It was my sixth birthday when the little voice first spoke to me.
Please do understand, dear reader, that it wasn’t an abstract little voice. Oh no! It belonged to a little creature who lived inside my brain. But that creature had not, up until that point, ever said a word.
That creature wasn’t human. Far from it! Although its eyes were identical to my own.
If I’m to be totally honest, I must admit that I’m not exactly sure what it was. I’ve always just called it ‘The Egot’.
The egot’s skin was as red as hellfire, its hair was as bright as the midday sun, and its belly was as round as a pearl. It had webbed feet, elfish ears and lithe claws. I assumed it was male, but it could’ve been female; it was impossible to tell.
Yet, despite its peculiar appearance, I felt comfortable whenever I saw the egot. It possessed a powerful sort charisma which always put me at ease. It’d lift its flat cap, bend one of its spiky knees, and wink in a way which made its eye sparkle. Just seeing the egot made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
The egot was familiar. It was a part of the scenery of my mind. My companion. My friend.
But it had never spoken. Not until the day I turned six.
I was at school when it happened, sitting at the set of desks which I shared with five other pupils. The waxy floor was illuminated by white light. The smell of pencil shavings wafted through the air.
Our teacher, Ms Brown, was standing at the front of that prefabricated space. She was scratching a tiny nub of chalk along an indifferent blackboard.
“As soon as those brave explorers stepped foot on that distant land, they were attacked by a group of wild savages,” she told the class through a cloud of chalk dust.
“Ooh! Ooh!” screamed Snotty McGill.
I liked Snotty McGill. I liked all the children in my class. Back then, I think we all just tacitly assumed that we were equal. That we were all in the same boat. We didn’t really think about our different genders, races or classes. We just co-existed, like one big family.
I think Snotty McGill was actually called Sarah, but we called her ‘Snotty’ because she always had a cold. An hour seldom passed in which she didn’t either sneeze, pick her nose, or wipe a bogie onto her snot-encrusted sleeve. But she had such a lovely colour. That pink glow which comes with the flu used to engulf her like an aura. It suited her. She always looked so damn effervescent.
Anyway, as I was saying, Snotty McGill was waving her hand above her head.
“Ms! Ms!” she called. “What’s a ‘savage’?”
Ms Brown turned to face us. She looked chalky. Everything around her looked chalky. The floor was covered in chalk-dust and the skirting-boards were covered in chalky-ashes. Chalk residue glistened in Ms Brown’s bushy hair. It coated the points of her fingers.
“Well,” she said. “A savage has the body of a man, but not his civility. A savage is like an animal. He doesn’t wear clothes, live in a house, study or work. He follows his base urges; to eat, drink and reproduce. But he doesn’t have an intellect. He doesn’t have any ambition. He’s smelly, hairy and uncouth. He does the least he can to survive. And he spends most of his time sleeping or playing.”
Snotty McGill looked horrified. As did Stacey Fairclough, Sleepy Sampson and Gavin Gillis. Chubby Smith looked like he was about to start a fight. Most of the class looked dumbfounded. But I felt inspired.
‘They don’t have to go to school!’ I thought with envy and intrigue. ‘They spend all their time playing! They sleep for as long as they like!’
It was as if I’d stumbled across a species of super-humans. To me, the savages sounded like gods. I knew at once that I wanted to be one. I’d never been so sure of anything in my life.
The egot smiled mischievously. It rolled a whisker between its skeletal claws and tapped one of its webbed feet.
Ms Brown continued:
“Well, when the explorers stepped ashore, a pack of savages came hurtling towards them; swinging through the trees like monkeys, beating their breasts like apes, and howling like donkeys. They flocked like birds and stampeded through the dust like a herd of untamed wildebeests.”
That was when the egot spoke for the first time.
It leaned up against the inside of my skull, just behind my nose, and crossed its spindly legs. Then it began to talk:
“If you want to be a savage, you should probably act like a savage. You know, you should probably stampede like a wildebeest. Maybe beat your breast like an ape. Perhaps you’d like to howl like a donkey? Yes, yes.”
The egot’s voice was so… so… so… So far beyond description. So subtle. So calm. So quirky. So eccentric. And so, so quiet!
The egot accentuated random letters, as if it was shocked to discover their existence. It swilled its words, like a Frenchman mulling over a glass of confused wine. And it stretched random syllables, as if it was saddened to see them go.
There was a certain melody to the egot’s voice. It didn’t so much speak as rhyme, like a Shakespearean actor on a crisp autumn night.
But the egot was quiet. Its voice was such a little voice. A little voice inside my head.
That little voice struck me dumb.
The egot strummed its lip, like a pensive philosopher, and waited for me to reply. But I was in a state of paralytic shock. I couldn’t have replied if I’d wanted to. So the egot folded its arms, in a gesture of mock offence, and then continued on:
“I’m only telling you what you want to hear,” it purred. It swirled the word ‘telling’ so much that the ‘ell’ sound reverberated five times; ‘Tell-ell-ell-ell-ell-ell-ing’.
