Gorgeous photos by Emily Shur from our eyewear-inspired fashion spread in the PAPER Spring 2013 issue.
My new track. Enjoy!
“Basic Humiliation” by Joseph Goldmund Davies
This was written in 2001, the Year of Streaming.
That day the sun had risen reluctantly into the grey morning sky. It had reasoned that it was no use lighting the world up in any particular extravagant manner as the November sky was clouded over anyhow.
Everything, every rock, every tree, every bush, bore a melancholic tinge of grey as if a vandal had been at play with a brush. A little earlier the birds that lived in the big mango tree had been conducting a symphony but ceased after some time, subdued by the oppressing thick morning air. It had been raining and the window above the boy’s bed was freckled by little beads of water. There had also been thunder and the boy had heard it in the semi-conscious state of troubled sleep. The rumbles had diffused and mingled with his dreams, and the chemistry had spawned a night pickled with images of kettledrums.
If there was a God he was having a bad hangover.
Stepping out of the house, the boy closed his thin grill gates, and immediately felt the cold grip his face like a hand of the undead. Soon his ears began to pink and its nerves lost interest in sending signals to the brain. He sniffed the stale morning air, feeling the underside of his nose sting with the cold.
The boy had walked down the path many times, but only that day did it strike him that the glistening of the wet surface was like that of dead fish in the hold of a fishing vessel.
“What a day for my cause,” he mused. “The manner of this day makes the word cliché sound more true than ever.”
It all seemed like a dream, walking along the slick wet path, stepping into muddy puddles that plagued the walkway. The boy walked the route he had walked for the last two years, and only that day did he really dread it. That day it had become a path leading into the jaws of hell itself.
After what seemed like an hour before it came, the boy boarded the old bus and gripped the iron bar above his head with a vengeance as the vehicle lurched forward with no regard for anyone’s life. The boy had caught the 6:50 bus, and he expected to arrive at his school in fifteen minutes. He hastily made his way to the back of the vehicle and sat down on a badly vandalized PVC seat. Stained upon the light blue skin of the seat were the words:
OSAMA RULES, GO NAZI!
The boy looked at the crude bold lettering and wondered how a badly educated teenager could confuse an Aryan-spawned fascist faction with a 21st century terrorist. There was no doubt that the vandal had a deep-seated child-like nature in him that had forced him to express his inaccurate views.
The boy had seen and heard many praises concerning the fall of America. It was childish, and immature, and the boy was disgusted by it. He thought of the foolish pastimes some people possessed. The vandal in this case, was, he guessed, a schoolboy of around fifteen or sixteen. He imagined the culprit scribbling those four words on the seat as if he was marking territory, like a dog at a fence.
The boy kept his mind on the subject for a few more moments, but soon lost interest. Then he remembered something and slouched back in his chair and crossed his legs casually.
“If Abigail boards this bus at the next stop I will simply close my eyes and I will pretend that I am sleeping.” He thought. “I will pretend to be asleep so that she will not speak to me. Even as she passes me my eyes will remain shut. I know that if she sits behind me she wants to talk to me and I know that if she sits far away she has no intention of doing so in the first place. Either way I will be asleep, lest she asks me about my streaming,” he took a deep breath. “ And if that happens I will wish I were dead.”
Luckily enough she did not board the bus. The boy had only realized this a few minutes later when he dared to open his eyes a fraction to survey it. He was relieved that she was not on the bus, but yet disappointed at her absence. Abigail was two years his senior. She lived in a large house around the corner from his house and sometimes took the same bus as him if it had not been raining. To him, Abigail was the most beautiful girl he had ever met. She had the perfect smile and charm, and she was in an A class, but yet he had no feelings for her. After all, he hardly knew her.
The boy had learnt that there could be no fruitful returns by having crushes on unknown girls. He was a practical and rather emotionless person. He had the ability to suppress his feelings and would show complete indifference when in contact with members of the opposite sex.
