by Brecht De Poortere 

The itchy, red bumps on my back were mango fly eggs. Nepo, friend of my parents and colonel in the army, had seen dozens of these before. We trusted him because he was handsome and strong as a gun. His voice was authoritative yet soothing, like honey mixed with ginger.

Mom acted funny when he was around. Laughed differently. Dropped things. I wonder whether Dad noticed? But most of the time Dad was not around when Nepo came to our house and had tea with Mom. Sometimes she asked me to play outside. And, sometimes, the door was locked when I tried to go back in to get a toy. Then Mom would say, Sorry, I locked the door by mistake.

We need to take them out, Nepo said, before the larvae grow and turn into painful blisters. I pictured them wriggling and writhing underneath my skin, like dirty little secrets, like what I saw the day the front door wasn’t locked and I walked into the bedroom and something twisted and twitched underneath the sheets. Dirty little secrets that gnaw at your conscience, like mango fly larvae feed on the tissue surrounding them as they grow.

We need to be careful, Nepo said, as he disinfected a needle with his lighter. Sit still. Don’t move. We don’t want to burst the larvae, or we risk an infection. And we don’t want that now, do we? Be a good boy. Be quiet. Don’t tell your dad what you saw in the bedroom that day. Because we don’t want Mommy to cry now, do we?

Nepo dabbed petroleum jelly on my back to suffocate the larvae and make them come to the surface. He pricked my skin, squeezed, and pushed out a tiny larva, squidgy, translucent, pale like a ghost. Then he pulled out another and another. Good boy. Don’t move. Just one more…

But I flinched because it hurt and a larva burst underneath my skin. That dirty little secret popped. Why did you do that? Nepo asked, more ginger in his voice than honey. Didn’t I ask you to sit still? Didn’t I warn you not to tell? Now Daddy’s angry and Mommy’s crying. You silly boy. What a bad thing to have done!

The wound got infected, oozing blood and milky-coloured pus. A fever gripped my body, burning from the heart. Pustules of guilt grew, itched, and stung. Don’t you worry, Dad said, rubbing antiseptic on my back. None of this is your fault. And the wounds will heal – time heals all sorts. But the scars remained to summon ghosts of mango fly eggs and larvae crawling underneath my skin.

Brecht De Poortere was born in Belgium and grew up in Africa. He currently lives in Paris, France. His writing has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Consequence Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal, and Reflex Press, amongst others. You can find him on Twitter @brecht_dp.