By Zekria Ibrahimi
Key Themes: fiction, sex, schizophrenia, depression
WARNING: CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
The liberalism of the old Weimar republic was replaced by its opposite- the brutality of the Third Reich. Berlin particularly had seemed a liberal, tolerant city, but the gay bars and cabarets, the organizations campaigning for gay-straight equality, were obliterated with the emergence of Hitler.
This difficult novel is about a homosexual teenager, Hans, who leaves conservative Bavaria in the German South and heads to a Berlin that appears to be more liberated.
He becomes a waiter in a night club, and, simultaneously, a rent- boy. He sells himself for sex.
What is being debated is exploitation, oppression, and death.
Germany would no longer accept gay love under Hitler. Gays were hounded, gays were spied on, gays were imprisoned, gays were murdered…
The narrative includes the Night of the Long Knives, Kristallnacht, and the insanity of war after 1939.
The book jerks irregularly through time, with flashbacks by the doomed Hans as he considers his past from his unhealthy bunk in a Nazi death camp.
The ultimate destination of this story is the gas chamber…
About the Author
Zekria Ibrahimi (born in 1959) is defined by his schizophrenia. It first hit him long ago, in his late teens. He is fifty one years old now, grey and frail, almost a pensioner, with all the aches and injuries of age, and he does not always want to remember how, as an adolescent in the late 1970’s, he suddenly became afraid of everything surrounding him, and, worst of all, of himself. He would run around the countryside and knock at the doors of strangers because he feared the apocalypse was pursuing him … He would pick up rubbish outside in alleys and streets and hoard it in his not very palatial lodgings … He was always wandering away from home, searching for … what would never be found again … the straight route, the level way … He was a tramp, freezing during the nights in public toilets where he had various unsavoury insects as company on the cold concrete…
There were years of pain when his schizophrenia became almost his only companion- albeit a sadistic one, punishing him even as he hugged it. Perhaps, to echo both R. D. Laing and Emily Dickinson, it is the entire globe, it is general society, that is truly insane. Schizophrenics simply burrow all too deeply under the surface. They reach the very core of the savage reality in us all. Most varnish over the anarchic truth within through the superficial sham paraded as ‘civilization’. Schizophrenics prefer to be uncomfortably honest barbarians.
Eventually, after much psychotic shouting on Hammersmith Broadway, the hapless Zekria was confined at the Charing Cross unit in the West London Mental Health Trust. Following the unsafe unstable freedom of his schizophrenia, came the restrictions of Section 3. He would not have survived without the multi- racial compassion of the individual doctors and nurses in Charing Cross. Yet the overall SYSTEM remains an ogre of rules and restraints, and the INSTITUTION of psychiatry can be as cold and vicious as in the days of lobotomy and insulin shock.
Now he is elderly, but still he muses about being locked up, drugged up, about how, with schizophrenia, the treatment can be worse than the disease…
He was motionless on the bunk, a pain smashing incessantly into his left leg, sores multiplying on his flesh, and an array of lice pouring over him. He had turned into a ‘Muselman’ – camp jargon for someone who had lost the urge to exist, a crawling skeleton emptied of strength and soul. He could no longer cope with the toil and the beatings. On his filthy clothes, his fingers still possessing the tiniest fraction of energy, he played with the pink triangle, his own label, his identity. ‘Schwul‘. Queer. Someone who did not produce children for the master race. A genetic disgrace to Germany.
He groaned minutely, his voice no more than a ripple in the air, a whispered agony. His hand worked down to his groin, and felt the limpness, the collapse, there. No breeze of Love could gush through the stale, stagnant malice that constituted the camp – no fresh kiss, no lively embrace; only the hardness and the hatred – the sweating in the workshop for the sake of war, the diluted soup, like mouldy water, and the bread that was inedible brick. Love had been dissolved into a nothingness; the camp usurped Love.
“Love,” he murmured to himself; his heart had turned into the tiniest echo of a life long before. He stared up at the grey ceiling, fractured, grimy, and on it, as if it were a cinema screen, he seemed to view the past.
“Bavaria,” he lamented. It was like this camp, a choking obscurity, a confinement, an endless shadow not allowing his soul to glow, gleam. Bavaria was the tyranny of ordinariness, the everyday torture, the caging of wings, the prelude to the camp, the nasty jolly old beer foaming round the Jew-baiter’s mouth, the noxious jolly old lederhosen having the whip tucked inside…
It was 1928. He was a nervous teenager, inhabiting, or being inhabited by, the Bavarian countryside. The morality and the so- called ‘normality’ of the stiff German South were supposed to be the same as ancient trees, proud and huge, overwhelming the insignificance of the mere individual – their roots cut into him, were threatening, sucking out his hope, terrifying him. He wanted to chop down Bavaria, and be – be… Hans… and be – be…
He was as scared of what he was as he was of Bavaria.
Hans was an unimpressive boy – neither cute nor vigorous, very average, quite dark for a German, his rough skin soon tanned by the air and Sun of summer. He had mousy hair and eyes, and he possessed a look that was somehow animal. Mixing far more than his classmates with the pigs and the cows, the hens and the dogs had forced his eyes, nose, lips into the farmyard’s mould. Vati, a dictator, insisted on Hans doing the nastiest, most numbing chores in barn and field, and his studying was deficient as a result. Hans was mute, servile – a juvenile slave, the only child of his parents, but not really cherished. His mother seemed kinder, nearer, but she too obeyed Vati, was powerless before her husband, and she could be interfering and petty towards her son.
The other boys joked and smirked about Hans, and nicknamed him ‘the Beast’; some even muttered that, two or three generations back, there had been a Jew in his family. Perhaps the echoes of a Hebrew ancestor lingered in his face. He was always the outsider, always the one to be bullied, always the least able in exams and tests. Hans was not articulate – he accepted the teasing, the isolation, was locked into his role as classroom dunce, suffered from a mind that was crammed with manure. He was weakness and feebleness, he was the idiot and the simpleton, he was too uncouth, too dull…
Inside him was a spiritual disfigurement far worse than being physically ugly, an inner blemish that Hans had to hide; but, despite being hammered down and chained, this deformity of his soul burst out. It was a rogue emotion, a savage feeling, the fox in the shadows, waiting, prowling, about to consume the innocent chicks, defenceless and unaware in the coop. Hans was being hunted down by Love. Love, the predator. Love that was wrong, unsafe, twisted.