The Call of the Flesh
Amir Ahmadi Arian
Tongue was a piece of flesh that begot language
I don’t recall your name, and you probably won't recall mine. However, you will undoubtedly remember me if I tell you that I am the boy who, twenty years ago, bit a piece of your flesh off your arm.
The image of a monster must be looming in your head now. You might even feel physical pain, the residue of what you experienced when I set my teeth into your flesh. I regret that. But let me be clear: this is not an apology. This is a compensation. As the cancerous cells continue their rampage through my body, I write this letter to share with you the story of my liberation, and teach you to liberate yourself. If you read and follow this letter with care you will be free, jolted out of the sewage of humanity where you are stuck now, up to a higher plain. That, I hope, will compensate for the pain I inflicted upon you.
I did look like a monster when we were neighbors, but you should know that I was not born that way. As I am told, the distortion began shortly after my third birthday. My growth was stunted for nearly a year. Then my back began to fold and the hunch emerged slowly, like an ant mound being built. When the hunch had assumed its final shape, my hands grew. If I could stand upright, which I couldn’t, my hands would have reached my knees. At seven, my teeth began to grow outward, to the extent that I could not fully close my mouth. The fangs became twice the size of my other teeth, almost triple the size of what adults have in their mouths. If I could close my mouth, which I couldn’t, you would still have caught sight of two prominent, yellowed fangs sticking out.
That is how you will recall me. But I have changed considerably. My transformation happened overnight, the day I set my flesh free. I am going to tell you that story.
I LOVED RAW meat. I rejected food for months as a baby. My parents had to force-feed me to keep me alive. The first thing I ate willingly was a piece of lamb, which I picked up from my father’s plate, tested with the tip of my tongue, and devoured at once with shining eyes. My parents noticed that, and gave me large pieces of meat far before the proper time. I presume that your parents, like other people in the neighborhood, blamed my parents for what I became and for what I did. That is grossly unfair. They had no other way to keep me alive.
My appetite for raw meat grew insatiable. At seven, I snatched bags of frozen meat out of the freezer, went out to our back yard, put them under the sun, and watched them melt. Try it for yourself. It is a scene not to be missed: the meat gently opens up, softens, regains its color, glistens with blood, comes alive. The best moment is when it’s thawed but not warm. Begin with the largest piece your mouth can handle. Fill your mouth up with the meat, get all your teeth involved, rub the meat against all the surfaces of your mouth. After getting the first bite down, continue with small portions. That way, you begin with a rush of intense pleasure, then prolong it, letting the sensation travel throughout your body.
My favorite was lamb liver. I used to steal money from my dad’s pocket and sneak over to the butcher shop to get a piece. Then I’d go into an empty alley, hold the liver up and watch the reflection of the sun on its surface. Have you ever paid attention to lamb liver? It has the smoothest surface. I would spend several minutes stroking it. It is a heavenly feeling I have no words for. Then I would apply my tongue to it, very slowly, very tenderly, letting the layer of blood seep into the tissue of my tongue.
Then that day arrived. The day I attacked you.
MY DEFORMITIES PREVENTED me from playing soccer, but I always longed to contribute. You probably remember how, before that fateful day, I had already taken up the role of ball boy: any time you guys played in the street, I would stand behind one of the goals and wait for the ball to leave the field, then run like a monkey and bring it back.
That day, early in the game, the ball was kicked out of bounds. It stopped at my feet. You came behind the goal to get it. I picked the ball up, but my hands froze.
It was a normal soccer ball, one found everywhere. But this one was painted a strange, unique color. You would probably call it red, but it wasn’t red. It was livery. Not dark red or brown. Livery. The unique color of lamb liver. I believed that livery was impossible to replicate, until the moment I held that ball up before my eyes.
I thought of the creator of that color. I conjured up a man who closely resembled me, dipping his brush in a bucket of liquid liver, rubbing it on the ball. Then the color moved. I saw the livery stripes taking off from the ball, enveloping my head, permeating my pores, oozing out again, wavering around my head, backing away and jolting up and down in the air, taking the shape of floating lamb livers.
Then you pushed. You were right before me, but I didn’t see you approaching. I fell to the ground and the images vanished. I looked up and saw you. I am sorry for being direct, but the first thing that caught my eye was your ugliness: your big red nose, your pimple-dappled skin, your extreme scragginess. Your body was a rubric of tardy puberty, further pronounced by your peevish, fiery temperament.
‘Throw the ball you fucking freak!’ you screamed. Before I could respond, you snatched the ball out of my grip. ‘You fucking idiot,’ you yelled and walked away.
Sir, to be honest with you, I still don’t know what happened. You will admit that your reaction was cruel, but it is certainly no justification for what I did. I had learned to restrain myself when people vented their disgust. That day I didn’t.
You probably remember the rest vividly: as you turned around to join your buddies I attacked you from behind, grabbed your wrist, sank my teeth into your arm, bit off a piece of your flesh, chewed and savored it, let the blood drip off my mouth, watched you writhing and thrashing on the ground, howling like a castrated wolf.
