8 Pool Ball
Anything oily or creamy on my body makes me wanna rip my skin off. Even now I’m growing older with no moisturiser in my bathroom cabinet. I like my skin all wrinkled up. My very own hourglass of time
I used to like Halloween. Then an 8 pool ball taped inside a squeaky caveman club whacked me in the stomach, and I didn’t like it anymore.
The year my father hit his sales target, he got rewarded with this fully expensed trip for two to Egypt, or maybe it was Paris. My parents packed two suitcases the size of a fridge, and between our goodbye kiss and tons of souvenirs to unwrap, I stayed in this ground-floor flat my grandma used to live in.
The kitchen was next to the bathroom. You had to dodge my grandma’s frying pan to bend your knees and squat on the loo. My grandma was always frying onions or boiling potatoes, and that saved on bathroom candles and lavender deodorant.
My parents attempted a short call on the landline and that cost more than a night at the hotel. This was when mobile phones were only in Sci-Fi movies. When no one knew what the internet was and TV had only six channels. Most of the movies were in black and white with dialogues popping up on the screen typed in white letters and surrounded by a shaky frame.
Then Halloween came. While my parents were visiting the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower, my friends ring up my grandma’s rotary phone and ask to go out for a walk. I didn’t say no. I just asked, why?
They said, it’s Hallowed. It’d be fun.
A few weeks before I was kicking about on the street with my best friend. My brand new denim on and my mother yelling from the balcony that if I ripped them, she would have ripped off my neck. I told her not to worry, with the confidence you always display when you don’t pay bills and don’t have a fridge to fill.
Then this kid all boney shoulders and dandruff spread over his eyeglasses, he pops up from around the corner and asks for our football. Proud as I was, I didn’t say no. I just asked, “Why?” And he shovelled his knuckles into my stomach and took the football anyway.
I fell on the asphalt, and a hole of blood and ripped denim opened up on my knee. My mother didn’t rip my head off, but she screamed so much with teary eyes and rooted veins on her neck, I wish she had slapped me instead.
The ghost of that kid always floated around the street I used to live in. I’d check out every corner from the balcony before going downstairs. Peeking out of the front door waiting for him to snatch another football from me, but he never turned up again.
On Halloween afternoon, my friends went out. And you could see all costumes and make-up walking by my grandma's glass front door which gave onto the living room.
Get yourself a ground-floor flat and you become a zoo for all passersby. A live TV show for everyone to watch.
And maybe my grandma was tired to have me all bored and dragging my feet around, but she said I should really go outside. In the end, it was Halloween.
She insisted. She said I would have regretted it. The same way they regretted the war, the famine they went through, the trenches and tons of other historical references I really missed back then.
So I went.
No mask. No costume. No make-up. Anything oily or creamy on my body makes me wanna rip my skin off. Even now I’m growing older with no moisturiser in my bathroom cabinet. I like my skin all wrinkled up. My very own hourglass of time no one can touch.
My last costume was this little Napoleon uniform. My father must have thought it was cheap and funny. Historical and epic. It came with a bicorn hat and golden buttons all the way to the bottom of the jacket. High black boots that were really just a piece of cloth wrapped around my sneakers.
There’s a pile of photos catching dust in some drawer at my parents’ place with me posing as a French revolutionary. One of my sleeves always buried under the jacket. All my parents’ friends kept telling me to shovel the palm of my hand between two buttons. They’d say to keep it flat and hidden, because that’s what Napoleon used to do. They found it somewhat hilarious. Didn’t understand it then and still don’t understand it today.
So I went out with my tracksuit instead, casually strolling on the street, because hey, in the end, it’s Halloween.
The town I grew up in has this spiderweb of tiny streets and alleys you can get lost in. That comes in handy when you’re wearing your flip-flops and a straw hat snapping pictures to send to your friends overseas. It comes less in handy when a heard of zombies and serial killers marches towards you in a modern remake of a Civil War.
