It was time for me to become the idiot for the month.
I was serving time in a prison far away from the city and was surrounded by fir trees. There was an outdoor recreation area and large men lifted weights and talked about murders.
“I gouged his eyes out with my fingers,” one man said.
“I raped a woman for looking at me wrong,” another man said.
“I am innocent of murder but I think about it day and night,” another man next to the other men said.
The ground outside was not tended to and many of the lonelier men in our prison spent time looking into the brown puddles. The men who were not lonely would look each other in the eyes or at each other’s teeth. Sometimes they picked weeds that had sprouted from the concrete.
One of my friends was called William. He was bald and had several punctures in his trunk.
“It’s not difficult,” he said.
“Yes. But a month?”
“You get used to it. Like most things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Do they make us do?”
“Oh, you know. Rituals. It’s just to see if you’re one of us.”
I was new to the prison. We were all here for life. I had heard about the bizarre rituals men performed here in order to pass the time.
For example, some men congregated in a room beneath the kitchens. The room was filled with steam and crates and utensils hanging from racks. They would play a high stakes card game wherein the loser would be castrated with the kitchen utensils. The men would burn the wound, cauterizing it.
These eunuchs were usually the men who stared into puddles.
The latest of their rituals was called the Idiot trial. I asked some men at the mess hall table about the trial. They talked about the food on their plates instead.
“Just remember,” one of the smaller men said to me, “that whatever they tell you to do, do it. In the long run it’s worth it.”
When my time came, it was in the dead of night. My cell was turned upside down. My beloved chessboard was broken in two and my books were covered in lighter fluid and burnt. I struggled but my clothes were torn from my body. I was dragged outside by anonymous men, hooded and evil and thrown into a narrow pit. A cage door was lowered and all I could see was the moonlight through a tight, circular hole.
Then the men began to defecate upon me. One by one, every prisoner dropped fecal matter down the pit. There was nowhere to run. I was covered head to toe. After one hour, I was coloured brown and I vomited in my mouth. I was raised from the pit and dressed in a diaper and forced to wear a ‘dunce’ cap.
The month passed slowly. I was routinely raped in empty cells. I was forced to fornicate with animals that were brought in from the outside. Some men spat in my mouth. Others put glass in my food. Even William, my beloved friend, set my hair on fire. I spent a week in the infirmary where my sleep was beset by devilish pranks.
Sometimes, when I was asleep, the men would whisper things about my past into my ear. They spoke slowly and I would scream and beat the wall but they continued.
I was not allowed to shower for this month, either. The fecal matter stayed upon me the entire duration of my idiocy.
You look like a black man, somebody said. Which was strange because I was once a white man.
I developed a hobble, too.
By the end of the month, I was one of the ‘Men’ and they trusted me. They called me friend. But all I remember are their whispers, the things they said in the infirmary and I wondered why I was here in the first place.
* * *
I stared at women’s feet. The bigger a woman’s foot, the better.
I go on webcam chat rooms to compare my feet to other women. I usually have a sign up in front of my webcam saying ‘Show me your feet’.
Most of the time this does not work. But sometimes it does work. Sometimes these women put their feet in the air and show me the soles of their feet and sometimes they put a measuring tape or a ruler up to it, too.
I often think I am ill and that I should stop this madness, but I can’t.
I became so obsessed with the size of women’s feet that I even posted an advert up on a sex forum. One woman agreed to see me. We spoke on the phone.
“What country are you from?”
“And your feet. What size?”
“29 or 30, I don’t remember.”
“Measure them now.”
And there was a pause. She put the phone down and I heard her drift off to the other side of the room.
“I have a ruler.”
I told her I wanted to meet her. We eventually met somewhere neutral, which is the way all sexual encounters should be. It was a hotel in Russell Square. The carpet was pink and the windows were black with petrol or grease. She was a tall, dark-haired woman with a big nose and thick legs and she smelled and covered this up with perfume.
“Can I see your asshole?”
“Am I going to be paid for this?”
“You’re a whore?”
“Show me your asshole, then.”
And she took off her trousers.
“Bend over the bed. Bend over like a dog.”
And she did. She even made a ‘woof’ noise like a dog, which didn’t make me smile and, in fact, took me out of the situation. Sex is always bordering on comedy anyway and it wasn’t good to go over this line.
I pressed my nose in her asshole.
“You smell like shit.”
“It’s an asshole, they smell like shit.”
Her asshole was bruised looking and utterly embarrassing. There were some hairs coming out of it and, the more I stared, the more it actually looked like a mole.
I told her to take off her shoes and she did. We compared feet and her feet dwarfed mine. I put my hand span out against her feet. I began to suck her toes and as I did she started crying. I didn’t stop but when she started shouting about her mother and father, I stopped.
“What is this?”
“My father, my mother,” she said. Her mascara ran down her face. Her makeup was thick and sickening.
“What about them?”
“They were murdered, many years ago.”
There was a silence in the room. There was a pause, yes, a pause that in usual circumstances would have signified the moment for me to stop this madness and perhaps put an arm around her shoulders and console her.
* * *
The prostitute was tired looking. She led me into a room that had a chair and a bed. The light in the room was blue and I told her I was a virgin. She told me to remove my clothes and place them on the chair. I did. She told me to remove my dignity and place that on the chair, too. I did. She told me to remove any prejudices against women and put those on the floor, so I did. She told me to remove any ideas of violence and throw them out the window. I thought about violence, took the abstract idea and threw it out of the window and into the night. She told me to remove any ideas of masculinity or ideas that I was superior or ideas of losing my virginity liberating me from my depression and into manhood. I did. And then she asked me if I was OK to remove my skin next and how I felt about that.
* * *
We were young. My best friend, George, said we should kidnap the dog from next door. So we did. He stuffed it into a bag. We took it out to the woods and played with it. It wasn’t a baby but it wasn’t fully grown either. We played fetch with it. We cuddled the dog. It ran into the water at one point and it got our clothes dirty. We laughed.
There are some thought processes that, as an adult, are difficult to rationalize. The thought processes of a child almost seem automatic, as if carried out by a somnambulist.
So when we took the dog and placed inside the bag and tied it up, we weren’t thinking. In the woods, a rock face, grey and plain, seemingly triggered something in us and we decorated it with the dog.
* * *
I used to make a living as a writer. My country’s government discovered my literature and deemed it evil. They burnt every last copy of my work. I was captured and beaten and my hands were chopped off in front of a large crowd of people.
I managed to escape my country and now I live in exile in Belgium. It is a beautiful country but it is without incident. Nothing much happens here. I miss those days of struggle back in my country. I miss the conflict and the changing nature of my city. Statues were rent from the ground, buildings blown up, people rounded up and murdered by the government, others merely silenced.
My new home is a bore. I look at my hands and remember how they landed me in such hot water. I consider my other natural instruments – my feet, my tongue, my eyes, perhaps – and think of ways these could be severed from my self in an act of defiance in this country.
Oliver Zarandi’s latest stories have appeared in The Quietus, HTMLGIANT, Hobart, Squawk Back, The Bohemyth and theNewerYork. He's on Twitter, too.