GUINEA PIG EYES
Those were times of heavy rainfall when he came to this world. From an early age and when he still resembled more a tadpole with a tail –without any fingers in his hands nor tongue to stand for himself–, his parents chose his destiny from the very beginning and, in doing so, he was cursed for his entire life. They did so by simply opening an old book crammed with names on a page, pointing to a word at random, and uttering the spell: Claudio. Since then, the deformed creature came alive writhing inside his mother’s womb just like a maggot; he was no longer an embryo curled inside his warm cocoon. That was the precise moment when he became a human being and decided to open his eyes for the first time. Long after, he was re-baptized with the same troubled name by his parents, who fortuitously sealed his existence with the gloomy star of his fate: Claudio –which in Spanish means “the lame”–.
That little boy with huge bulging eyes and guinea pig’s teeth always envied some soccer players that he used to watch on TV. He was a lad who would spend most of the day doing a dozen tricks with a soccer ball in the dusty field of a small park near his house. However, the threads of his future life had already been woven, so the great hobby of Claudio was not football indeed, but girls.
At age 10, he decided to spy on one of his female neighbors through the window of her bedroom. In order to do so, he climbed up to the top of a jacaranda tree with the amazing skill of a monkey, but while he was climbing, Claudio accidentally slipped and fell face down on the flowers that were in the yard. Both of his legs and some vertebrae got broken. He was badly hurt. He spent nearly six months embedded in a brass bed watching black-and-white TV every day, so that his silhouette almost seemed stamped in the bed mattress on purpose. For this reason, his legs rapidly slimmed down to the point that they looked like two long and skinny tubes; they almost resembled a cricket’s legs.
Since that horrible accident, he had the feeling that his legs were unsoldered to his hips, so he had difficulty walking. As a result, some school guys were mean to him and they used to make fun of him at recess, yelling at him: “Here comes Claudio, the cripple”. Consequently, his classmates always excluded him from any soccer match because, frankly speaking, he never scored a single goal in his life. He was not good at playing. He could barely run, so he would remind you of a frail chicken with a broken leg. As a result, school girls always thought of Claudio as a fragile, feeble creature, and they constantly felt sorry for him. All of them refused to speak to him, even Leticia, the spoiled girl to whom his heart was utterly devoted. In fact, she was the main reason why Claudio had broken both of his legs that night as he watched her taking off her dress. Nonetheless, they used to be sickened by seeing that sorrowful guy crawling himself painfully along the corridor of the school. He made them recall one occasion when they found a gutted, stone-dead sparrow on the floor, and they simply poked its eye with a wooden stick. A bunch of worms popped out right in the place of its eye. He always made the cold-blooded girls feel sick.
But his worst misfortune was yet to come. One day, when Claudio was 15, he noticed that a small lump was emerging on his back. He went to the bathroom and tried to look at himself in the mirror, but all he saw was a bump which timidly appeared hidden between his shoulder blades; it was the size of a tiny peach. Claudio told his parents what he had discovered in the shower that morning, and his father asked him to open his shirt: “Here, let me see it. Step into the light so I can see what it is”, –said his father, putting on his glasses–. Under the dim light of the lamp, he could see something like a bruised bump on Claudio’s backbone. It seemed as if moving by itself. The father could not help to open his eyes wide. He was completely astonished; he was absolutely horrified at what he had just seen, so he stepped back.
–“What the hell… Did you hit yourself, kid?”, –asked the father, wiping his hands with a handkerchief.
–“No, Dad… It just popped up. It started as a puny lump. It began to grow a couple of days ago, but it was until now that I just noticed it. I dunno what it is”, –said the boy.
His father pinched the lump with his finger, and he noticed that the ghastly thing squirmed itself beneath his son’s elastic skin like a leech. His mother fainted when she saw “the thing” crawling beneath Claudio’s back as if it were alive. Accordingly, both parents decided to take him to the doctor the following day, but they could not erase the horrible memory of what they had seen that terrible night.
The next day, after many tests and a dozen scrupulous radiographs, Claudio was given a rather bleak prognosis: “You have a hump, kid. No other explanation. We must operate immediately” said the doctor, a serious expression on his face. Claudio, who was used to his feeble, grotesque body, immediately agreed; he wanted to get rid of that bump that made him look like a stunted camel. The mere idea terrified him even more than his parents. “Please, doctor, remove it… Take it off, I beg you!!! Pull it out!!!” –cried the boy.
That night, while Claudio’s body was lying face down on the plate and his mind was under the deep slumber of anesthesia, doctors rushed to take the bulge out. When the surgeon nailed the scalpel in the lump punching a hole in it, he noticed that in addition to the blood that flowed profusely from a tiny hole, there was also a lot of air coming out as if it were a little deflated latex balloon, causing a slight hiss that echoed throughout the room: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… claaa…uuuu….diiii….oooooooo….. “What the fuck was that?”, –cried one of the nurses, throwing the mask on the floor and left the room, frightened.
