"Baptism of a Barbarian" by Kurt Kamin

Categories: ISSUE 03: Edgar

Baptism of a Barbarian
I curiously watch the thin, reddened string of saliva as it descends, only to quiver ever so slightly while it dangles over the latrine. Seeing that the thread, however tenuous, would not break, I suck it back up into my mouth. The practice itself, looking at it from anybody else’s point of view, must be revolting. Indeed, as I squat over the privy ditch, I take note of the smell that I have become so inured to during my stay. Back home, people would freak about the smallest things. Girls would pull faces and refuse to do anything they considered “gross,” regardless of the situation (hypothetical or otherwise). Guys would order their food and then send it back or ask for a refund. Me? I’ve been bitten by fleas, covered in human sewage, came down with a mysterious hemorrhage-producing illness, and have eaten things most people would retch at if they saw. Now here I am, contemplating the blood in my saliva over a latrine.

The latrine is the only real option for heavy-duty bathroom destroying at this point. In fact, it’s the only real option for any bathroom destroying at this point. Water pressure in the compound proper is spotty at best, so we are all relegated to using the latrine. Squatting is hard to get used to, but it’s not so bad once you get over your self-righteous, well-bred disgust of the smell, one which pervades the entirety of the simple walled-off structure. It was constructed of concrete and does have a roof, although the doors—of which there are two, one side being for men and the other for women—consist solely of draped, sun-bleached sheets. The sheet I am used to is rather bright and lively, and although sun-bleached, still sports pleasant broad pink, white, and yellow lines. The latrine itself is the tiled trench set into the poured concrete foundation of the outhouse, built to slope from the far women’s side to the nearer men’s side. It passes under the wall that divides the two small rooms, so it all ends up flowing to and through the same small opening in the men’s half.

A tooth had been bothering me to no end for well over two years. I went to get it looked at, as the whole thing was free and I’m poorer than fuck anyway. Well, as it turns out, this tooth, this wisdom tooth, was growing in from the side and was half-buried in my gums. The part that wasn’t buried caught years’ worth of food, mostly strings of meat, and allowed it all to rot. The tooth had to come out. Lucky me. The dentist took a needle and roughly jabbed it, once, then twice, then a third time into the cartilage in the corner of my mouth. Being content with the third time, as it is simply always the charm, he began to twist it around while I had to endure the sensation—all while listening to the cartilage as it was rent asunder. Five minutes later he produced a small hammer and a pointed chisel. Holding the chisel himself, he instructed the nurse to hit it with the hammer as firmly as possible. And then he inserted the chisel into my mouth, onto the only exposed bit of the crown visible.

I smiled the whole time. Not because it was pleasant, because let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing pleasant about feeling the reverberations in your jaw produced by a hammer and chisel. Even with poorly-administered Novocain. No, I smiled because my woman was there, and she was extremely worried about the whole thing. I laughed through the bloody cotton stuffed into my mouth after it was done, just to prove to her I was alive and well. But the two days of constant blood I ended up alternatively spitting and coughing out? That was just a constant reminder of the serious, suicidal thought-inducing pain that wracked my skull. But now here I am, squatting over the latrine after the first bowel movement I’d had in days due to my inability to eat. And here I am, marveling at the faint traces of blood that are still present in my saliva. I watch as I spit the last stubborn remainder upon the ill-fitted white tile of the latrine while subconsciously thanking God that I don’t feel much of the pain anymore. And later tonight, the blood will be gone, and with it, the remaining traces of pain.

I turn the spigot to fill up the bucket that’s used for flushing. As always, I will make sure to fill it up again after I flood the latrine with a surge of water. It’s a lasting habit of winter, when the lines would freeze, making it impossible to flush anything. I spit again, impatient for the pulpy socket in my jaw to heal. Still blood.

It is truly amazing what a human being can get used to.

--Story by Kurt Kamin