Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” chronicles the life of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up one day transformed into a hideous giant bug. His ability to verbally communicate with others is gone and we witness the deterioration of his family’s relationship with him.

Samsa, having been the primary bread winner for the family pre-transformation, has now become obsolete in his home. His family first takes care of him out of duty but as the story progresses it is clear they no longer see the humanity in him and begin to treat him like vermin. His room is literally turned into the house dumpster and the consideration that used to go into his care-taking becomes non existent. The foreshadowing of Samsa’s ultimate demise is probably this particularly tragic scene where he gets stoned into oblivion with apples by his father, the latter thinking Samsa was endangering his wife.

What makes the story more poignant is that we see all these events unfold through Samsa’s point of view. It is ironic that Samsa has the most human characterization. He is considerate, kind and empathetic to the plight of his family, while they, in return, grow cold and distant when they realize he is now useless to them. To be fair, they’ve been through a change of epic proportions but they become rather callous about the whole affair in no time.

The novella is a fine commentary on the value of a person in our modern day capitalist society. It resonates with the idea that we are all replaceable gears in this giant machine and the moment we outlive our usefulness we don’t matter anymore.

The Hedges

Do you remember the day it dawned on you that this thing called life would one day end? That all those around you: your father, mother, siblings and friends would one day cease to exist? Expire, never to be held, cried on or played with again. When it occurred to you that unlike Coyote, there was no next episode after that cliff fall. The realization of your impermanence on this earth can be quite a destabilizing experience especially as a child; it tends to leave ripples in your subconscious you feel well into adulthood. It may have been when your favourite grandfather passed away, or when the scruffy girl with the cornrows who always sat at the back of the class unceremoniously stopped coming and your teacher had to keep explaining every day for the rest of the year in cushioned words and a coddling tone that it would never be filled by her again. Even with promises of the afterlife, you can’t quite shake off the fact that you, as you are in this vessel, will one day simply not be. With that realization comes a certain type of awareness, a particular blend of fear, acceptance and caution privy only to those in tune with the ephemeral nature of their existence. Fun times with mortality. How do you accept this finality, complete obliteration from this earth but for memories that, too, will not last the test of time? How do you learn to put this inevitability in the back of your mind and carry on? Mine was a rather rude awakening.

It starts, as most existential realizations of my childhood, in our plant-heavy backyard. There was one particular hedge that ran parallel to the high walls surrounding our compound, lining the inside with its dark green waxy leaves. My siblings and I’s bodies could easily fit between the ledge on the wall and the trees and, on hot afternoons, we could sometimes be found exploring the treacherous terrain of our makeshift jungle. Said hedge was a source of conflicting emotions: it could go from playground to arsenal in split seconds. Our house boy (without our mother’s blessing mind you) would send us down to pick branches from it whenever we misbehaved or caught him watching porn for what seemed to be our semi-regular flogging sessions. There was something remarkably cruel about personally selecting the rod that would become to your body as paint was to canvas. It was the hedge’s hermetic character however that left the deepest wounds: while it was designed to keep people from looking in, it had the unintended consequence of not letting us look out.

It was here that I first tried to kill myself. Very melodramatic considering the circumstances. My mother had once again found her grievous actions towards me fiercely engraved in my seven year old self’s black book, the particulars of which do not matter considering the frequency of such occurrences. While most would threaten to run way, I had the genius idea to off myself in a rather twisted effort to hurt her. I could never quite understand how I came to that conclusion but my money’s on the questionable viewing material courtesy of your standard 0000 DSTV parental code. “See your life” she said as I blasted off threat after threat. I was livid, how could she not take me seriously? I would show her. I stormed to my room and rummaged through my closet for my karate belt. Indignant dead man walking that I was, I made my way to the garden. I would show her I wasn’t to be taken lightly. I don’t think that I truly wanted to die. In retrospect it scares me how far I was willing to go to prove her wrong, how inconsequential and disposable my life suddenly was. The problem wasn’t that I hated my mother, though very much a factor at the time. I simply didn’t understand what it was I wanted to do, the finality of the consequences. Taking my life was on the same level as burning her favourite dress. I knew I was dear to her and at the time it made sense. You take from me, I take from you. Very dangerous child logic. To everyone’s relief – mine especially – my exit from the world of the living was unsuccessful. After tying one end of the belt to my neck and securing the other to a branch I let myself fall from a staggering two feet. The branch snapped as my skinny frame met the ground. My mother made no mention of my outburst at the dinner table.

Death had taken a bite. With blood in the water, it began circling, a predatory spectre looming over me. It would rear its head again during one of my favourite pastimes.