AN HOUR LATER, you and your parents came to our door. The families of other boys came along soon. Then the police showed up. Then passersby and the other neighbors joined the horde. I was watching the drama through a slit in the curtain. I couldn’t quite hear the words, but the crowd exuded such rage that it set my body trembling. You must remember the moment better than I do. From what I heard, everybody, including the passersby, were prepared to have me hanged at once.
I saw my mother going down to open the door. I hid in my parents’ bedroom, locked the door and crawled under the bed. My mother somehow calmed the crowd and persuaded them to go away. My dad arrived when they had dispersed. He must have already heard the story, because he came straight to me, dragged me on the floor into my room, beat me within an inch of my life, and locked the door.
I was not allowed to leave the room for five days. My mom came in every few hours, bringing food and news. I only know that my father talked to your family for two days. Your family, rather unjustly, made him pay a large amount of money, far more than anything he could afford, more than anything the court would have mandated. Your parents had sensed his desperation, his effort to keep the matter out of the courts, and took advantage of it. You are probably of a different opinion, but that is how it looked from my perspective.
The next day my father sold his car, borrowed money from his brother, and withdrew the rest of his savings. Two days later he bought a hut. The day after that, he opened the door to my room. He stood on the threshold and watched me for a long time. He opened his mouth twice to say something but nothing came out. Then he burst into tears. His body shook and convulsed. He collapsed on the floor, leaned against the wall, gathered his knees to his chest, wrapped his hands around his head, and rocked back and forth.
He finally got up and signaled me to follow. In the sitting room, my mother had already packed my things. She was weeping with her head down. ‘See you soon,’ was the only thing she said, and she rushed back to her room without touching me. I heard the muffled screams she let out into the pillow.
I picked up the bag. That was my last day in the house I had lived in my whole life, in the neighborhood where you and I grew up, yet I felt nothing. Only a sweet sadness, a vague sense of relief.
The hut was far from the city. If you approached the city from the south and looked to your right five miles before the toll station, you would spot the rooftop of this godforsaken place. It was a mile away from its closest neighbor.
We sat in the car a while. The landscape was a wasteland scattered with abandoned construction sites and defunct factories.
My father gave me two packs of bills. ‘I know it isn’t much,’ he said, ‘but that’s all we have now. I’m sorry’. I took the money. We sat in silence.
‘You know, I think it’s time for you to live on your own,’ he said. ‘It’s the hardest decision your mom and I have ever made. We did everything we could to avoid this day. Living with us in the city is not an option. People will hurt you.’ He paused and turned to me, seeking a response. I had nothing to say. ‘I’m sure you’ll be normal soon,’ he said, not even trying to pretend that he believed it. ‘I’ll drop by every week to check on you’ was his second lie.
THE HUT CONSISTED of a small room and a bathroom. No kitchen or closet. It must have served as temporary accommodations for workers.
Over the first week I slept ten hours a night. Deep, dream-free sleep, like I hadn’t slept for months. I got up late in the morning and walked an hour to get to the only token of life nearby: four tall buildings erected around a small square encircled with stores and places to eat.
That square became my haunt. Every day I walked there, roamed around the area for hours, observed people and window shops, scavenged for food. Unsurprisingly, people were taken aback by my emergence, but they accepted me far more easily than the people I’d grown up with. I was only a vagabond freak in search of food. Within a few weeks the occasional frowns and flinches disappeared, and nervous smiles, waves, even brief conversations replaced them. Some fed me: half a sandwich, the remains of a party, a basket of half-eaten chicken wings. Some tried to learn how I had ended up there. To those inquiries I answered curtly, conveying my own reluctance to discuss the matter.
One breezy autumn day I was standing on the sidewalk, basking in the cool afternoon sun. A truck parked a block away, and two guys jumped down from the back. They put on thick industrial gloves, brought a large mirror out of the truck, and carried it along the sidewalk by me. I took a look at the mirror, and caught a brief reflection of myself. I hadn’t seen my face for months. The hut had no mirror, and I had only encountered crude reflections of myself in window shops.
I followed the moving mirror into a glass shop. The owner was taken aback when I stood in his doorway. I told him that I wanted to see myself in the mirror. He invited me in.
I hadn’t changed physically. I was still in the same shape. But I looked different. My perception of myself was different. My jutting fangs looked impressively wild, my hunch suggested experience and suffering, my big dangling hands gave me the appearance of dexterity. I looked amusing. I looked beautiful.
I can imagine you having a hard time believing what you are reading. No surprise. From what I recall, you are a normal, average human being, which means you suffer from a severe failure of the imagination. As a species, humans are so boring and homogenous. You are nothing but billions of identical receptacles filled with various hues of a syrup. You can never understand me. I am unique. I am above you.
A WEEK LATER, another truck appeared.
I was standing on the sidewalk on another cool sunny autumn day. A small white refrigerated truck turned into the square and parked in front of the butcher shop. The back door opened. Two men came out, pulled a carcass out of the fridge, and took it into the shop. The color of the meat piqued my dormant appetite. I got close for a better look.