All alleys meet on this main street that crosses town from side to side. Where all the expensive shops no one can afford show giant photos of bras, underpants and swimsuits. At the weekend a flock of families holding hands floats back and forth waiting for dinner time. But today the main street was all surrounded by fences and blocked the traffic.
Inside, trapped and strolling from side to side a herd of screaming faces, and monsters smeared in slime and blood, and skeletons with fat faces and pirates with an eyepatch and dead parrots on their shoulders.
A smell of sweat drying on synthetic fabrics and all the cigarettes kids were smoking. And a stomping. There are stomps and thuds. Thuds of something heavy hitting hands, hitting bones, hitting the metal fences.
And when I cross the fences I see where it’s coming from.
Those kids, they vivisected squeaky club toys and opened them up with a knife and filled them with pool balls and stones. Then wrapped everything back with industrial duck tape making sure balls and stones didn’t move when hitting a skull, a jaw, a shin. A zombie and Frankenstein also carved holes for spikes. Thorns and needles glued in. Halved chopstick sticking out.
My friends, they told me to meet on the main street. We could have found each other in the crowd. But the herds of masks and make-up faces are not just strolling, they march together in gangs, banging their reinforced clubs on their hands. The war horn before a revolution.
And the bigger the gang of monsters is, the bigger the void opening up in the crowd when they’re marching. Until they bump into another gang coming in the opposite direction. Then everyone freezes in a standstill. Looking at each other like extras from a horror movie on a cigarette break.
Someone shouts, a shrill, growling. They lift their clubs up in the air and start running towards each other with no horses or coat of arms. They swing their clubs, and pool balls and stones on each other bones. Knuckles hitting noses that break and bleed. Real blood over fake blood, everything is all dark red and sticky you can’t really see the difference.
Look closer and around the street you see some of these kids limping. Hands clumping their faces, tapping the back of their heads. Dripping blood, leaving a trail on the asphalt that leads nowhere.
And me, I’m walking hands in my pocket, chin down and waiting to recognise anyone. I’m all excuse-me-please and thank-you-so-much and sorry-I-stepped-on-your-toes and I keep looking for my friends.
And then I stop.
I stop because the crowd opened up and left this big empty void in front of me. A gang of monsters dripping fake and real blood and hammering clubs stands in front of me. They look at my face with no mask and no make-up. My tracksuit with no costume. And the guy up the front, he lifts his green squeaky club with an 8 pool ball still visible under the duck tape. He runs towards me. And when he’s close enough, he swings the club and the 8 pool ball whacks into my stomach.
Something cracked. Something hurt so much I couldn’t talk. I just started crying. I cried and ran. And of course, all the gang of monsters started running after me. Hand on my belly like I used to with my Napoleon costume, and I’m pushing pirates and zombies away. I’m sneaking under people’s clubs and wrenches and hammers. I run towards the metal fences, I run through the alleys, I run until the stomping sounds distant and far away.
When the day later my friends asked me where I was, I told them Halloween had never been my thing. I told them I stayed home watching TV with bubble dialogues written on a shaky frame.
After I sprinted away through all the alleys I stopped at the corner of my grandma’s door. Hand shovelled on my belly like Napoleon used to do. Waiting for my tears to dry. Waiting for my heart to stop beating on my face.
My parents came back and suffocated me in a long hug. They fished out of their bag a small reproduction of the Sphinx made of copper, or maybe it was a snow globe with the Eiffel tower and all of Paris drawn in the background. My mother, she asked how Halloween was and I said, pretty good. It was fun. It just wasn’t my thing.
And my mother, my mother to whom I always speak in glances, my mother who knows how I’m feeling even before I tell her, my mother whom I dream of when something happens to her even miles away, without saying a word she squeezes me back to her chest, she kisses my head and says, “Next time you’re coming with us.” She says, “Turkey was beautiful.”