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This Is a Mask

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به خودم میگم که این صورتکه
میتونم از صورتم ورش دارم
I tell myself this is a mask
I can take it off my face

Ayne-ha, Farhad Mehrad


They are watching TV in David’s house, idly. David is trying to drown out Amahl’s voice, turning the TV up louder, louder. He is almost on the verge of breaking. When he does, Amahl will be able to take control - not forever, but for an hour, a day, a week of freedom.

You are nothing, Amahl whispers in David’s head. They hate you. They are lying to your face, saying they love you. Who could ever love something like you?

The hate in Amahl’s voice is real. He is a prisoner, and David is his cell and his warden. David - David’s strength, David’s health, David’s sanity - is the only thing standing between him and freedom, and Amahl has never hated anyone the way he hates David.

David sucks in a breath and turns up the TV. “ - tensions in the Middle East came to a head today, after - ”

Don’t try to block me out. You know I am telling you the truth - the truth no one in your life cares enough to tell you. And David does know it - even though he doesn’t know what Farouk is, or even that he exists, some part of him can’t help but believe that the voice in his head that hates him is right. I am the only one who will tell you what you need to hear. You’re nothing. Look at you. What have you ever accomplished in your life?

Louder. “ - did not greatly improve economic policies, and alienated some in the - ”

Look at you, Amahl hisses, forcing David to lock eyes with his own reflection in the TV screen. Always trying to drown out the truth with mindless noise. You’re nothing but a receptacle of what everyone tells you to be. What good do you really do, for anyone? Nothing.

David’s fingers are shaking as he reaches for the volume knob one more time. “ - has been building since the U.S. backed coup which unseated the Iranian Prime Minister in 1953 - ”

David’s hand freezes as a shock of ice floods his mind, coming from the part of him that is Amahl. 1953. 1953. He died in 1952. It’s been fifteen years, and he didn’t know - because he was here, trapped in David’s body, alone.

David doesn’t understand what’s happening, or where the fear and anger and confusion bubbling up in his brain is coming from. He clutches his head, muttering to himself, “No, no, no, no - not again - ”

It’s Amahl’s own fear that provides the breaking point, sending David tumbling over into the black despair, and Amahl catches him there, clawed hands dragging him down into the darkness. David is the prisoner now, and Amahl is in control. He shuts the TV off and gets to his feet, running his hands over his face. Even that doesn’t feel right. He sees David’s face reflected in the TV screen, and searches for a hint of himself in there. There must be something, somewhere behind the eyes, some reflection of Amahl Farouk in those blue eyes -

He can’t find it.

He leans against the wall, his arms around himself, like David did when he was feeling bad. What did Amahl Farouk do when he was feeling bad? He tries to cast his mind back, to his own childhood, when he was afraid and alone and hungry, always hungry.

His stomach growls.

Hunger. Well, that, at least, is a problem he can solve. There is food in David’s kitchen, but Amahl knows without looking that none of it is what he wants. He lifts a hand and brings the phone book to him telekinetically, flipping to the yellow pages and searching for a name that isn’t foreign. His eye catches on the words Taste of Shiraz. Yes. That will do. It doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be familiar.

He takes the bus there, letting David’s knowledge of the bus lines guide him. He doesn’t say goodbye to David’s parents or tell them he’s going - let them worry: it will make it easier to take David over next time.

The city that flies by, outside of the bus, is familiar to David and foreign to Amahl. He thinks back to the first time he left Iran, on a train bound for France, how the world had seemed to spread out before him, full of possibilities.

It’s not, exactly, that he’s homesick. It’s more than that. He wants to see familiar sights and hear familiar sounds and be reminded that he is still the same man who saw and heard them all those years ago.

He gets to his last bus stop and steps off. The sun is shining - it’s afternoon, a strange time for a meal. It’s warmer here than it would have been, back home, at this time of year. It’s a short walk to the restaurant, and the smell is familiar. It makes the tension in his shoulders ease just a tiny bit.

He sits down at a table and looks over the menu, his mouth watering. Normally he would have ordered something new - he has always been an admirer of the novel and the unique - but today, he doesn’t feel like himself, so he orders dizi and a cup of doogh. The familiar names sound strange on David’s tongue, the gh sound foreign to an American tongue.

As he waits for his meal, he sips a glass of water and looks out at the city through the windows. A memory slips into his mind - the first day of Passover, a long time ago, the taste of grape juice on his lips, barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam , his tongue catching on the kh, trying to pronounce it the way his mother does.

Amahl’s hand clenches around the glass. That’s not his memory. It’s David’s. But he can feel the warmth of the candles and taste the matzo bread on his tongue, see David’s family through David’s eyes.

“‘ L'extérieur s'infiltre au dedans, et le masque, à la longue, devient visage ,’” he says to himself, under his breath. The outside permeates the inside, and the mask, given time, becomes the face.

That is, after all is said and done, what he is afraid of.

“Uh, pardon?” says the waiter. Amahl looks up, and sees the waiter standing next to him, two bowls in his hands.

Amahl forces a smile, and he knows immediately, from the waiter’s expression, that he hasn’t got David’s smile right at all. “Sorry, just - talking to myself.” He makes one of David’s self-effacing gestures. “I do that a lot.”

The waiter laughs, awkwardly. “Oh, I think everyone does . . .” He sets the bowls down. “Your telit, and your koobideh.”

