The Game of Skin

by Maniza Naqvi

Now in this damp, stiff swollen fingers, mine, once slender, of gossamer touch, which pierced skin with steel, silk, molded spheres, to be kicked by heroes, turned warriors, turned champions, turned angels in distant lands, on green fields and roaring theaters of fierce contest of fury and cheer. Yet I am not there, at the game, but I am present, in every single game. They don’t know do they, that without me, the game would not be, that without me, they, howling with joy, howling in expectant yowls and cheers awash in victorious and defeated tears, and beer, this ritualistic collective catharsis, all of this, without me, would not happen, would not be. This story. Where am I in it? What is history but unspeakable violence, erasure and invisibility, spat and polished into and put a sheen upon, to create a mirror for those who look. Yes, a mirror, after all that effort to put a spin on it, we can’t get away can we from ourselves? Won’t we all in trying to cross drown in our collective grief? It is I, bobbing in steel on these shores, not allowed in, who’s fingers bloodied by a thousand pierces, who’s eyes blinded by constant attention who brings them this. These intricate delicate, fine, exquisite fingers, this attentive keen sight, this laboring, I bring them this, the very thing they claim as their soul a distilled meaning and morphing to something sublime. I who they bar from entering. I, who has been left un-reading, unread, now thirsty, hungry, suffocating. I who makes all of this. I who am their constant dread. Left for dead. But I am here, here, off shore, there in that field, in that theater, amidst the squeals of joy. No, the game does not happen without me. And now, hidden here, bobbing, stealing away in steel, floating, lurching on waves upon waves, broken away from that bondage of needles and stretching skin for a perfect sphere for kicking, I am here. A prisoner of contained fates. The Adriatic laps outside: the smell of salt, octopus, fir, citrus and jasmine presents itself in the way of salvation in the way of pain, unforgettable almost impossible to conjure in language, in memory, how to give words to the scent of lavender and black pine and Crni bor. Or those left behind. Equally uncontained perfumed keys unlocking the mind. No, the game doesn’t happen without the likes of me. But I am suffocating now, I am contained here in a coffin of steel, upon the sea, unwanted, unwelcomed, unseen, listening to the cheering roar of a crowd ecstatic as some adored gladiator whips it into net—that sphere of skin I have sewn. The game, I cannot enter, does not happen without me.