My sister and I had a number of go-to games for those days where the television wasn’t enough to keep us busy and my nose wasn’t buried within the pages of what ever new chapter book I’d discovered that week. Our dolls would always get stranded on desert islands with nothing but their wits and our imaginations to keep them alive. On this fine day they had found some nice plantains and yams they would pound to make foufou. I went to make a round of the hedge trees to find the empty nests birds usually left as my sister readied the pillar and mortar. My search quickly bore fruit and I rushed to her side, put the nest in the mortar and started pounding. One, two, three. I heard the muffled sound of chirping and suddenly, I was frozen. Ever wish you could reject a reality by simply refusing to acknowledge it? For a while I wouldn’t to put words to what was becoming evidently clear: I hadn’t checked the nest. How could I have been so careless? Like a seed taking root, the weight of this death thing began to settle itself in my young mind. I had taken away life for no reason. Every fibre of my body was suddenly consumed in shame. My sister had heard it too. We took the nest from the mortar. A mangled mess of flesh and egg shells. We stared at it. We didn’t know what else to do. We just stared, suspended in time. One of the birds was still alive, a hatchling that had managed to escape the blow of my pillar. We buried the nest under the pine tree in the backyard and tried to find him a new home. He obviously didn’t survive. Left to fend for himself, the tiny bird, no bigger than a finger, didn’t even make it till evening.

That night at the dinner table, I could suddenly hear the pain that had coloured my mother’s voice during our heated exchange on the day of my not so fateful suicide attempt. As a child I had this uncanny ability of replaying conversations surrounding my offences. Her words always stayed the longest, sometimes for weeks, letting me relive the shame, hurt or anger of her scoldings. I passed by the bird tomb many times that week, noting how the birds remained in the ground, the implications of which opened a door of unending questions with such force that till this day I’m not sure I’ve managed to shut.

Scorched

“Scorched” , a play by Montreal based writer Wajdi Mouawad tells the story of twins Janine and Simon, as they try to uncover the truth behind their mother’s years long silence.

I read the English version – the original, “Incendie”, is in French. It’s always interesting to see how the translator manages to capture the essence of a story in a different language especially in the case of this play where the power of words, whether spoken or written, is a particularly prominent theme . It is a story of love and war, the bonds of family and truth, no matter how dark. From broken promises to wills with odysseyan instructions, the play is unapologetic, earnest and surprisingly refreshing considering its heavy subject matter.

The narrative is almost dreamlike – time is fluid in this world with scenes happening simultaneously in the past and the present, its language poetic with an ending worthy of a Mexican soap opera sans the melodrama. Expect a few tears. “Scorched” is the second of four in Mouawad’s dramatic quarter set.

A few memorable quotes:

” I’m not the one who’s crying, your whole life is pouring down your cheeks”

“Take your youth and any possible happiness and leave the village. You are the bloom of this valley, Nawal. You are its sensuality and its smell. Take them with you and tear yourself away from here, the way we tear ourselves away from our mother’s womb.”

“There is nothing here for us. I get up in the morning and people say, “Sawda, there’s the sky,” but no one has anything to say about the sky. […] People show me the world but the world is mute. And life goes by and everything is murky. I saw the letters you engraved and I thought: that is a woman’s name. As if the stone had become transparent. One word and everything lights up.”

“Janine, Let me hear her silence.”

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 2

How to break the spell, how to pluck yourself out of this endless cycle of sleeping, eating, being, not being, wanting to be, being afraid to never be. You would think one would be pushed into action with such dissatisfaction but it only seemed to fuel the tepid fire of self-destruction. Mine is a slow and painful death. A tenacious rot eating away at the foundations of a life half built. I might be more like my uncle Alphonse than I care to admit. Till this day his house in the village stands unfinished. Roofless rooms, doorless frames: a homeless house. No fraction could quantify its level of completion. Is that what my life is amounting to? An endless pile of fractioned sentences, fractioned thoughts, fractioned wants, fractioned wills? He only completed our own family house because my mother (bless her brand of crazy) moved us all into the fraction-complete building, still pregnant with Alphonse (named after the same uncle – the similarities ended there). A fraction of a life in a fraction of a home. A fitting abode of sorts. If only I took more after the woman. I stubbornly cling to my mediocrity, the fear of failure dragging me down like cement shoes in a sea of stagnancy. A writer. How can I call myself that when I barely put pen to paper? I think about it though. Oh that I do a lot of. I think. About not writing, about writing more, what to write about, how to make my words tap-dance, endless click clacking on blank pages. What am I scared of? That people will see me? That my words might reveal some unexplored truth? I am looking for something, anything, a lifeline (going down swinging) pouring over books, articles, tweets, binge-watching television. I’m not finding it. Whose voice am I looking for? Mine? Can I even hear myself? Will I recognize that “I”?