Five tall handsome calf carcasses were hanging off five hooks, seductively enveloped in the vapor of the fridge. The men were settling their account with the butcher in the shop. I leaned and stretched out my hand to touch the meat. Something on the floor of the refrigerated truck caught my eye. My fingers froze in the air.
A large immaculate lamb liver was on the floor. In the middle of the liver sat an eye. A real, complete, glittering eye, minus eyelid. It had a small, fixed sclera as the backdrop for a disproportionately large pupil that reflected all the light in the sky. I noticed a slight tremble in the pupil, as if tears were about to drip off. I blinked, looked around, walloped my head to shake off the illusion. The eye stayed on the liver, as firm and manifest as a boulder on a flat horizon.
The liver was trying to communicate.
The men were coming out of the shop. I snatched the liver out the truck and ran away.
I wandered around the wasteland, staring at the liver eye. The eye maintained its stare, its slight tremble, its disproportionality, its innocence. The more I stared at the eye the more I felt pangs and kicks inside, the push and pressure of something struggling to get born.
The message remained vague. It was there in my head, banging on the walls of my skull, anxious to get out. Something was on the tip of my mind’s tongue, desperate for the last push to roll off. My body kept shaking beyond my will. It was as if my organs had staged a coup against my mind.
I shut my eyes and focused to quell the revolt.
When I opened my eyes again, the world was livery. The ground, the sky, the buildings, all seemed to be the extensions of the liver in my hand. The wasteland on all sides was dyed the same color as the color of that soccer ball, like a layer of liver was pulled all over the world, from the beetle trudging up a little rock by my feet, to the rock itself, to the remotest point of my sight, the line where the sky met the soil.
Then I heard something. A high-pitched noise tore at my eardrums. The hushed sound of detonation. My body shook hard. My limbs thrashed about. My left arm flew up before my face. My mouth opened up. My fangs cut through the flesh. My other teeth followed in and sliced off a piece. Blood streamed down to my fingers, dripped and disappeared into the livery ground beneath my feet.
I stood still in the middle of a livery world, a piece of my own flesh in my mouth. I took out the flesh. I looked at it. It was roughly the size of the piece I bit off of your arm. I threw it away and collapsed on the ground. The message was deciphered: the liver opened its eyes on me because it found me ready to take the last leap.
I rose and walked, screaming my thoughts at the livery desert: we are all nothing but a certain arrangement of living organs linked up by bones. The rest is a façade: vision, emotions, anger, love, put up by mind to obscure that corporeal fact. Flesh is what I am. Flesh is what you are. But the liver will not open its eye to you, sir. You are not ready. No member of your species is. I was. I was born ready. From day one, my flesh ran my being. The liver opened its outward eye because it saw who I am. I am what you are when your flesh is unchained.
On my way home, I thought about you. The moment I took your arm in my jaws replayed before my eyes, as if on a screen dangling against the livery background of the sky. I felt sorry for you. I recalled you in all your details: your little eyes and big mouth, your foul face and spindly limbs. You might look better now, but as a member of your species, your fundamental nature has not changed. You are still too confused by your broken senses, too blinded by your impoverished intellect, too hazed by your vanity, too spineless and weak to stare into the abyss inside.
THE NEXT DAY I went to the square and returned with a long thick rope. I tied myself to the chair. My whole body, legs and torso. I tied them extremely tight, leaving no room for movement. Then I pushed my legs against the rope. When you do that, your body wants to move but it fails. As a result, your internal eye opens and the focus shifts to the muscle that failed to move. I kept pushing. As the effort to move kept failing, the flesh grew increasingly aware of its shackles, and developed a desire to throw them off.
I kept pushing until, after two days and seventeen hours, the flesh took action. At that moment, my whole body felt malleable, like all the bones were pulled out of it. It felt soft as pulp, slack and amorphous. The moment came with a noise, a murmur from inside. That is the call of the flesh.
YOU SHOULD DO THE SAME, sir. Go to a place far away from human presence. Leave everything behind. A chair, a rope, and a shelter, is all you need. Tie yourself up to the chair, so tight that no muscle would be able to move. Push against the rope. Push constantly, hour after hour, day and night.
If you persist and push hard and long enough, you will reach the moment the flesh rids itself of the bones and freely floats in your body. You are still tied, but your inside moves out of your control. When the moment arrives, scream at the top of your lungs. If you capture it right, you will feel the surge of the flesh and the shutdown of your mind. Scream. Your flesh will heave and shake you to the core. If it doesn’t, refuse to despair. Scream. Make the flesh looser and freer. Scream. Your body must become an aquarium for your flesh. Keep screaming. Scream from your diaphragm, right beneath your lungs. Scream. Don’t stop.
You will know when to stop and untie yourself. The moment your flesh is free, your mind ceases to dictate how you perceive the world. Stop when you see with your knees or wrists, think with your elbow, laugh with your kidney, scream with your toes. Stop when you hear with your thighs, belch with your spine, whisper with your balls. Untie yourself and feel the levitation, the landing of your body upon a higher plain, far above the sewage of humanity.
You will think about me at that moment, and admit that what I have taught you is worth far more than a tiny piece of your flesh.