Saturday, November 21, 2015

2015 DNA-OUT OF PRINT Short Fiction Winner: Zui Kumar-Reddy

Anagrams and Barbed Wire Jesus

Zui Kumar-Reddy

Sit here, the nurse said, pointing to the granite bench in front of a desert backdrop; the painting was like something out of the foxes mind from the Little Prince, I thought. This was a mandated appointment, there were thousands of us who moved in and out like conveyer belt kings. The painting was blank, I thought, as I was placed in the foreground of nothingness. ‘Android’s ran ‘em. Android’s ran ‘em,’ the nurse laughed in a shrill witchy way as she strapped me into place. I was held there by the weight of my bones that stuck hard to the granite below me. And all I could see were queues of bones and sagging skin and all I could think was Android’s ran ‘em.
She had a light pointed at me, must have been a zillion watts, I smelled the burning of my skin and I saw it bubble and blister but I felt an early morning breeze, a rainy day coolness, and it came as if I had summoned it. A tray with eight identical glasses of electric blue liquid was placed on a table beside me. I was made to drink it all before the army of identical men dressed in white tore the clothes of my back and placed my burning body horizontal on the granite. This is an exorcism, the nurse screamed as she prodded at my pus filled blisters. And as they had us all like this, our naked skin melting into our insides, that is when they began. It wasn’t slow like we were warned it would be, the crucial moment, it was fast, like an industrial scale mass purging. I was made to sit upright again, and found myself and a thousand other pathetic excuses for humans lined up before a multitude of enormous turbines aimed and ready to blow away all that was left clinging to our now loose skin.
See, you can purge the devil out of someone quite easily, I hear that can be done with a bottle of beer and some sorpottel, but memories, that’s a whole other story and it took a while for these guys to figure out just what the fuck they were going to do. Three years they wasted cutting heads open and waterboarding people’s brains with acetone, but everyone just ended up dead and so that was deemed unsuccessful. This new thing they had come up with, this industrial scale mass purging, it was cost effective and it worked. But a few of us had been reading about it, months before the appointment, and we trained ourselves like nobody’s business, to remember. They had fried our brains already, last year and the year before that, but memories they stick to your skin.
So as they turned on the turbines. I felt what seemed like a frantic plastic bag inside of me, looking for the nearest exit. This was number one, I said to myself and I had to hold on tight because after the first one they speed up like motherfuckers.
There were three ways one could find Mrs D'Cunha’s house. The most roundabout and my favourite by far, was the ‘Mail Route’; this required one to be small in size and fairly malleable. Your starting point was the big post office just off Museum road. Across the street you would see a house with a gabled roof and a bright blue door. This was the residence of Mr Ranatunga that was later gifted to the family of his prostitute. If you were to knock on this bright blue door you would be greeted by Shanti, a twenty something year old girl with chocolate skin and jasmine hair. She would take you by the hand, very firmly and with no real interest in coddling or baby talk, and walk you to the compound wall. It was here that the exchange took place. A grey haired Daniel would be waiting on the other side of the wall, for a laddoo shaped human package who an old lady was expecting for tea. And it would now be time for you to dutifully curl up so you could be passed through the two lines of barbed wire that were strung above the granite wall.
I lost it. The frantic plastic bag. My bones felt lighter. ‘Android’s ran ‘em,’ the nurse shrieked like a maniac from behind the turbines. The next few went fast, and I was relieved. I didn’t know what they were, just that they were leaving the innermost fibres of my body and taking with them whatever it was that made me feel so heavy. The men in white stood along the periphery of the oval room that we were in. Each of us, positioned on a bench in front of a backdrop, looking like we were set up for mini photo shoots. The bag of bones on my right, he sat in front of a beach as he writhed in pain like a worm under a magnified sun. They filmed it all, each of us, the cleansing, so that it could be screened at the tenth year anniversary of the new republic of whatever we were heading towards. I didn't know what I was losing until number three thousand and fifty four.
On Sunday mornings, as my mother would paint blue pin stripes down the walls of the courtyard, Mrs D'Cunha would have the Ave Maria on repeat as she sat in her front room and swayed back and forth to the sweetness of the song.
The blue pin stripes, the Sunday mornings, they were political, the men in white made it that way as they leaned into us from the corners of the oval room. I couldn’t see their eyes through the darkness that shadowed their faces and I wondered if their memories were monitored like ours. There was some sort of a clause for sure, some memories were alright, some people didn’t need to go through this, but we were picked out, in the thousands, and burned till we bled out all that we had known.
