Author : Thomas Desrochers
It was the most alien scene Naobi had ever witnessed, a deep fissure in the cultural settling tank of Paris that the light never touched.
It had been an enormous theater once, but the seats had been replaced with a jungle of private booths on the ground and in the air, connected by a maze of walkways. Every booth was wrapped in a stained-glass shell depicting events from recent history in graphic detail: the harvest of Aleppo, the sea of bones following the final hajj, the immolation of Toronto.
“Ket,” Naobi whispered. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
Ket’s brilliant violet eyes flashed back at Naobi from behind her burqa. “You said your uncle was Doctor Robert Mugabe, yes? Well this is where you’ll find him.”
The stage itself was backed by an enormous mural of a dozen naked women prostrate before a beatific looking Mugabe, made all the more bizarre by the women’s feathers, fur, claws, and bestial faces. A quartet of spotlights, the only lights in the theater, illuminated the mural and made the foremost domes glitter and cast multi-colored shadows.
A woman appeared before them. Naobi could barely focus on the woman in the dark – she was naked, but the contours of her body seemed wrong.
“Uying, selling, or artaking?” The woman looked Naobi up and down, and Naobi briefly wondered if this was what it was like to be a animal brought to market.
The momentary anxiety evaporated, replaced by shock, when Naobi realized the woman had no skin, no subcutaneous fat, her face locked in a perpetual lipless grimace.
“The girl is here to see the doctor,” Ket said, drawing the woman’s gaze away from Naobi.
Naobi held out her father’s brass service medal. “Give him this,” she pleaded. “He’ll understand.”
The woman took the medal and disappeared.
It was deafeningly silent in the clinic, the only sound that of a hundred white noise machines. The darkness and static was suffocating: Naobi felt she and Ket were the only ones in the clinic.
Movement on one of the aerial walkways caught Naobi’s eye: a figure moving purposely from booth to booth carrying a tray of glittering wine glasses. As the figure made its way toward the middle of the theater the lights illuminating the mural of Mugabe cast it – her – in faint silhouette. The figure must be, or once have been, a woman. Her hips were broad and her hair was done up in a tightly cropped ponytail. Her legs, Naobi thought, were all wrong. Instead of two distinct sections there were three, and the second joint bent opposite the first. And there, spilling from the base of her spine…
“Ket,” Naobi said, “is that woman a horse?”
Ket’s glanced back at Naobi again, her gaze frightening in its intensity. “Do you think that mural is a work of fiction? Do you not understand what Mugabe does here?”
“No,” Naobi said. “I don’t understand anything! My father never talked about my uncle. I only know he’s a doctor.”
A light flash flashed in one of the upper booths and for a brief moment the woman was cast in sharp relief: the body was a woman’s, but the legs, the head, the chestnut coloring –
“Naobi.” There was a hard edge to Ket’s voice. “You need to go home. You don’t belong in this world.”
“I can’t go home.” Naobi’s voice was tight. “Nobody can go to my home now. That’s why I was sent away. That’s why I’m here.”
The skinless woman materialized again.
“The doctor will see you now.”