Pepper Ink by Natasha Muhanji

Pepper Ink by Natasha Muhanji

My fingers are interlocked, palms against the smooth mahogany table and my right temple is on my right-hand wrist. My head is throbbing slightly but the light coming from the window across the dining table is beautiful. I cannot look away. The curtains are half drawn and the amber walls look brighter than they have been in years. I cannot pull my eyes from the light coming through the window. By staring at it, I feel that I can breathe. My chest is not heavy and I am utmost contented.

Past the dull throb of my fading migraine, I can think of nothing else as I stare at the light which oddly reminds me of someone. It reminds me of them and not in the sense that they are bright and pure and chaste. The blinding light is stark. It touches my eyes and makes my head throb deeper. The person it reminds me of is also sharp; like a knife held against my jugular. Threatening and thrilling, this danger of death in movement. I want to write about this person, I want to say everything that can ever be uttered.

Dear god forgive me for the things I want to write about a man.

I want to write about how his chin feels on my palm, my thumb on his jaw. I want to write and write and write until my fingers can’t do more . Forgive me, I want to write him a scream. Nestle it under my pen and draw it out on paper so everyone can see. I want to write myself an elegy for I have died and it is in his arms.

I want to crush pepper with my fingers into a paste so I might make more ink to write with. Write him a tale that burns and never stops burning.

To touch my eyes with my pepper-smeared hands so they might cry for him. Hold my tears on a porcelain plate to place on an altar as my atonement. To ask for forgiveness for my misgiving which is a cataclysmic love.

I want to gain a permanent sting on my skin from the pepper-smeared cuffs on my wrists. To make my skin raw with pepper too, so that I might place my head against his chest. To feel his heart beating through my raw skin. To understand its rhythm, imagine his ventricles pumping away, the red in his veins like decade-old wine in a chalice.

I want to hold his breath for him as it leaves his lungs. I want to walk in the scar next to his eye, build myself a home on his face, inside the scar, inside his body, under his skin.

I want. I want. I want.

Forgive me for I want him to see, my veins and my vessels, my slow self-indulgent dance around existence. I want him to see, view everything, like looking through the thin film of a housefly’s wings. I want to be seen and it burns me till I am ash, this urge to be seen for what I am.

I have mentioned that it burns but it is impossible to understand this feeling. I am feeling my being heat up entirely. My skin is raw and I am in bliss. My veins burn and I feel that I have pepper in my blood from loving.

Perhaps this is a wild miscalculation but I feel that I am growing pepper leaves inside me. I cough them up ever so often. They burn my throat on their way out but I do not swallow poison to kill them. I guess this is the price one has to pay for pepper-imbued love.

So today, with my temple on my wrist against the mahogany dining table and my eyes wide open, I am metaphorically skinning myself alive. I am starting myself like an unpeeled tangerine and I am destroying myself . Again I am starting myself and destroying myself. Starting myself and destroying myself till I wear out and remain a skinless being , heightening my sensation in preparation for contact with pepper.

Will I perhaps sit under the sun that I gaze at through the curtains in my rawness so that I dry up and form myself a new layer of skin after I am done experiencing the sting of pepper? Will the layer harden too like my last one? Will I peel it off and continue my cycle?

Perhaps I should actually peel my skin and disappear. Just like a tangerine that fits between the crests of my palm, perhaps I must peel myself too so that I can become a new girl for the sake of indulging in this emotion. To walk in with a clean slate and be pretty and new and clean.

Or is that perhaps neurotic? What do you think?

Well, actually it does not matter what you think for this is my experience I am letting you in on, with my head still against my wrist.

I am still staring at the light, saying please and it stops being a prayer but a demand. Saying please and asking the lord to forgive me for my obsessive thoughts. Is that why I am plagued with this throbbing migraine?

I am not entirely sure I want to be forgiven though for it is not a secret that I want to take. I want to have. To take it in my arms and cradle it softly. To place your ear next to its nose and seek signs of living. Does the mirror fog up when you bring it near your desire?

Is my desire a living thing or is it dead? Is my desire for a person the result of having’ in the past, or does my desire materialize out of thin air to swallow all that I want –like a black hole?

This the ultimate question indeed. And I cannot answer today amidst my rushing and misconstructed thoughts for my migraine is getting worse. I slowly lift my head from my wrist and walk towards the curtains, closing them and reaching for the cupboard for painkillers. I will try to understand some other time….

Natasha Muhanji is a Kenyan writer living in Nairobi . She was awarded the Sondeka Awards 2023 Short Stories Prize & has had works appear in platforms such as Synergy Collective, SecondSkin Mag The Qwanibok anthology. She currently serves as a Writer for Thee Cauldron & pursues her undergraduate degree at the University of Nairobi.




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