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Volume 11

Prequel - January 2013


Written by
Najia Yousaf-Zai

A student who is interested in literature and sociology. Najia tweets at @nskyz


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Prequel: The Aloo


Before everything, there was an aloo. Let us examine this aloo: bracket it in your head. Hold it suspended, in space, a little brown aloo, the phenomenon that created phenomena. The aloo you imagine has connotations; it is probably an aloo you have seen. Amazing, isn’t it, potato-based philosophy. I suspect it will appeal to the Irish. But I digress.

So, I don’t know why my madness chose to manifest itself, first, in an aloo. Perhaps, we can even call it THE aloo – it could have been another aloo, after all, for I have peeled many an aloo in my lifetime. However, possibly a bigger, more important question is: How did I forget about the whole thing?

Well, technically, I did not forget: I can recall it perfectly well. It’s just that I didn’t attach any significance, at the time, to the sudden, building belief that the potato I was about to peel was conscious. Thus, I failed to think about it again.

The thing is – well, like they say, you don’t know you’re crazy when you are. There’s a very fine line. For example, if you see a shadow out of the corner of your eye, are you crazy? If you were confused about your own body for the first twenty years of your life, are you crazy? If you considered throwing everything away to start a life on your own, by yourself, are you crazy?

Questions, questions. The point is, the line doesn’t exist, not really. People draw it. I am drawing it now, divvying up everything between sane/insane, and I say now that it really wasn’t the first time when I threw Akbar’s bicycle off the balcony that I thought something non-sentient to be, well, sentient.

I think it is pertinent, though, to mention that you don’t technically know that everything around you isn’t conscious, either. Ooh, there’s a thought, isn’t there? I didn’t say this; philosophers have. Would you throw them over to this side of the border too?

The bicycle and I had an argument, right and proper. Akbar hadn’t been talking to me at the time, but that wasn’t why. That doesn’t even begin to cover why, because the bicycle had been ridiculously rude regardless of our relations. In fact, it was probably ruder when Akbar and I were on good terms, but I digress again.

Sometimes realizations hit you really hard. Everybody told me I was crazy then, and I got beaten for it (my parents had the best intentions, though), but I didn’t come to see myself as such. Now that…time has passed, I realize that all of these things I thought to be true weren’t happening.

They say I have a very high IQ, and that this happens to people in my case. I don’t know if I am smart because I am crazy or crazy because I am smart, and I like to think about this question sometimes, because it is relaxing. I don’t know if it will lead me anywhere, but I do it regardless. Actually, even if it leads me nowhere, that nowhere can be a somewhere.

Some people believe that everything happens for a reason, but not in terms of causality. In their world, everything that happens has to do with what other people are up to, or have done in the past. When it comes to natural disasters, they rarely blame themselves, or their actions, though I can safely say that nobody is innocent; their blames go, then, to mysterious, faceless groups that are defined by their actions. In a way I think they have a version of my madness; I give life to objects, and they turn people into objects, reducing entire lives to actions.

It was rather square-shaped one. I was peeling it with a potato peeler, rather than a knife. It was cold, and wet, because I’d washed it. As I held it in my left hand, its strange ridges against my palm, I peeled it with my right, exposing the yellow.

It spoke to me, but not like you would think. It didn’t sprout funny yellow lips and start speaking in a high-pitched voice. I just knew. I knew it didn’t want to be peeled. I wasn’t too perturbed by it, or this revelation. I just set it down on the table, washed my hands, and went back to my room.

Nothing happened that night.

Or the day after that. Or the month after that. Or, even, the year after that. Nothing, no problems. I think I even ate the same potato that night for dinner; somebody else must’ve peeled it.

Maybe the potato infected me with madness. Maybe the potato was mad.

When you’re a kid, there’s always a douchebag in your class who tells you to not eat seeds, because they will grow inside you. I always imagined this in vivid detail; the thin, springy stalk making its way up my oesophagus, and branching out in my throat, making its way out through my mouth and eyes…

Maybe the potato was like that, because as far as I can go, that is the only prequel to the episodes that followed, a couple of years later, I would say, because Akbar had just bought a Superman sticker after watching the new movie, and stuck it on his cycle, and in the interim the madness within me had been dormant, but thereafter grew and flourished.

Maybe if I would have never acted on my beliefs, I wouldn’t know I was mad today. It would’ve lain within me, but I would be sane.

In fact, I am probably sane if I tell doctors about the beating. They’ll think, then, that this is all an understandable response because I was abused. I can tell them that I know that it was all a mistake, and then I am sane.

I counted it as an insignificant display of a symptom, but now I think…now I think that the potato must be the root of it all. After all, my mind chose to bring it to life first. Why not the table? Or the chair? Or the walls?

A pressing question: what if the potato actually did speak to me? What if all of these things speak to people only capable of hearing them, and thus everybody else, unable to understand, labels these people mad? Maybe we are the modern-day mystics, the shamans. Must we go extinct because the times want us no more? In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is dead.

To write a story, of course, one must first invent the universe, and within that universe, place things that are not like other things in that they know that they are things.

I know I am one of those things that know they are things

but sometimes I don’t know which things don’t know that they are things

and all I have to blame for it is a goddamn potato

…I could’ve just said I didn’t feel like having dinner.



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