He found it difficult to spark a conversation with a female, and when he did, it nearly always ended in disaster. The boy was not a ladies’ man. He was far too practical to be of the sort. If something can’t happen, it won’t, so why waste time on the impossible?
That was a motto he kept in mind.
Along with his practical nature came the habit of analyzing the smallest and to some the least important of events. He smiled when he saw someone impatiently and constantly pushing the lift button in a lobby, somewhat convinced that by doing so it would arrive sooner. And he would look out for the reaction of a taxi-driver when a passenger passed him a fifty-dollar bill for a five dollar fee. Every other day he would see something that made him think. The week before he had noticed how his science teacher, when reading, did not use her eyes as much as she should. Instead, her eyes would remain stationary while her head acted as a pivot, guiding them. Thus when reading a report, her head would go into a frenzy of indecipherable dashes.
With this tendency the boy could tell what someone was thinking of him when he was being looked at. He examined the person’s behavior and could come to a conclusion of how one felt. The slow-down of speech, the absence of eye-contact, each was a tell-tale sign to the boy.
He had, over the years, found the world to be easily deceived by appearance. The fact that few people succeeded in looking beneath the surface of things, was to the boy, unnerving. The human world was a constant competition, each society perpetually trying to outsmart the other by means of outward form. With this belief the world judged what was right and what was wrong. The boy, himself, had fallen victim to this way of life.
He had, in more instances than one, found himself rejected and excluded by certain rings of society for the mere reason that he had the blood of a European. At one time of his life he was deeply affected by this semi-racism, and considered himself a complete alien, but this had changed with the course of time when the boy realized that his was a supreme mind, more capable than anyone’s will ever be. With these incidents he had, over a certain period of time, learnt to suppress his anger to a certain extent, by viewing things in a more intelligent way than most people would.
All this could easily be regarded as an asset to many, but the boy had found that it to be a liability in more ways than one. With this talent he had gained a wider perspective of how one’s mind worked. This generated a monstrous paranoia of humiliation. Humiliation was something he was haunted by, as it exceeded the capacity of his anger-suppressing aptitude. He had, basically, a phobia of embarrassment.
That day, ladies and gentlemen, was to be one of the most humiliating days of his life. The day before, the infamous results of the secondary two streaming had been released. Three hundred students flocked to the foyer, where the results were pinned on cheap cork boards. Three hundred fingers traced the board, searching for names.
“How cruel it is,” the boy thought, “To pin someone’s weaknesses on a board for show.” He had scrambled through the mass of writhing bodies to get to the board. He had not been interested in doing so at first, but curiosity got the better of him.
And curiosity killed the cat. How cruel.
Once again he thought of glistening dead fish as he walked up to his school. It must had been a great storm if the rain had fallen on both his home and his school. The murky puddles looked up at him as he walked, head down, to the old foyer. He saw his own darkened reflection staring back at him. He began to conclude that the reflected boy on the surface of the puddle was the only friend he had that day, himself.
So far so good. No one had approached him, no one had forced a lie out of him. He hoped his luck would hold. Fat chance.
“Hey!” someone shouted. The boy walked on as if he had heard nothing. He wished fervently that the person was not talking to him. If he is then let him tap me on the shoulder, he thought. To fulfill the irony there came a tap. He spun around.
“Hello,” the boy said, hiding his forlorn look. “Lovely morning.” He did not care if it wasn’t one. His sole objective was to prevent the subject of streaming from arising. He forced a cheerful smile onto his clay face.
Zhen Wei sniffed the air. He coughed.
“Yeah, lovely morning.” He replied. He wondered if he was the only one who thought the morning was completely dreadful.
“It must have rained last night.” The boy said, pretending to notice for the first time. He knew he could not keep the decoy up for long. He had already noticed Zhen Wei’s faked coughing, a sign that subject needed to be altered.
