Fiction: “Skin Calluses” by Khalil Younes

15 March, 2022
Khalil Younes.


Khalil Younes



Martyrs Square, the place of amateur erections, of young, primitive, and untrained penises. The entrances of its buildings, ones occupied by prominent figures in Syrian history, now with a sick damp smell blowing out from them towards the street, high noises of old water pumps, the taste of old tiles, stairs with worn edges, black thicknesses of repeated skin oil, and the deaths of unlucky children smeared on the stair rails.

Males in their twenties, females in their fifteenth year. Would you care to rest for a while? The young male pimp whispers in your ear, and follows it with a subtle head gesture pointing toward a girl, sitting in the darkness of the building’s entrance. With her fake whoring smile, half naked shoulders tanned by old green fluorescent lights, leaving a stenciled trace of a school bag strap, the triangular collar of a school uniform and two sets of five skin calluses, left by many double sets of four fingers and thumbs.

Would you care to rest for a while? A young man wearing a brass necklace, dripping green rust staining the skin on his chest, with a stench of salty and seasoned sweet, dried froth, a multicolored button-up shirt, and eyes with brown whites and red corners. They call him a pimp, but he puts food on the table.

Behind the windows, torn curtains, torn for years.The steam of hot sweaty bodies, a mixture of dust, car exhaust, old hand-mixed perfumes in textured glass bottles, the remains of long fingernails, and an old vagina filled with worn stairs.

Young soldiers, navy, air force, infantry, and engineering, with overly large uniforms, held in place by overly tight belts; they show up everyday, their penises directed downward, poorly trimmed hair, and black edged ears eaten by Hom’s frostbite. They bring myths about Camphor and penis sleepiness; you can’t erect in the army, they say. They speak of homosexuality; they come dreaming of a truthfully moaning girl in her 60s. They then nap for two days in Byblos Cinema carried away by the sounds of poorly made Egyptian soft porn.

In the middle of the square, strange people gather at noon time, around the penis shaped pole. No one knows who they are; they don’t know themselves. With outfits from the seventies, strangely ugly and beautiful faces, they breathe of heavy air, carried in their lungs for hundreds of years. They stare at the modern shops selling appliances and sweets. They buy 7 clicks butterfly knives for no reason, they buy contaminated ice cream for no reason, they buy Galina sandwiches for no reason, and they wait for no reason.

In the middle of Martyrs Square, in the uncovered part of the river, swim empty Heineken cans, brass rust, half eaten nails, plastic box straps, and blue wavy algae floating on the water. At the end of the day, a masked waste collector with his branched broom sweeps the children, ovaries, skin calluses, Egyptian movies, and the remaining bowels of the Galina sandwich off the floor. He then ties the end of a thick rope to the penis shaped pole at the center of Martyrs Square, stands on his metal barrel with one foot, kicks the barrel with the other, and joins the martyrs.


Khalil Younes is a visual artist and a writer recognized for challenging social norms and the desensitization of society. Born in Damascus, Syria in 1983, he studied experimental film and video at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design of Boston in 2008 and received his BFA in cinematography from Columbia College of Chicago in 2010. Khalil’s art pieces are showcased in both private and public art collections in the US and Europe, and his illustrations have been featured in many renowned magazines and newspapers such as the Le Monde and Natural History Magazine. Two of his pieces were also acquired by the British National Museum in London. Employing the use of a variety of media—ranging from time-based media, to illustration and writing—he has in his crosshairs the essence of the human experience as a target. With a human society oversaturated with sensorial and emotional stimuli; the rate of socioemotional development is rapidly changing, with the inverse effect of dulling responses, and causing various levels of social desensitization. Through his art, Khalil toils on re-designing social and emotional stimuli to motivate personal awareness and self resensitization.


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