Once upon a time in a bustling city, there lived a young artist named Li. The young man was an ordinary person. There was nothing too special, too eccentric about him. Not in the way he spoke, not in the way he carried himself and certainly not in the way he dressed. Or that’s what Li told himself. He didn’t want to stand out. Only his art should. But he knew that people sometimes stared, threw him strange looks. He wondered why that was. Was it because of his oddity? No, it was probably because of his Chinese roots. Not everybody seemed to be fond of that. Heck, even Li himself wasn’t always glad about his heritage. But it was nothing he could change. It was a fact he had to accept.
So, he tried to ignore it. Those reactions. He should just ignore the glares, the words…
Maybe if he didn’t say anything, if he didn’t look, he could become a nobody among other bodies.
Yet, at times, he could not ignore the burning in his limbs and stomach. Those words… Why could he not just erase them?
It’s because Li carried a unique gift.
A strange ability, if you will. In his own glance, invisible to bystanders or even friends and family. But if one looked closely and intently, you could see them: the words scattered across the young man’s body. Some words were more prominently visible than others. Some looked faded, as if they’d been carried along for years. Other words seemed freshly etched into him. A few words were clearly chiselled in with great care. Curly, beautiful, strong words.
The first time Li went to the city, he was only a child, but it had left quite the impact on him. Both in the positive and negative sense. The positive thing was that he already drank in the excited city lifestyle. The way everyone and everything seemed to be in motion always. Like one big, breathing organism. It was fascinating for a young kid to take in. The downside were the other kids. They were giving him weird looks. They insisted he was an ugly girl and on top of that, a weird Asian girl.
Li’s parents told him to just ignore the bullies and Li tried. He really did. But on his way home, he could barely suppress the tears. And the burning, oh the weird burning in his stomach was still simmer- ing from the moment those kids started talking. When he lifted his shirt to have
a peek underneath, he let out a voiceless gasp. Something, letters, a word was being engraved on him. There it was, on his stomach, burnt into his skin: GIRL. When his mother turned her head to meet her son’s eyes, Li quickly pulled his shirt down again. “What’s going on, sweety?” “Nothing.”
“Don’t let those stupid kids define you. “Dad said, his eyes still fixed on the road, hands glued to the steering wheel. Li murmured some half reply, but already knew that the word wouldn’t just disappear. His assumptions turned out to be correct. By the time he got in high school, Li always avoided sharing the dressing room with other peers. He didn’t want them to see the words. Those cursed words that just didn’t seem to disappear. No matter what skin bled. The words only seemed to have thickened. It was as if they just increased in size and presence, the more Li tried to rid himself of them.
“Something’s eating at you, Li,” one of
his teachers once noticed. Reluctantly,
Li stayed after class was over to have an honest talk with Miss Collins.
“What’s there to see?” Li sighed.
“You think I didn’t notice?” Miss Collins raised her brow.
She then pointed to his arms. It was summer and too hot to hide under a long- sleeved shirt anyway.
“Y-you can see it?”
“Those words? Yes. And I’m sorry you have to deal with them,” Miss Collins confessed. Li gave her a wide-eyed look. His teacher gestured him to get closer to her desk.
She opened her hand. Butch was readable in the folds of it. Li didn’t know what it meant, or what it meant to his teacher, but the word must’ve been impactful enough for it to appear there. And so, for the first time in hos life? Li was confronted with a person who shared his oddity. “Look, you don’t have to tell me how you got them, but I’m worried about you.”
Miss Collins said. “Here’s a resource for youngsters that are looking for a therapist. It might help you.”
“Thanks, Miss Collins,” Li mumbled per- plexed.
“Just know you’re not the only one. There are more people like you out there,”Miss Collins said with a smile. It was effective because Li left with a smile on his face too.
“Everyone has these words?!” Li exclaimed in utter disbelief.
His therapist nodded. “Yes. Some people are less affected and thus their words might be invisible to the quick eye.”
“But you can see mine, right?”
“Yes. I’m a therapist, so I’m trained to see it easier. But even now, your subconscious is holding some information back since most words appear as scribbles to me.”
“Whoa, I didn’t know all that,” Li confessed. Miss Collins was right; he wasn’t alone with this weird ability. How come nobody ever taught him this?
His therapist seemed to read the confusion on his face and smiled: “Don’t worry, Li. I’ll explain everything you want to know. And together I’m going to help you deal with some of these scars and burns.”
“Can I ask you who created these?”
Li’s lover asks one day.
“My biological parents. It’s the oldest and thus the first word that I knew.”
“What does it say?” Avery asks, studying the lines.
“Is it… is it possible if I wrote something too?” Avery carefully wonders and Li smiles and nods.
That evening the two lay on the bed and the artist’s back is uncovered, bare. His arms are crossed in front of him as his head rests on them.
“So…, how can I leave my mark?”
Avery questions, clearly hesitating. “Whatever you see fit”, Lee hums, eyes already closed. He trusts his partner to do the right thing
“Okay,” his lover murmurs. With their index finger they touch their boyfriend’s back. First, only the nail touches the warm skin beneath. Then their finger pas presses against the flesh. For a moment, Avery retreats. They look at the words that had already been written on there.
Like a whirlwind of organic tattoos. What else could they contribute? Then they put their finger on Li’s back again. In the meantime, Li’s trying to guess what his lover is drawing or writing. Despite trying to focus on the pattern, he finds himself drifting off in the sensation of his lover’s touch.
“What does it say?”
“Courage,” Avery quietly says.
“Because you’re courageous.”
“I’m not. Not always,” Li chuckles as he recalls every moment he felt more of a wimp than anyone worth looking up to. “Then see it as a support word. Something you need,” Avery laughs before lying next to Li and smooching him on the lips.