“Yup, it was a big storm, that.” Zhen Wei said. He looked up at the morbid, grey sky. Then asked, “By the way, what class have you been allocated to?”
The boy saw it coming and was prepared. He had come up with a lie in bed before he slept the night before, and was all set to use it if a need arose. He answered without skipping a heartbeat. His constant study of human nature had taught him to shorten the pauses that involuntarily appeared in speech while lying.
“Oh, 3E, but I’m not sure yet, you see, I’m kind of appealing,” he said. “You know how it is with our principal.”
He hoped he did.
“Yeah, I’m appealing too.” Zhen Wei said. He sniffed again.
“Oh really? For which class?” the boy asked. He didn’t really care, but added the question to be casual. That was the key of disguise. Be casual.
“3A, because it’s a Geography class and all”
The boy could see that Zhen Wei was pleased that he had beaten him. In his head he swore. The absence of eye-contact was a direct sign. The boy could feel his anger trying to well up, only to be stifled. He didn’t feel any better by lying. He was merely delaying the inevitable, and he knew it.
“Well, good for you.” he said. He didn’t mean it. He never liked Zhen Wei in any case. He hoped he couldn’t get into 3A. He hoped that he would live the rest of his life with the conscience that he was a failure.
“You too. And whatever happens, 3E is sure better than being stuck in the F class.” Zhen Wei replied, patting him on the back and walking away.
This time, the boy felt his heart skip. He looked at him walking away. So this was what people thought of 3F. The last resort. The end of the road. The world deceived be a single letter. A world deceived by appearance.
Half an hour later, under the white mortuary light of the classroom, the boy pondered upon what to put in the journal he was forced to write in. He twiddled with his ball point pen. The big fat book sat on his desk like a hen ready to be butchered.
It was said to be a student profiling book, but the boy had known long before that it was just another device to suck personal secrets out of the students. That was why he had never written anything truthful about himself in it. All around him the happy voices of people played. They danced around his head, those voices, taunting him. He casually sat still on his chair and fixed his mouth into a straight line, neither showing signs of happiness or despair. His pen wavered above the paper. He wrote:
“When I look around I feel betrayed by my peers. They smile at me, but I know they shun me. I have studied harder than some of them have ever done in a lifetime of studying. Take my second language for example. I leapt from an F9 to and A1 in one term. One term. I have and A1 for English, art, French, and Literature. Is this what I deserve? Is this my prize? Today I sit here with the feeling that this is a unjust school. But I curb this thought because it is immature and childish, something I am not. I have a voice inside me that tells me I am a loser, but with all my willpower I cannot restrain this voice, because it is a fact and I cannot go against a fact. My life is a sad loss.”
The boy paused and looked at the ceiling. The white fan stared down at him. The voices were no more, only the sound of his own voice in his head could be heard. He looked down and commenced.
“There are times when I doubt my genius. I am a big man in a small man. I am bound by algebra, physics, electronic configurations, factors and multiples, statistics, acids and alkali, simultaneous equations, quadratic graphs, polynomials, all of these in which I have no interest in. Out there is a world that was, is and will always be enslaved by these means. Sometimes I want to break loose and make the world the way I want it to be, but I am as enslaved as anyone else. A single life is irrelevant, or so they say. Today I will put on a plastic face that will deceive my peers, but inside I am a downhearted man. Today I will be an empty eggshell painted gold.”
He stopped. The pen lay in his hand like a toy. His hand throbbed. The boy looked at what he had written, and realizing that what he had written was the truth, reached hurriedly for a correction pen and the words ceased to exist.
Humiliation is a general word. It is a word used for the act of injuring someone’s pride, the cruel action of inflicting shame and destroying dignity. The development of the human race had given rise to two basic ways of humiliation. There is of course, the art of mockery, which has been practiced from the early ages in a variety of countries. In middle-aged England, anyone found fit would be sent to the stocks, where his head and hands would be cordoned with a block of wood. The peasants, overjoyed to discard their rotten wares freely, would congregate around the poor soul and do so in his direction. The convicted would be mocked by the uncouth crowd for hours before passing out.