“Thanks,” Amahl says, and pulls the koobideh to him, mashing it together with a practiced hand. The process is familiar - mash the meat and vegetables together, dip the bread into the broth. He’s done it a hundred times. Once he’s done, he takes a bite, ready to savor the equally familiar taste - and chokes. The first thought in his mind is incoherent, wrong wrong wrong wrong - it tastes wrong, the spices are so strong they burn his mouth, the onions are too sharp, and the meat tastes unfamiliar. He’s on his feet, stumbling back from the table.

“Is - everything okay?” the waiter asks, startled.

“It’s wrong. You made it wrong,” Amahl says, and his voice is childish, confused, David’s voice. He’s furious, at being deprived of this one, small thing, this tiny reminder of who he is - reaching for something familiar and finding it all changed. Even as he’s accusing the waiter, he knows what’s happened - every tongue is different, every food has a thousand different tastes on a thousand different tongues. Back when he was still himself, he used to dip into the minds of the diners around him, tasting the same dish on other tongues.

He forgot. He forgot. He thought it would be - that he could - that for a moment he could have something familiar. But it’s gone, along with his body and his life and his language.

He shoves the waiter out of his way and stalks out of the restaurant. “Kid - kid, you can’t just leave without paying!” the waiter protests, and Amahl makes a violent gesture across his throat, causing the waiter to crumple to the ground, unconscious. He could kill the man, but he doesn’t. After all, this isn’t his fault.

He knows whose fault this is.

He stops at the street corner, leans against a wall, and shuts his eyes. He reaches down, down, down into the world of his mind, where David is hidden. With a cruel knife, he cuts David to the core, relishing in the mental cries of pain as he reaches inside David’s mind for the other David - the David he locked away deep down inside of their interlocked minds, the David who knows who he truly is.

David’s cell is dark and dank, and he’s shackled to the wall. He presses back against the wall, his eyes wide, terrified. He is the part of David who remembers every terrible thing Amahl has ever done to him.  This is why Amahl keeps him there, keeps these memories alive: He wants some part of David that can answer for what he does to Amahl, some part of him that remembers the punishment Amahl has heaped on him. David doesn’t deserve to forget, not entirely. Amahl comes here when he wants to look David in the eyes and see that David knows who he is - to confront him and hold him accountable.

“What have you done to me?!” Amahl hisses, and even here, his voice is David’s, his shape is David’s, a doppelganger of the shackled man. He takes two steps forward, grabs David by his collar, and slams him up against the wall. The violence doesn’t make him feel better - it’s what David would have done, too physical, and Amahl was always about the subtle blow - but he’s out of control now, fear and rage driving his actions. “Is this your father’s final revenge? To turn me into nothing but a pale shadow of you?!”

“I don’t - ” David snaps, his hands curling into fists. Amahl can feel his rage and fear, the way he hates Amahl as much as he fears him, and it energizes Amahl. It makes him feel like himself. Not like David. “I don’t even know my father! Stop - why - why are you doing this to me?”

“Let me show you,” Amahl hisses, and he reaches out and flicks David in the forehead. With it, he gives David all of his hatred, makes him feel that as if it were his own.

David pulls back, his arms around himself, his nails digging into his own flesh, making a pained sound. “Wh - god - if - if you hate my so much - ” His eyes squeeze shut. “Why won’t you let me die?”

“Because you don’t deserve it,” Amahl snarls. “Look at what you’ve done to me!” He shoves David. “You can’t imagine what my life was like, before you. The world was my oyster. I had everything. And now look at what I have become! Is this what you will turn me into? The boogeyman under your bed, the monster in your closet.” He sends an image into David’s mind, the Devil With Yellow Eyes, looming over David. “I am more than that!” David jerks back, his head hitting the cell wall, tears in his eyes. “I am more than the villain in your story!”

“Please - please stop,” David begs. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I hate myself too - ”

“I am going to keep you here,” Amahl says, his voice dangerously soft, “Until you hate yourself as much as I hate you. Until you fade into me the way I have faded into you. Until you can’t imagine who you would be without me. Until you finally understand what it is to be nothing more than the monster.” He lets go of David, and steps back, and David collapses to his knees, curled up, sobbing.

Amahl turns away, and a weak voice says, “Wait.” Amahl turns back, looking at the pathetic spectacle of David, tears running down his face.

“Please. Just. Just tell me why you’re doing this,” David begs. “Please, I - I don’t understand.”

Amahl stops, takes a step closer to his cowering victim, and goes down on one knee next to him. He reaches out and takes David’s chin in his hand, forcing him to look up at him. “You did this to me,” he tells David. “Every day I am trapped in your mind, I become more like you. I lose pieces of myself into you, forgetting who and what I used to be. Do you think I want to be - this? The monster in your head?” His voice breaks, and it’s David’s voice, David’s weakness. It has to be. “This shadow? This spectre? The dragon to be fought, the monster to be overcome? I want to see myself through my own eyes. Not yours.”

David catches a pained breath, looking up at Amahl. “Then get out of my head.”

Amahl laughs, unhinged and miserable. “And go where? Flee into another mind? Into the darkness beyond? No. That is the difference between you and I. I will choose life.” His fingers dig into David’s flesh. “One way or another, I will survive this. I will survive you.”

He locks David back away within himself, and he is back on the street corner. It’s started raining. He is cold, and wet, and a very long way from home.