Carcass on display

Published: June 19, 2014
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For the audience, death had put a cloak of silence and attention upon them.

This piece is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

She was backstage, about to start her show depicting her ideas to the audience. To benefit millions of listeners, the director had claimed whilst widening his hands, fitting the million in a pocket of air. Suddenly, the assistant event manager ran to her with a tension that was coming out of its disguise.

“Please enter exactly after five seconds.”

“Okay.”

She looked at her watch and time looked back, scanning her without moving. She began to sweat, waiting for it to budge. Just as a small smile climbed down time’s lips, she entered the stage.
The crowd erupted. Applause. Cheers.

Some people stood up in respect, and smiles broke on every face. Lights shone in every eye. But something was beneath the thick layers of noise. Expectation. Jealousy. Frustration. Fear. Followers. And something incredibly static.

The host stood up to acknowledge her, and she masked her discomfort with a wave to the crowd and an appreciative nod to the host.

“Welcome to the Show! Your show! Please have a seat.”

“Thank you. And thank you all” she said, addressing the audience, “for coming to see such an ordinary person.”

The audience laughed to quickly brush aside the truth. But the slip of ‘ordinary’ from her tongue caused a regret to be born somewhere inside. She was a bestselling novelist. Her works were being translated across nations. And now a whole show was dedicated to her. What did she know about being ordinary?

Her novels were largely based on people settling into the arms of fame, of indifference, of illusion. Now she was standing, in one of her character’s positions, looking at fame’s outstretched hands. She was about to embrace everything she had written against.

“You are by no means ordinary. Please tell us about your childhood,” insisted the host. And the multiplying expectations collectively pushed the audience to lean forward.

Childhood, she thought. Why must my personal life be divulged in front of the world? I’m not a £#@&!$% carcass on display. Can I expect these gazes to comprehend the lives of my parents, my siblings, our joys, our tragedies through a palette of words, a series of images? Are these people surgeons who would dissect my past, and patch up the bruises that no one has ever seen, which no one can understand?

“My childhood was pretty simple. My parents loved and fought, and so I had many opportunities to laugh and cry. I had two siblings and my grandmother lived with us. There is nothing really special which stands out.”

The host shifted in his chair. Just slightly.  And the chair made a small uncomfortable noise, as if the heart of the host was actually resting in the chair. Shifting his gaze to the audience, he said,

“You must tell us more,” he said, and shifting his gaze to the audience, “I’m sure everyone would like to hear more details. Some particular event. Someone’s death?”

The audience cheered. Auctioning for a piece of the prized carcass. She wondered how much her smile was worth. How much for her presence? How much for her childhood? Oh, wait, not the entire childhood, only the most tragic parts. I’m extremely sorry. The childhood is already reserved for some special buyers. Her dreams are still on sale, if you’re interested.’

She had been foretold about the questions the host would ask. But now, she felt like a part of a script of her own novel. And her heart, Maya Angelou’s caged bird began to peck at her skin. So, she decided to play a game while keeping herself under the tent of the script.

She smiled a comforting smile, and the host’s chair began to breathe in regular intervals.

“I had a brother who died early, at the age of 19.”

As soon as she mentioned death, the host relaxed further, and his doubts about the show’s popularity began to diminish. For the audience, death had put a cloak of silence and attention upon them. She looked from the host to the silent listeners. She was a magician now; a magician whose wand would be her words. But, was she about to cast another spell on people just to free them from their previous spell? No, no, she was going to be a magician who would reveal the tricks of her trade. No one needed to be fooled anymore.

“He died because he was diagnosed with a rare disease at the age of seven. So his death did not surprise us. We accepted it. Or probably even looked forward to it. So his presence and his pain would not burden our heart with an unnecessary weight. And so he passed away quietly. On a normal day. With no storms. No strong wind. But he was a seed, nevertheless, a seed that is now a tree inside a garden of my mind.”

The host’s heart again shifted uncomfortably, this time, without much disguise, and he raised his hands and opened his mouth to change the topic, but she continued,

“He reminded me that his life was not different from each one of our lives. The way we treated his death is the way we treat our zest, our imagination, our curiosity, and our purpose. You, as a child, are born with it. But you let it die quietly. And you accept its death. And that’s the most unacceptable part. And once it’s died, you want its presence to disappear as far as your sight can spread. And then, you begin to breed discipline, rear authority, build towers of faith that stand without a base, erect monuments of illusion, of lust and greed, and you hide it under the cloak of progress, of expansion. And then you divide people, into who they can love, who they’re allowed to hate and who they’re allowed to shower their pity upon. You allocate an emotion for different people based on the returns that you get. And throughout the entire process, you never exercise your mind, and your thoughts look out from parched bodies because you are afraid of what they would do if they were to move.”

The host rose from his chair,

“I think it’s time for a break now. Everyone could definitely use one,” but just as he was about to signal for the curtains to fall, she got up, and began to shout, but with a smile,

“All of you sitting here have already put me on a lofty pedestal, where whatever I say comes down as divine revelation. And this has ruined you! And will continue to ruin you unless you realise that you don’t need any one to write the script of your life. You don’t need any anchors which will bind you in a particular corner of an infinite sea. You don’t need any guides which will lead you to their goals. You don’t need me to tell you these things. The wood inside your minds has become drier than the desert, but that means it will catch fire quicker! And it has to! Because then it will burn all that is not required. And leave you with nothing, but ashes, so that you build, with your own hands, whatever structure that you desire. So you see, this show is a perfect example of sh*t wrapped in elegance!

You’re expecting inspiration from an external source, and that will just add to the number of people you run after. All of us, especially me, make me sick because our wrongs have multiplied and we have purposefully forgotten the math. In the east, you worship those who claim to be spiritually enlightened and, in the west, the materialistically enlightened. When would you dispel your pettiness and realise your greatness? When are you going to embrace infinity?”

The host was, by now, also up from his seat, his anger was glaring out of his elegant mask, and just then the curtains fell on the host and her. But the show returned shortly, and the curtains split.

“Thank you for joining us again. Our previous speaker had, unfortunately, suffered a serious nervous breakdown, which explains her truly incoherent ramblings. We duly apologise and hope that the next speaker would be able to compensate for the time wasted. So, please welcome…”

Zain Murtaza Maken

Zain Murtaza Maken

A teaching fellow at Teach For Pakistan, he loves to write and read.

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