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58. The family

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

The flat was near the university, so, though this was an Arab country, it looked very Western. The students had their phones and textbooks from Berkeley and they thought like people who had gone to Berkeley. If you stopped to talk to them you heard nothing of Muhammad but a lot about liberal democracy and development and progress and Nine Inch Nails. This was disappointing for Westerners looking to escape the West. It turned out, on arrival, that these exotic people just wanted to go to the mall and the concert and watch sitcoms. “What else is there?” said their faces. The people who were born in the West and had exhausted the status games of their own stratum sought escape in India or the Middle East. The people they met just wanted a visa and a chance to go to the mall and, if not they could not go, would advertise how fast their country was progressing. “We’re all the same, aren’t we?” said the girl with the textbook and the lazily arranged hijab; perhaps, then again it was rare to see a girl on the streets of Jordan at anytime of day. Soon enough, if she got her visa to study in London, she would be another blotch on the street, clutching her shopping, and seeking another status game relayed direct from a new media company on the West Coast.

The woman who showed me the flat was American, but she was too old to be playing a status game. She was, like me, in the Middle East because she was mad. As it turned out, my madness, a black grief born of a failed relationship, was temporary. This woman, however, had descended into the real thing. Perhaps she came here looking for something better than San Francisco, and perhaps her mind had been blown in India or Indonesia, strung out on some beach in the nineties on cannabis or ecstasy. However it had happened, she showed, from the moment I walked through the door, a manic aspect. There was a feral stare in her eye. We all know the mad—the really mad, the biologically mad, not just those who break social convention—in an instant and, like you, I am repelled by them. Forget the soft words faked for public consumption. We humans are attuned to divine difference; for us, difference is an attack. We react to unconventional clothing as if it were a hostile act. The same goes for unconventional behaviour; we hate the mentally ill. So, as her mad aspect became apparent, I became uneasy and disgusted with her.

She had locked the door behind me and, as she showed me the bedrooms, all musty and suggestive of cat piss, I eyed the window for escape. It was only the first floor, I could jump if necessary. She babbled on about how she had come to Jordan to save the cats. The Arabs did not care about cats and she hated them, despite living, in this flat, with three Arabs—two Egyptians and a refugee from Syria. The rollercoaster descended when she told me about Obama; he had been trying mind control her, to stop her mission to save the cats of the Middle East. She was, quite literally, preparing tinfoil to protect herself; she told me this with all sincerity. I nodded and moved towards the door in small steps, not enough to provoke her to grab a kitchen knife. The madness was in the cats. These are magic animals, animals that live between two worlds, and they possess their owners. If you are of the mundane biological type, then there is a small parasite that lives in cat scat and burrows into their owners; it hijacks them and slaves them to the static cult of schizophrenia.

I am not sure, five years later, that I did not contract that parasite in that stale apartment. Whether parasite or spiritual invasion, I have passed over from one madness to another.


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