My name is Chris Junar. What would you like me to do today?
I can do many things. I am gifted in the fields of deception, endurance, and extrapolation. My special skills include speaking to you while rotating the base of my lower spine. This precise movement has been known to induce a hallucinatory, dissociative state. I could so carelessly lose my hard-earned gifts of deception, endurance, and extrapolation.
Who are you? What is your name?
You are dying, Chris Junar. Cancer, as we speak, has metastasized to a handful of your internal organs. You have a tumor. Two, to be precise.
You have two tumors.
Right. Of course. What else, then?
Don’t get smart now.
Good. Good. A shame, though…truly a shame.
The warden eyed Chris carefully. You staring at me? Eyeing me?
No sir. Not eyeing anybody.
So you’re not eyeing anything? Don’t have your eyes upon the earth, to see what’s beneath, don’t have your eyes in the skies, to see what’s above, don’t hold your eyes straight ahead, to see where you’re headed, don’t bring your eyes on God, to see what you’re worth?
And worst of all, not a single red, filthy eye of yours on me. Ha! Worthless you are, Chris Junar.
There is not a wind, only the threat of a hard rain. The air presses against my mouth and nostrils.
A rickshaw man stops me in the middle of the road; automobiles sound their horns with a furious thunder. The rickshaw man looks at me carefully and when he begins to speak, two snakes emerge from his body. The first, replacing his left eye socket. The second, his mouth. They are cobras, of average length and girth. They soon begin to bite and tear at the other’s flesh. One cobra remains.
The remaining cobra speaks, in a rich, tumbling baritone.
What brings you to this land of many confusions? Foreign to you! And in the heat of our murderous summers!
I was born here.
You are playing games. What would you have to do with the streets of this city?
No, no, I was born here, said Chris. There was an insistent whine and tremor to his voice.
I was born here in the year of the dog…or was it the rooster? I’m quite certain I was born here! I was born here, in a local hospital. I’m sure of it. Almost certainly. I was conceived much further south, in the rural provinces far beyond this lovely city.
The rickshaw man eyed Chris carefully. You have quite a story to tell, said the rickshaw man. Now give me ten paper notes, of the local currency, and be on your way. My reptilian ways could easily be the death of you. Know, however, that you are always welcome in my home, high in the mountains. I’m sure my wife would not mind.
What does your wife do, Chris Junar asked the rickshaw man.
She makes my life a living hell, curtly replied the rickshaw man. And she takes pleasure in slaughtering demons, so much so that her garments are made from their flesh. All the holy men in the land are afraid of her.
Have you tried to intervene, or offer her any advice? I’m sure demons are never a reassuring presence, but such violence could have its toll on any common bystander, caught in its path.
That was a stupid thing to say, said the rickshaw man, if you are sincerely assuming I haven’t already done everything in my power to soothe her bloodthirsty wrath. An idiot parcel of breath you have just uttered. As for common bystanders caught in her path, I can assure you their reverence and worship is unshakeable. They erect temples in her name, even if it’s the last thing they will ever erect in their miserable lives!
Chris Junar looked deeply into the rutted, sunken, pink eyes of the rickshaw man.
Why have you stopped me in the busy streets of this city, said Chris, when you have only seen fit to complain about your wife?
I go where my heart is compelled to go.
The breath in my lungs belongs to the township, the district, the municipal board of the cosmos, the public works department, the sanitation cooperative health initiative, the parks and recreation department, and the taxpayer’s commitment to both a sense of commitment and community.
Phrases tumble out from between my cracked lips, the fundamental jargons of the forgotten. My body marks the county line. I am at home in the comfort of the village. The postman tips his hat at me, just as I was stepping out into the sunlight of a warm spring day. I had a cup of tea, ten biscuits from Rosemary’s, a scone, a bit of pie, a smidge of crumb cake, five red apples, a fresh pot of coffee, and that stew, with the lobsters from Domenico’s cafe.
I went home without a care in the whole world.
A classroom full of children begin to chant.
Chris Junar will die! Chris Junar will die! Cancer infects his every inside, Chris Junar will die! He’s got nowhere left to go! More than one and less than four! It would not matter if it were ten! Chris Junar will die!
The classroom grew silent.
You are a hurt, wounded creature, aren’t you Chris Junar? You are surely a dead man, and even with numbered days you scamper and trample through the meadows with an idiot’s grace, breaking idiot wind, speaking idiot speech, and hearing nothing, nothing of use, nothing at all.
What use are you, Chris Junar? Why are you here?
I distrust everything, and anything that purports to be my savior is only an invisible dagger. But what do I know? The crowd and the sweet stench of the city streets? The quiet outer-limits, just outside city boundaries? The local shops, the lettered housing blocks? My home?
Or is it something else?
Who am I, I ask, for clarity and clarification. Clarification of what exactly I don’t know but, of course, there is much that I do not know. Inherent in every question and inquiry is the invisible dagger of a false answer.
Tell me the answer.
Tell me the answer, please.
Tell me now!
I wish to know. Do not be reluctant, and do not assume you are sparing my feelings. You are only hurting me in your assumed kindness. Reticence does me no good.
What has the warden told you? What information have you received from others? Am I dying? Will there soon be an end to all that is Chris Junar?
Chris Junar became frantic in his demands. Chris Junar was frightened, full of panic, dread, and terror. He lost his sense of dignity and in his raving, forgot his sense of shame.
It was the children, this time, asking the questions.
Is he going to be ok?
I’m scared. I don’t like this.
I want to go home, cried the children in unison, their voices somehow symphonic in their cacophony. I want to go home!
There is no end, and nowhere left to ascend.
There is nothing else left, when all that is worthwhile has been bled.
Chris Junar is dead. Chris Junar is dead.
Long live a forgotten king. Chris Junar is dead.
— Aniket Sanyal‘s poetry and fiction has appeared in D.F.L. Lit, Terror House Mag, Fugitives & Futurists, and Expat Press among other journals. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.