The Romans, on the other hand, had more effective ways in setting an example for the population to see. Crucifixion, for example, was one of their favorite methods of doing so. Again the peasant population would gather, but here mockery is seasoned with pain. The blunt nails would drive an inch into the bark through one’s hands and feet, causing considerable pain in the mentioned areas.
Even in modern history mockery has been used. After the first world war the Germans were forced into the Treaty of Versailles, which stated that it had to lose much of it’s land and resources. The empire was put under a large umbrella of shame and defeat for years. Under this atmosphere of shame and defeat the Weimar Republic was born. The country faced many prosecutions and trials and the people began to grow tired of the pressure of the oppressing reigning powers. Then an opportunist arose. An opportunist called Hitler. The man oiled the German war machine and made his fellow countrymen into soldiers with hearts of steel. The German boots marched over many European countries in a flash. Banners adorning the inverted Swastika flew from every window. The strain unbalanced the great nations indirectly. As a result the world was thrown into war.
As you can see there are many ways to bring the pride of one to a rock bottom. It can affect a lone criminal or the entire human race. It is an efficient tool.
In the classroom there was no sound. The lights still glowed eerily white. There was no laughter, no smiles. The teacher stood at the whiteboard. Only the boy was smiling. His eyes were wide. He was putting on the best fake smile he could muster. He knew it looked plastic, but what did it matter? His diminishing willpower would soon be no more. And he would have to buckle under the weight of embarrassment. He knew what the side effects were.
First he would feel the prickling sensation on his cheeks, slowly increasing in intensity until it had amounted to a level of random heat surges on his neck and back. The little bolts of lightning would thrash up his backbone. He would feel a huge flame well up in his chest. He would wish that he were on the moon.
His mind would lose all control for a while, allowing the devil in his head to thrash and kick. Then in his mind he would scream. He would not look at anyone, lest they hear the screams within. All this time the weakened intellectual part of his mind would struggle to take command. The seizure would last approximately ten minutes, then it would cease, and his mind will reboot again. He would find a suitable reason for his outburst, and he would feel as if nothing happened. Only the permanent scar of shame would remain, like a radioactive cloud that takes decades to settle. He would spend the next two years of his life groveling in the unforgiving aftermath.
PITY! Pity is the most efficient way of humiliation, something that can so easily be harnessed. An economical way to snuff a human spirit. Of course, pitying a dog with one blind eye is very well. It is the generous humanitarian hand of one’s spirit. But to pity a man with capabilities which match any other man’s is a crude yet handy tool. The Britons never used pity, nor had the Romans, nor had the Chinese, nor the Turks, nor the Hittites. No great empire could use pity as a weapon, and had resorted to mockery instead. The boy had realized this. When his results had been released mercilessly to his friends he had met his worst enemy yet, pity. It was the silent fiend.
The boy could feel the little needles of pity reach out from all corners of the room. They played upon his skin like little fireflies. They talked, he swore he heard them, the little words blended with dishonour. They rang in his ears and told him how sorry they were for him, how they wished he was a bit cleverer. Soon his heartbeat slowed, as if a hand had reached in and grabbed it, as if stricken by a disease. The little fake smile grew smaller on his plastic face. He looked at the teacher who had told the class. Why did she have to tell his friends. He would have been better off just accepting his fate without the knowledge
of his peers. They didn’t have to know. THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO KNOW!!! Once again his rage tried to kick in, and once again it failed.
He could not hide his face, he really couldn’t. So his plastic smile remained, while in his chest his heart stopped beating. He foresaw the next two years of his life in a class of delinquents. He foresaw his future. For a moment he realized that he was not some intellect, but an ordinary kid. The thought lingered in his mind for a few seconds before he shook it off.
