The Boil

Stuck in Senegal with a beautiful woman and a festering wound

| January-February 2009

That morning in the shower I felt it: an alien nub on my left buttock, just inches from my exit hole on an isthmus of hair that juts into wallet territory. I seized it, taking measure of its girth. When I turned and saw it in the mirror, I shrieked. Staring back at me was a raw pustulant lump, fleshy and pink as a newborn, but with a bulbous head and a translucent, Saturn-like ring.

A boil. An abscess. Whatever you want to call it. A hateful grief pit of pus and blood and dead mucusy tissue that lurks just below the skin’s surface and haunts and abuses you like a small-town sheriff at the end of his last term. Boils have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Every few months one appears in an earlobe, on my neck, or more often in a well-advertised place like the center of my forehead. Some eventually burst and heal on their own. Many more require surgical incision and drainage.

In college, a nurse in the student health service lanced a massive boil in my earlobe, harpooning it with a syringe. Others I’ve managed to lance myself. I once pierced a Cyclopean boil with a sewing needle, a clumsy procedure that left me with a permanent pea-sized dent just below my hairline. Despite all of this, I tried to stay positive with this ass boil, telling myself that as long as I didn’t pick it and kept it clean, it would mend itself. So I gave the boil a light scrubbing with the loofah, turned off the water, and tried not to worry about it.

This was during my second month in Senegal, West Africa, where I was living with my girlfriend Stephanie, a startling, elk-like beauty who had dramatic black eyes, slender arms and legs, and long sinewy brown hair. We’d known each other for years but never carnally, until the previous summer in England, where she was studying international development and I was dabbling in poverty and alcoholism. After a brief, stumbling courtship, we flew into each other like blindfolded sparrows. My chest acquired new muscle definition. My brain felt freshly laundered. After three months it seemed perverse to think of spending a night apart.

Then one day Steph announced she was moving to Senegal, 2,500 miles away, for a new job. We wept and blubbered together for several nights, mourning our lost future, when suddenly she asked me to join her in Senegal. Unhesitatingly, I agreed.

I was 26 and astonishingly ignorant about the world. I imagined life in Senegal as an adventure of unparalleled drama—perilous safaris, bonfire lunches of grilled wildebeest, cocktails at the foreign officers’ club. I even packed Green Hills of Africa, thinking Hemingway’s bush heroics would inspire me. I soon discovered there are no wildebeests in Senegal, and the very notion of a foreign officers’ club expired a century ago. My life there became less like Hemingway’s and more like Clov’s in Beckett’s Endgame, one of almost unrelenting boredom, isolation, and despair.

Linda Libra
8/11/2013 4:46:15 PM

Now that was a story! The world is divided into two types of people: those who love exploding skin reservoirs and those who don't. I am of the first tribe, so I read this story poised in joyous and agonizing anticipation. I am sorry to say that I almost skimmed the parts that were not about the Boil, though. The Boil is a shameless scene-stealer. I would not dare venture onto the stage with the Boil; the Boil plays understudy to nobody. Which is a shame because thestory was delightful, Senegal, the people, the relationship. Steph is indeed a woman of strong parts... So let's get serious here... do you think the Boilz could be a function of disgruntled hair follicles that do not make it through to emerge... kind of like a hirsute rain forest where competition for skin surface is fierce. It's easy for me to say, but Steph should have gone after that boil before it nearly ended your cognitive lifespan... You also should have had a supply of penicillin to tame that roiling bacchanalia of animalcules partying down in their own biosphere. Hey did I forget to tell you --- great writing!