A week later, his mother changed the bandage on his back while he was still in bed. He noticed that the scar had begun to close at last, so he touched the nylon stitches with his warm fingers. For a moment he felt relieved and was able to breathe carelessly. Two weeks later, he decided it was time to get some fresh air; he wanted to play with the dog outside. “Fetch it, Bunny!” –said the boy, throwing the ball at her. Suddenly, he began to feel a slight tingle that started to emerge in the depths of his chest, behind his lungs; it climbed up around his neck. He felt that strange feeling again, but this time not in his back, but behind his Adam’s apple. It was a new small bump that had begun to emerge at one side of his larynx. As it climbed his neck, one could see its hideous, scorched skin; it was the same purple bump that apparently had been removed weeks before. Claudio then ran off to the bathroom looking for a mirror. He could feel the fear beating inside his heart. When he took his hands off around his neck, he observed the little grisly ball covered with thousands of tiny red veins; it was swollen almost to the size of a fist under his jaw. “What the hell is happening to me!?”, screamed Claudio, as he opened the bathroom drawer trying to find some scissors. Without thinking, he squeezed the lump with his left hand and stuck the scissors so hard until the same hissing sound he had heard two weeks ago echoed in the room. The wound was bleeding a lot. zzzzzzzzzzztttttttt… cla… u…dio. The young man kept quiet for a couple of minutes trying to understand what he had just heard, but when he saw his hands wrapped in the red blood, he collapsed.
Over the years, Claudio visited many hospitals where word spread among nurses about the case of a man who had a strange lump that would walk all around his body, crawling under the skin. He met many skilled experts in the field; he even talked to thousands of people around the world who simply wanted to help him. Journalists seemed terrified cockroaches who roamed the halls of the sanitarium trying to capture the best picture of the hideous boy. The National Geographic channel even offered him to make a photographic report about his unusual illness, but he refused. There were plenty of foreign experts who tried to help him, but all in vain. Unfortunately, the lump never disappeared. One day it would pop up on his thigh; one week later it would pop up on the palm of his hand, and so on. Claudio was so fed up about clinics, physicians, shots, visitors, people… He just wanted a normal life. One day, therefore, he simply accepted his destiny and asked his parents not to take him to that kind of places anymore.
The truth is that Claudio was a man who had suffered all kinds of misfortunes because of his hideous name. Believe it or not, every time he uttered it, it made him feel like if he had swallowed a bunch of sharp needles. Oh, God!, you have no idea how much he really loathed his name. Thus, one fine day, he decided that he was going to look for a brand-new name who would give him a new identity, a nickname that might change his bad luck once and for all; a name that could be really meaningful for him. This way, he began to walk the city streets collecting and copying distinguished names in a small notebook that he used to carry in his pocket, but it occurred to him that the legend of a murdered politician or even the story about a famous poet who had been killed by his lover could condemn him to repeat the same deadly story. No, he did not want that. Afterwards, he sought some other names in the branches of his family tree, but he did not like what he found. There were plenty of stories about relatives who had died of rare diseases, criminals, family members who had committed suicide, cousins who had been kidnapped, soldiers who had fought alongside Pancho Villa –they had betrayed the general, and because of that they had been shot–, etc. He kept on searching tirelessly for a new alias during decades, until one day he simply dreamed about the solution.
The next day, he woke up very early in the morning and went straight to the kitchen, opened the cupboard and pulled out a pound of flour. He took out a few eggs, a little milk from the refrigerator, and also some butter. He mixed all the ingredients, kneaded some dough with his fingers for a while, and baked some small muffins. On each muffin, he carved with a knife something legible: “Altair”. Twenty minutes later, the house was permeated with the sweet smell of vanilla and he found himself sitting at the dining table, in front of a white dish with a few freshly baked cakes, and he whispered: “This is my name: Altair, bird that flies high…, this is my name: Altair, bird that flies high…, this is my name: Altair, bird that flies high …”. He ate all the muffins at once. And thus, he welcomed his new nickname as if it was the Holy Spirit. As he devoured every crumb, the nickname permeated every single pore of his revolting body. He felt so proud of his new identity that he could not help crying, because he knew he was no longer “the lame”.
The following days, Altair felt relieved of the tremendous burden that he had carried on his back for so many years. His backbone was straightened, the muscles in his legs were swelled, and he felt like if he had been born again. Previously disabled, he found himself able to walk without the use of crutches at last. All of a sudden, laughter flourished in his emaciated lips erasing his dark soul. Hence, his hair turned hazel, as if a wave of light had soaked his face. By changing his alias, not only did he change his appearance, but also his character, so that he became a strong, cheerful boy. He was now an athletic, handsome guy. Besides, his appearance was altered so many times that day –layer after layer of his former skin vanished without trace—, that no one ever attempted to prove that that hideous, sinister creature existed. Instead, there was a man of great beauty. Only his huge bulging eyes remained the same. By the time his parents arrived at home, his misshapen body had already been distorted so much that when they opened the door and saw Altair standing in the lobby wearing a dressing gown and without shoes, they failed to recognize him.
— Who ARE you? What are YOU doing HERE? –both his parents asked, terrified.
Altair smiled at them. For the first time, Altair felt he was completely free, just as a bird flying up high in the sky.
Rigatito Némesis, 2013.