“You don’t really want to succumb to civility. No, no. You want to be a savage. I think you want to jump between tables, like a monkey swinging between trees. If you thought you could get away with it, and no-one was judging you, you wouldn’t think twice.”
It was a moment of clarity. Bright white, unadulterated clarity. Silent. Outside of time and space.
Please do allow me to explain…
I’m a big fan of the founder of Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He was a wizened old gent. His hair was as white as virgin snow and his eyes were deeper than any ocean on earth.
Well, Lao Tzu once said that ‘Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment’.
Dear reader, that’s exactly how I felt! In that moment, I felt that I ‘knew’ myself. In that moment, I felt ‘enlightened’.
Everything was clear. It was clear that I’d been living in a cage. It was clear that freedom was mine to take. It was clear what I had to do. The egot was my clarity. Everything was clear.
I remember a sense of otherworldliness, as if I’d stepped outside of the physical realm. My legs lifted my torso, my frame stood tall, and my spirit stood still. My body melted away from my control.
I watched on as it broke free. As it leapt up onto our shared desk. As it pounded its breast like a valiant ape. And as it puffed its chest like a swashbuckling superhero.
The faint sound of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony started to fill my ears. Delicate violin strings provided a melodic backdrop for the ballet which was unravelling onstage.
My body performed a pirouette.
White paper rose up beneath my feet and span around my shins like froth on a choppy ocean.
I felt an all-encompassing surge of bliss.
One leg rose up in front of my body, forming a sharp arrow which pointed out towards an adjacent desk. I held that position perfectly still, whilst lifting my chin with a pompous sort of grace. Then I leapt like a spring deer, in slow motion, with one leg pointing forward and the other one darting back.
Beethoven’s Ninth sounded glorious as it purred through the gears. Violas joined violins and cellos joined those violas. Double basses began to hum and flutes began to whistle.
I landed with my feet together; an angel of the air, a demon of the sea.
My mind floated atop an infinite ocean.
My legs leapt on through the infinite air. They bounded from table to table with ever-increasing speed; gaining momentum, gaining height. I could see my monkey soul. I could hear the monkey calls which were emanating from my open mouth.
I could hear Beethoven’s Ninth reach its first crescendo, as the brass section began its battle cry. Flutes became one with clarinets. Bassoons boomed. Trumpets and horns squealed with uncontrollable delight.
I howled like a donkey at the moment of sexual climax.
My lungs filled with pure spirit.
I landed on all fours, looking like a bison. My shoulders were bulging out of my back and my temples were as erect as horns.
I leapt like a giant frog. And I stampeded between desks like a herd of untamed wildebeests; leaving a trail of overturned chairs, twisted students and miscellaneous debris in my wake.
Beethoven’s Ninth called out for redemption, glory and release. It was an impassioned cry. It was a fury-filled yell.
“Yew! Yew! Yew!” Ms Brown yelled. “Yew! Yew! Yew!”
Ms Brown had been yelling since the moment I stood up. But I’d been on a different plane. I hadn’t heard a thing.
My teacher’s voice pierced my ether, burst my euphoria, and threw me down amongst the shards of my shattered pride. To my left; a small calculator bled black ink, a wonky table rocked back and forth like a sober addict, and a potted plant spewed crumbs of soil all across the vinyl flooring. To my right; Aisha Ali was crying into her collar, Tina Thompson was rubbing her shin, and Chubby Smith was holding his belly.
“Yew! Yew! Yew!” Ms Brown yelled.
(I’m called Yew by the way. I think I forgot to mention that).
“Yew! What on earth do you think you’re doing? What’s come over you? I, I, I…”
Ms Brown choked on her words, lifted a hand to her throat, coughed up some chalk-dust, and then gulped down a stodgy chunk of passive air.
She shook her head.
“You’re usually such a good boy!”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Whatever came over you? Look at this place! Just look at this place! I… I… I just can’t believe it! Oh my.”
I looked around.
The debris of my liberation assaulted my torrid eyes. The disgrace of my emancipation flushed through my dusty veins. And my glorious body became a tepid vase for the desert’s tears.
“I’m not angry,” Ms Brown sighed. “I’m just disappointed.”
That hurt. It hurt a lot.
I was fond of Ms Brown. She was such a sweet person. She was warm. So her disappointment really cut through me.
It was a heavy sort of disappointment; weighed down by the burden of expectation and the gravity of my situation. And it was an overpowering sort of disappointment. It pinned me to the floor.
My world inverted. Ignorance replaced enlightenment. Darkness replaced light. Density replaced levity.
My euphoria was usurped by a deathly sort of anxiety, which shook me from side to side and made me shiver to the core. Beethoven’s Ninth was snuffed out by the booming of my incessant heart. I was sucked down into a black-hole at the centre of my being; paralysed by my teacher’s disappointment and frozen by my own sense of fear. I felt trapped, small and base.
“Disappointed,” Ms Brown repeated. “Yew! That’s not how you’re supposed to behave. That’s not what society expects of you.”
Ms Brown shook her head, which caused chalk-dust to float up into the air. It glistened in the bright-white light. It sparkled.
Ms Brown tutted.
Then she sent me to see the headmaster.