* * *
I was six when the pains began, plus the burning in my neck and across the shoulders. Nothing else do I remember from that time, my first memory is that fire. It was so bad I could not lift my head. I just couldn't lift it. The pain gripped my neck and forced it down. I had to stare at my feet while a devil rode my back and chafed me with red hot tongs. The burning in the muscles became a fever, when the fevers got bad I was taken to the hospital, they gave me an injection. It did no good. After that my back began to twist. Nothing could be done. It was agony, I couldn't straighten up, I was pressed forward by the pain. Before this I could run and jump like any other kid, now I could not even stand up straight. Further, further forward I was bent. When the smelting in my spine stopped the bones had twisted like a hairpin, the highest part of me was my arse. Through flowers of pain I could make out an old woman kneeling by my cot, wiping my head and mumbling strange words in my ear. Her skin was wrinkled as a dried apricot, so pale you could see clear through it, she looked like the mother of time itself. This was Ma Franci. She already knew me well, but this is my first memory of her. Ma stroked my face and comforted me in words I did not understand. Tears were falling down her face. Mine too. This feverish dream gradually faded and became my new life.
On my hands I learned to walk, my legs grew feeble. My hands and arms are strong, my chest is strong. The upper half of my body is like a bodybuilder's. I walk, also run, by throwing my weight onto my hands, hauling feet forward in a kind of hop. It took a long time to master this new way of getting about. Maybe it was months, maybe a year. When I could run I ran away because the teasing had begun.
The orphanage kids started calling me Animal one day during a round of kabbadi. You'd think such a tough game I'd have difficulty playing, but with my strong shoulders and arms I was good at catching opposing players and wrestling them to the ground. One day I grabbed this boy, he kneed me in the face. It hurt. I was so angry I bit him. I fastened my teeth in his leg and bit till I could taste blood. How he yelled, he was howling with pain, he was pleading, I wouldn't stop. I bit harder. The other kids started shouting, "Jaanvar, jungli Jaanvar." Animal, wild Animal.
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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