In the padded leather recliner, the air is moist with fear and disinfectants.
A syringe hovers over your taut bicep, buzzing the promise of a fresh creation. You’re in a sort of paralysis that throws you back into the infantile haze of your first vaccination – the doctor towering over you, pasted with a sickly-sweet smile that he somehow hopes will placate your wails.
This isn’t the same.
Luke the Tattoo Artist promises that this will hurt, and you pretend to be grateful for it. There’s supposed to be a sort of triumph, some sick sense of gratification, in embracing the pain you’ve emptied out your savings account to afford.
The pulsating sword descends, inch by inch, until it’s all you can hear. It’s the same sound that graced the ears of Rock Gods and Anti-Icons, once upon a time. Soon you’ll be among their legion, you’re assured – a timid, unworthy, enrollee to the ranks of Freaks and Misfits.
It’s cleaving through you now, marking its territory, tearing a venomous outline across your baby-soft moisturized skin. Nerves cry out, mortally wounded, the first casualties of a decidedly one-sided war.
Factions of adrenal-gland soldiers fight back, sending you into a frenzy far-removed from the lethargy of Gateway Theatre of Shopping. An overwhelming sense of doubt pervades you, and the stupid arguments of boring friends resurface.
“What will it look like when you’re sixty?” They sneer.
“How will you get a job?” They taunt.
And all the clever retorts you had have abandoned you; run off to claim the minds of other rebellious teenagers. Stupid, whining, bored brats governed by impulse and juvenile anger – these are the people you’re really about to join, with their stupid ideals and flippant attitudes. The Soul-Sucking Band of Freaks and Misfits.
It’s here, with doubt fast morphing into regret, that you drink in the scent of the ink through bleary eyes and grinding jaws.
Its dark lustre, warm and thick, washes over you. The same ink that smudged the hands of Milton and Shakespeare; that lodged itself under the fingernails of Biko and Tupac – dances fire across your senses. Each searing stab tells a story – of its travels on scraps of paper through townships and Bantustans; of the insomniac nights it’s spent stretched across the minds of Guevara and Lennon.
For the first time, you can see the needle for what it really is – a pen, a brush, a voice – a Sangoma’s blade carving men out of boys.
Your quaking arm shines with beads of blood, dulled by drops of excess ink. You imagine the cocktail coursing back through you; impregnating your naive little heart with an alien wanderlust.
It’s coating your aorta with the grime etched into the pores of every revolutionary fist.
How absurd it would be – to think that this is merely surgical-grade dye; store-bought and mass-manufactured!
No, this is more than that – this is a quart of whiskey from Hemingway’s drawer.
This is a vial of the ocean where Lewis Carroll’s imagination went skinny-dipping.
This is where you belong, with ink on your skin and revolution in your veins, at the helm of the Visionary Band of Freaks and Misfits.