Their hands are spiders on my scarf when I'm not looking. They pull the cornice in the back until my forehead is uncovered and I notice and hiss. They untie the knot by my right breast or pinch the cloth, leaving wrinkles. Worse. They talk, talk, talk and though I try to drown them out by putting my fists against my ears in a pose made to look like I'm focused on reading, I hear snippets of bitch and terrorist below the rumbling of my blood. Worse. The teacher ignores the intrusions like an actor in a film who can't hear the DVD commentary, but each insult unrefuted is another legitimized, each remark unobstructed leaves the door open.
I try to ignore the parallels between their decision to harass me and the book we are reading in which good children with dirty faces and long hair named Ralph and Piggy and Sam and Eric confront wild children who've turned bad because there aren't any adults to stop them. Under the green light of the island they’re trapped on, the Forces of Good stand on a ledge between red pinnacles and the ocean forty feet below, and ask politely for justice and peace and the return of Piggy’s glasses so they can relight a signal fire and wait for rescue. But the wild ones have become a tribe of hollering monkey-demons, their faces painted black-and-green with mud.
For a moment, I can ignore my classmates as Piggy makes one last stand for Civilization, facing bristling spears and the cackles of bullies, before a deliberate boulder tumbles down and strikes Piggy from chin to knee, and he tumbles, too, to the rocks below.
Piggies always die, whispers the boy behind me. I shut Lord of the Flies before my tears wet the thin pages and expose me, but nothing stops the sob that crawls from my throat like a snort. Something, they all laugh and imitate, that sounds like a boar.
After school they throw rocks (I wonder where they got that idea), shouting Piggy! Piggy! Piggy! and all I can do is scream fuckers! before biking home to examine crescent-moon bruises. Mom wants me to share what happened. She knocks at my door impatiently. But I've already locked it and slipped into the bedwaters of my mattress, because how can you share pain? And if you can, why would you? I imagine gripping her arm and allocating a mote of agony. Imagine Mom shrinking to her knees, shrieking how can you live like this?
That night, I take off my scarf and glasses and stand naked in the mirror. Piggies always die, don’t they? I think, surveying a face brown and red-eyed and pocked with moles and acne scars like bottle flies. They’re strong in all the wrong ways and weak to rocks. I open the medicine cabinet and take an orange bottle. A vestige from when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. I had thought it would be useful. I put the bottle on my bed, and think it kind of looks like a frozen amber tear filled with the white pebbles you put in aquariums.
I think about endings. When does Piggy end? When the boulder slams into his chest? When he hits the rocks below, his brains seeping out like yolk from an egg? When the sea pulls his body swirling under? William Golding might have known.
But in Islam, this is not a person's true ending. After his blood mixes pink with the waves, Piggy’s soul drips out of his body like a water droplet from the sink to be caught in the palm of a sunfaced angel. This angel carefully takes his spirit to the many-doors of Jannah. Without his body, Piggy does not feel asthmatic, despite the wispy air of Jannah’s upper mountains, worn thin from prayers and the altitude. And he doesn't need his spectacles (broken and on Jack’s belt) because he can see the geography of heaven’s manors and mosques with spiritual distinction.
His journey ends before Allah, who tells the heavenly scribes to record Piggy's name in the Book. I imagine the scholars pause to scratch their beards. What do they write for this little soul? They want to ask William Golding but he's busy resting in his coffin. So they opt for Abu Pig.
Even in the Afterlife there is a registrar like the one where students get their school ID. And there is a test, too, an end-of-course exam that occurs when the soul returns to its tomb. Passing the test turns the tomb into a pleasurable waiting room for Judgment where sentient corpses spend their days in a space expanded like the Tardis into rose gardens and castle halls. Failing the test turns the grave into a torture chamber, and it can fill with snakes or constrict into a stinking bathroom or even a decimal point, a punctuation mark, like what happens in the middle of black holes. It can even dissipate, crushing the owner's rib cage into crystallized dust and starving him of air. But Piggy does not have a grave. When the ambassador returns Piggy's soul to his body, his body (I imagine) has floated, nearly headless, into a blue-green crevice where it lies peacefully, limbs floating freely like sea anemone, and silver fish peeking into the gaps.
There, two angels come to Visit. Even without the ocean deep they are blue-faced and wild-haired, only now they’re intimidated by the Expanse around them, preferring the cloister of a tomb. They have come to see if Piggy deserves to rest in Jannah or the evil Chaos reserved for sinners. The test is the most stressful part of the whole thing and I fear that because he’s not a Muslim he will answer the questions wrong. Piggy, who is your Master? ask the Denier and Denied, peering into his rubbery, dead face. Piggy replies: “Oh, I suppose my Auntie.” Piggy, what religion are you? ask Nakir and Munkar, and he answers honestly: “I am a good, proper Anglican. At least, my Auntie says so.” The angels already know where this is going, but they ask the final question anyway: Piggy, who is the person called Muhammad? Piggy scrunches his wet face in confusion: “Sorry? Who is Muhammad?” Yes, who is this person? "I'm not quite sure," he responds. "Sounds Oriental."
The angels look at each other. If they weren't made of light they might have rubbed their eyes in frustration. They like this child, but he's failed the test.
The angels are prepared to adapt the ocean to their use: shark baths, nibbling fish, electric eels, crushing pressures. But it's not Piggy's fault that William Golding didn't make him a Muslim. They decide to forgo the usual nasties. Instead, they put his corpse in a yellow conch with pink-and-white walls and a drowsy whistle. They give him twenty thousand books to pass the time, including the Qur'an in English, and say: Wait. And that is where Piggy is by the time Ralph faces the Boys with Sticks and crawls up the feet of a Sailor.
But why let death solve everything? I think, and my vision returns to the yellow grains of the ceiling I've been staring at from my bed. I feel generous. Elated, even. And I have an idea. I open my bag and put my take-home copy of Lord of the Flies on the bed, covering the bottle of painkillers from sight, and open to the last page. In the space below the last line, where a rescuing military officer looks sheepishly away from Ralph, who has been overwhelmed by thoughts of innocence lost and darkness found and a wise friend called Piggy, I write:
"Meanwhile and not too far away, Piggy pulled himself up onto the square red rock, feeling a mean headache. He looked up the side of the wall and was impressed by how far he fell – the blur of the cliff's peaks making it seem further. He vomited sea water and tiny white crabs like white pebbles, like a mouthful of sleeping pills, vomited until they were all out of his system, and then he found and pulled the pink mess of brains, soaked in sea foam and littered with pieces of shell, back into his head. His scalp was flapping wildly in the wind, so he ripped his shirt into strips and wrapped it from the top of his head to his chin. Scarf complete, he could look up at Castle Rock without losing his mind, although its pinnacles remained out of focus. 'That's some climb,' he muttered unhappily, but then he perked up. 'I expect Ralph needs me,' he said. 'And the painted boys, too, if they'll listen. I had better begin.'"
I stare numbly at the brown splotches where my tears have landed. "'It’ll take more than rocks to break my bones,'" I make Piggy say, letting him articulate my decision to keep my life.
Desmond White is a licensed professional educator in secondary education (that’s ‘high school teacher’ in layman’s terms) who writes short stories when his students aren’t looking. He currently resides in Houston, Texas. For more of his work, look no further than www.desmondwrite.com.