Angry Adolescence


by Jane Carnall

Sometimes we lie to ourselves. Mostly we lie to each other. But we hardly need to lie to mortals at all, because they don't know the right questions to ask.

When people ask me what I did during the war, I sometimes smile and tell them I am circumcised. It's true enough. But it's not a circumcision that any modern cutter would recognise. It was done with a stone knife when I was thirteen summers old, and then I was a man.

If my tribe had won its war when I was nineteen summers old - I had not seen battle till then, and nor had any of the men my age or younger - I would have been marked with the scars of a warrior. But we lost, and I think I may have died then.What comes through is pain: the cut of the stone blade on my foreskin, the savage bite of the spear through my ribs. I remember that, as I remember the wolf that bit me at my first kill: for a long time the scars were still there on my arm, though they are mostly gone now. When we heal, we heal clean.

I think the spear must have killed me. I remember the bite as it went in through my rib cage, the crunch of bones as it was pulled out: but there is no scar there. It's a blur, now: I remember that I remembered more, but it is like remembering a dream, a dimness, except for the pain.

I remember burning. That should have happened when my tribe lost its war: after the men had been killed, after the women who were acceptable as slaves (did I have a mother living? Sisters? I don't think I had a wife, since I was not yet a warrior, but I might have had a woman among the slaves of our tribe - and all of that is gone, since it did not hurt enough to stay) had been herded off to be divided between the warriors or made common property of the winners, after that they would have piled the bodies of the fallen warriors and those who were no use as slaves and were slaughtered like pigs - after they had done all that, as I saw it done myself, they would have burned the village.

I remember the burning. I have loved the fire ever since. There is no pain like it.

There is not much I remember afterwards: I must have crawled from the ashes, still alive, blackened with pain, because I remember falling into water with a shock of cold, the worst pain of them all, feeling flesh dissolving into the stream, unable to do anything but drift in the cold, the screaming cold, dissolving me.

He pulled me out. Naked as a child I came into his arms: he held me like a brother. I loved him from that moment. I remember that, even though it didn't hurt. It hurts now to remember: how much I loved him. Perhaps that's why.

The next thing I remember is taking a head: I remember it rolled in the dirt, and the red dirt became redder and muddier. I remember the lightning struck, and I lived.

I loved him, my brother: we shared everything. Until he went away, and though I searched I did not find him, and our younger brothers were lost, and I thought them dead. I knew he lived: I knew he could not die until I took his head.

Until then, there was always fire. People burn.


595 words, 31 minutes

August 2002

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