, I am a small person not even human, what difference will my story make? You told me that sometimes the stories of small people in this world can achieve big things, this is the way you buggers always talk.
Copyright © 2007 by Indra Sinha
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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