He remembers the day he finally surrendered, lying down on the back lawn, realising with relief that he could do nothing but allow the thousands of little snakes find their way to the surface. They had won! Plasters covered what the doctors called ‘crisis points’, where his skin was purple and smarting, in some places crusting over in an unpleasant way. His beautiful, smooth vessel, which his aunties had described as being like soft porcelain, had been betrayed from beneath, by the cruelness of his own inner world.
It started when Paolo was 14, with a shadow across his upper lip, as though it were the work of a pencil - if it had first appeared somewhere else, such as down below, he says he would’ve remembered. He reckons he was the only one in his year who sprouted such a huge amount of curly body hair, his system functioning with cheerful abandon. If only the parents had been more alert to the goings-on of their only child: his need to spend long periods locked up in the bathroom, the pinching of his father’s razor blades, the bizarre desire to place his flighty hands over exposed skin. The cuts, the rashes, the slicing open of under age flesh? No one got the chance to forcefully point out the madness of it.
The unwitting comments of some of Paolo’s friends had driven him to start the shaving, a painful and daily chore that involved sweeps up both legs and arms, his stomach and chest. He hates to bring back the memory of those unkind words: monkey man, tarantula, the fuzz. They seem so harmless now, yet back then, for a boy who wasn’t able to appreciate the miracle of a body’s transformation, it was a terrifying and lonely struggle. Paolo’s body hair, the eternal growth he hadn’t chosen, had to be eradicated, like a noxious weed that crowds out everything else. It became medicinal to hack away the feeling of intrusion, the feeling of having something unseemly on his skin. Of course, people started to notice the plasters. The razor blades, often at the end of their lives from trying to keep the years off his father’s face, had to be pushed harder against the skin, scraped along as though soil were being ploughed. Teenage spots on his face were always sliced open, never given the chance to heal over, denying him a handsome launch into the future.
Poor Paolo was still a child. The hair hadn’t understood the innocence of its target and had no right to take up residence in what was still such a juvenile sanctuary. The new man was still among the boys, still in a land of milky complexions and angelic pureness.
Today the hair has begun to change colour, but it still continues to rise up from beneath. Suffice to say that Paolo and the snakes have never totally reconciled their differences. Every now and then, when he's alone, and the world gives him a little break from its relentless pace, he finds himself fantasizing about uncovering once again his smooth, pearl-coloured skin.
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.