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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