It had started to rain again. The drops of rain came down like little pearls. He become conscious of the fact that people were starting to speak to him in a slurred manner, as if he were special, some dim-witted idiot. He was tired of people looking at him sideways, he was sick of it. He hated everything. He frowned and this time his fury emerged victorious. He was enraged. He was incensed, and for a moment he enjoyed the might of raw hatred. He played with the idea of taking his own life.
As he sat on the stone bench alone, his uniform became wet and his shirt stuck to his back. The gel on his hair dripped of in white droplets. His mind came up with a intricate plan that he knew he would never achieve and would never dare.
Just to pass time he opened a wet piece of foolscap paper and drew a pen from his pocket. He wrote:
“This is a fate worse than death, of which I long. I know that if I have a gun I would go up into the hall where all nine hundred students are seated. I will walk up the stage and pick up the microphone. I would say ‘Hey y’all, I’m from sec 3F and I would like to say a few words.’ Then I would turn around so that my back is facing them, draw my gun from my pocket and insert the cold chrome barrel into my mouth. Sucking deeply I will curl my finger around the trigger and my blood would reach the front row of students and will stain the floorboards for years to come. Happy Thanksgiving!” He put down his pen. The words began to smudge like a flower blooming.
The boy experienced a deep seated satisfaction in writing the note. He could imagine the screams and he started to wonder strange things like who would be the first to touch his body, and the look on the principal’s face. He thought of the fine red spray of his blood descending on the student body.
The rain was heavy now. And the water soaked his uniform. His mouth warped into a smile, and soon he began to laugh. The sound echoed through the empty corridors of the building. He threw back his head and laughed for a good five minutes.
* * * * *
The boy didn’t kill himself. He did not have a gun, and the school would erupt with laughter if he had gone up with a knife. Besides, I have already told you that he wouldn’t have dared anyway. Suicides go to hell. They do. If the Bible had said that people who commited suicide didn’t go to hell, he would have killed himself by the time he was seven. Instead, he composed himself rather well. He had survived the humiliation, if it was something you could survive, but the eternal shame still stood, with him in its shadow. This was something he could not do anything about. Yet he could bear it. He was a practical boy from the start. He even occurred to him that maybe if he could bear it long enough the shame would disappear. Maybe someday he could look straight into his former classmates’ eyes and regard himself equal. Maybe.
But whenever he looked at his schoolmates he felt like he had been downgraded. The little things that got to him, they grew each day, like a cancer.
Then a few days ago, the boy was lying on his bed, trying to come to a conclusion on how a capitalist state and a communist state could co-exist in a fruitful manner, when he became aware of a little ball jumping around in his mind.
This little red ball bounced around his head at first, as keen as a fox, trying to get the boy’s attention. It impatiently lured the boy away from his thoughts. Then it started to bounce with a velocity of a shot-putt, smashing his thoughts that were too stubborn. It was then that the boy noticed it, and wondered what it was. In his head he caught the ball nimbly. Then slowly his body began to feel all warm and tingly. Little quivers of electric excitement dashed down his spine. He was bombarded by words and catchy phrases. He smirked. He had known this feeling before. A slight smile grew on his face and the boy, slowly
yet excitedly, walked out of his room to where the computer was. He looked at it and turned it on. He booted his word processor and his hand went onto the keyboard where it would stay for a long time. He began typing furiously, quickly and with fervency, but also with utmost care. A few times, he felt a sense of perfection set in, and he deleted his entire passage, only to start again. Every other minute, a new clever sentence would leap into his conscience, and he would find himself scrolling up and down, changing a paragraph or two.
He rummaged through dictionaries, thesauruses and history books to meet his unquenchable need. But after a few tries he had found that his story would never be what it looked like in his mind, yet he tried to get it as close to it as he could. Slowly, after a excruciating period of time the boy looked up at his pale blue monitor and found that he had written this story.
This time I’m going to make music which is lush, deep, and takes you places.