It was summer in the interim to high school, and I was lying supinely in some rural hospital, just about ready to be circumcised.
I was listening to the shrieking of a boy who had been undergoing what the man kind calls “the sum of all fears” from behind my bedside curtain when the doctor and her assistant nurse came in, holding “weapons of mass destruction.” It was a scene reminiscent of Saw. And like the characters in the movie who were clueless about what they did wrong to be punished, I told the Mother of All Mercy that I did not deserve this. “But your plans are Divine and your will be done.”
“Can’t this wait ‘til I’m 13?” I thought, as my attendants slipped their hands into surgical gloves. No. The old folks say that circumcision is like eating potato chips: munch while crispy, “lest the ‘foreskin’ hardens like rubber.” My mother told me the story of my cousin Sherwin who was circumcised a little later in his life, but underwent the traditional, and probably more painful, way of doing it. You put the carrot onto a chopping board, a remnant of a felled tree, and you are given guava leaves to chew (perhaps to stifle your screaming) while the “butcher,” who is either your grandfather, your uncle, or anybody who makes an honest living by grooming love birds, is sharpening the blade. He then cuts the flap of skin in question with one decisive karate chop, at which point you are cued to spit the guava leaves onto the fresh wound to stop the bleeding.
Sherwin’s case was different. His was cut-resistant. So the butcher had to pound on it several times as if chopping pork with a meat cleaver. But instead of saying “Aray!” I thought that one can make money in making bullet-proof vests and designer handbags out of old men’s penis skin.
I wondered how mine would go, but when the doctor told me that we will proceed with the operation, I did quite submissively hoping against hope that she really knew how my delicate situation. She then prepared the pain-killer in while the nurse leaned forward to take a closer look at the laboratory specimen, as if she was in an art gallery and not in the hospital.
Old folks say that the moment you get circumcised, at all cost you should not allow girls, especially lovely girls, see it, lest the wound bloats into a monstrous tomato-sized meatball. Another cousin, Roel, after his sister saw his big boy while our grandmother was washing him up, suffered the great bloat and had since locked himself up in his room to nurse his aching tomato. You could hear him cry softly from behind the door and you could only sympathize with the poor boy saying “Oooh. What a wimp.” At one point, perhaps, borne out of childhood curiosity, I checked what was going on with my older cousin through a peephole. Scared with the shocker I saw, I scurried away while covering my eyes.
I was harboring the thought of whether or not I would suffer the same fate as he when the doctor injected the 4-inch anesthesia-drenched needle into my penis. I tried hard to be stoic and appear calm knowing that the nurse was now looking intently at my face. I even sang “lala la la la” to show I was a brave boy, whereupon the nurse walked to my bedside, and held my arm. Whether she was following a medical procedure or it was merely an amiable bedside manner, the touch gave me as much comfort as a nurse could provide.
Could that be the reason there are so many lovely nurses in hospitals? I swear that the doctor proceeded with the surgery, but I was unmindful of what’s supposedly a painful process, hearing the shears cut my flap of flesh as I would hear it cut my hair, nearly forgetting that the cut-out had something to do with me. Call me mellow. But it was like I was a mother delivering a baby and the nurse was my husband, helping ease my pain with a touch’s version of “We’re all in this together.”
The doctor stitched the wound and it was all over. The nurse handed me my shorts and said “Congratulations, you’re a big boy now.” What did she mean? Did the circumcision guarantee that I could now go home past my 6 pm curfew? Could I finally ride a Harley Davidson? Am I no longer too weeny and junior to take a girl to a date? I reached for my shorts and put it on gingerly. And then I asked the nurse if I could get her number.