One Christmas, many years after I stopped being able to fit through the barbed wire, Mrs D'Cunha called me and my family to her house, it was a matter of urgency she said. She brought us to a corner of the garden, right by the compound wall and pointed a little into the distance. ‘Do you see that?’ she asked us. She meant the barbed wire Jesus whose shadow was plastered onto a neighbouring white wall. I barely saw it but thought it was the most exciting thing that had happened all year.
And then HE stepped out, from behind the men in white. They called him the Android. He was dressed like a ringmaster with a whip in hand and a detached smile that was both born from and held on to nothing. He wore an orange suit and swayed from side to side as he walked to each one of us, stroking his chin and cracking his whip. The men in white fired into the room a grey smoke that cemented itself onto the parts of us that were left cut open and bare. We had only heard about him before, and hadn’t really known how to prepare ourselves for whatever it was he was going to do.
By the time I finished school, Mrs D'Cunha’s house looked like a different place. It wasn’t as grand as I remembered. There was nothing on the roof but dried leaves and plastic sheets to prevent the rain from getting through the leaks. I dropped in on her once with cake and tea and she was the same, just sad that the lace curtains on her windows had started to turn grey, because of the pollution, she said. The avocados had started to fall to the ground as no one was collecting them and the family of monkeys that used to frequent the tree hadn’t been seen for nearly three years.
The Android had me shivering on my side and whipped me till the skin on my fingers started to peel away. Now you won’t remember shit, he said. I smiled at him, and the sides of my face stung as I did, but I knew where this was going. If the body isn’t good for shit, if everything it does essentially means fuck all, the one thing you can count on till the point where you’re completely cut apart and then re-assembled is that your mind is capable of seeing the desert fox from the Little Prince in the midst of a full-on mental massacre.
My father would say to everyone who ever visited the street that we lived on, that only Marquez could do it justice in description; the gabled roofs and the dead geraniums brought all the way from Ooty that sat outside the front doors for days in the hope that they would somehow find the will to live again. My childhood, in and out of Mrs D'Cunha’s house was full of grasshopper cakes and old powder tin kaleidoscopes. The last time I visited her was to express concern for a dog that was being beaten by one of the servants. It seemed useless telling her all this, as she lived in a world outside of the big one that was becoming less and less familiar. Not that she wanted to, and not that it was even a choice, but it’s like she had been forgotten, sitting in her front room, listening to the Ave Maria and watching her avocados fall to the ground. Incidentally, if you had visited the house forty something years ago, in the morning around seven or eight, you would most likely find Mr D’Cunha himself. He would probably have been walking up and down the terrace singing the very same song his wife had listened to until her death. This was the city I had known in the very beginning of my life; avocado trees and early morning opera singers, but the changes came faster than many could keep up with; a gush of grey smoke swept in and picked up whatever it could and all those who couldn’t keep up were just left behind. So, when years later I found Mrs D’Cunha’s body rotting in the same position in the same chair that she had sat and swayed in for most of her life, I wasn’t surprised in the least. She had just slipped all our minds, I thought, amidst all this grey smoke it was too hard to see through her lace-curtain windows anyway….
As they switch off the turbines I peel the remaining skin off of me and all that had melted into the bench beneath me. I’m a clean slate ready for business. Grateful to be perfectly moulded into the new world. And made aware of the dangers of the old one. We step up in unison, all of us who have been stripped down to cells, preferred building blocks for a new race, we make our way out into a new world that is also subject to this contrived erosion. In front of us stands the ringmaster who repeats in an unchanging voice: you’re all mine, bitches.

Zui Kumar-Reddy is a 21-year-old Biology student who loves to write. She has had her works published in Out of Print Magazine, The Peal and Down Dirty Word - The Legendary. This year she was one of the selected participants for Max Mueller Bhavan and Sandbox Collective’s: Project Gender Bender, where she screened her music video ‘Goef Josef’ on the subject of female desire. Currently she is making pots and pots of guava jam, guava jelly and peanut butter thanks to an abundant harvest!

1 comment:

  1. Your story is so visual, it is brilliant Zui! Congratulations!