“Kiki Ortega” From NefandoBy Mónica Ojeda, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker.
Nefando, A Journey into the Bowels of a Room was a little-known online game that was quickly deleted because of its controversial and sensitive content. The experiences of its players are, now, at the center of gamer debates taking place in forums in the deepest corners of the web, but its users cannot seem to come to an agreement: was it a horror game for geeks, a staging of immorality, or a poetic exercise? Are the bowels of that room as deep and twisted as they seem? This game and the questions surrounding it are at the center of Ecuadorian writer Mónica Ojeda’s complex and twisted novel of the same name in which six young people share an apartment in Barcelona. In each room, subversive and perverse activities take place, like the writing of a pornographic novel, the frustrated desire for self-castration, or the development of designs for the demo scene, the artistic subculture of the digital world. These private spaces are blank canvases in which the characters explore the territories of their bodies, their minds, and their childhoods. With an atmosphere reminiscent of Black Mirror, glances towards the abject and what is not said connect the characters to the process of the creation of a cult videogame.
Nefando is composed of a collection of interviews, journal entries, the beginnings of a novel, online forum discussions about a controversial video game, and drawings that work together to create a portrait of six people sharing an apartment in Barcelona. Told through various voices, this novel is an examination of trauma and sexuality and the ways such experiences are navigated in the digital age.
This particular excerpt is the opening chapter of the novel in which the reader is introduced to Kiki Ortega, a young writer from Mexico who has received a FONCA grant to live and write in Barcelona; she is writing a pornographic novel and much of the chapters dedicated to her are either a textual manifestation of her writing process or are a draft of her novel. This particular piece functions in the book to introduce this character and some of the central themes of the novel, but it also works on its own as a meditation on trauma and writing.
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Kiki Ortega, 23 years old, FONCA scholar.
It has to be Her, a Her, with eyes like two big, sinister, ripe pechiches, with nails like seashells, and the tongue of a mollusk, a tongue like an octopus tentacle, black hair, dark dark black, that hangs down to her chin, five-foot-five; no, five-foot-four, how much do fourteen-year-old girls weigh? she asked herself as she leaned back against the wall’s wrinkled skin. To write was to re-name the surrounding space in order to describe it as if it were something else. For example, when she wrote that she liked to think of herself surrounded by ramparts, which wasn’t the same as thinking of yourself surrounded by drywall—that wasn’t the appropriate word, impertinent to imagination. Few things were as important as finding the correct word; no, those kinds of words don’t exist, only the expressive ones, she remembered as she chewed her nails. Reformulation: Few things were as important as finding the expressive word. The wall expressed her reality: a stomach full of finger nails, pica, cannibalism. The wall behind her back was, therefore, a wall and not drywall. The four ramparts of her room protected her from the language of the others; there, inside, unlike any other place, she could fashion herself by forming lines, long sentences, to snort through her nose. She had to be a peephole, a tiny hole through which the desire to desire would enter; dark, perverse, much more of a crater than Them. The four ramparts made it possible to break syntax, the word order that always altered the product; to create her own landscapes, to paint with a boy’s voice. They would be marionettes by their own choosing; eyes that would peer out of the tiny hole. Sometimes, when she wrote, a greenish flake would fall on her hair, the skin of a reptile-wall that flaked off because of the humidity and covered the bed and floor with chips of dried paint. There isn’t a standard height for fourteen-year-old girls; they aren’t copies of one another, she said to herself; height doesn’t matter, height isn’t proportional to age. She brushed her hand over her head like a feather duster. They would be fourteen, too. Her name would be Nella. Theirs, Diego and Eduardo.
The blank page on the screen, though it was virtual and imaginary, was just as tangible and destructive as any other. The blank page doesn’t actually exist, she thought. That nominal emptiness could exist nowhere but in her imagination. Diego would be pallid like the night. Eduardo would have freckles. How hard could it be to write a novel? Reformulation: How hard could it be to write about the sexuality of three children? A novel about cruelty, a novel destined to disturb. Something like The Confusions of Young Törless, but mixed with Story of the Eye. To disturb was to throw a stone into a smooth pond. They would study at a boarding school and she would be the new student. To disturb was to sleep next to someone with your eyes open. At first, Diego and Eduardo would be the corrupters, the stone in the pond, the eyelids open while sleeping. To disturb was to stare at a stranger without blinking until your eyes burn with tears. The reader would have to unravel the characters and then see horror in Nella. To disturb was to scratch the wall paint so that in the room next door sounds from life outside could be heard. She would be the spider. To disturb was to write with half your body submerged in a swamp. They, the flies.
Outside, not even the slightest breeze blew. Nella would read Marquis de Sade and, like Kochan from Confessions of a Mask, she would understand physical love through pain and death. The tree that loomed through the window—the same one that hosted black birds that pecked at the panes in the mornings—stood still and gave the impression of not existing, of only being an image, a representation; a photograph on a postcard. Nella would like torturing little animals in her amorous rituals. She opened a can of Coca-Cola, set the laptop aside, jumped off the bed, and stepped on the wall’s fallen skin with her bare feet. A teacher would interrupt her while she was driving needles into a little cat trapped in a plastic bag. She walked over the organic material until she reached the window and looked out across the branches. That’s why she would have been expelled from her previous school; that’s why they would have put her in Diego and Eduardo’s boarding school. For her, Barcelona was a shithole, just like Mexico City. Filth everywhere, She thought as a black, bubbling drop slid across the corner of her lips. The boarding school would be strict and it would demand obedience and discipline from the students. The street was called Industria and the same old man as always pissed on the same tire of the same red Renault. Nella would feel lost in that world of moderation. The women walked as if their legs hurt; the summer compelled them to wear floral dresses to turn their bodies into a crude garden invaded by weeds. Nella and the asphyxiation of the rules. She could feel dried flakes trapped between her toes. Nella and good behavior. The glass was an insect cemetery adorned with splatters of pigeon shit. Nella and her desires condemned to the electric chair. That’s how the world showed itself to her on the inside; but there, surrounded by ramparts, the filth did too. For Her, the spider, it would be difficult to understand a morality that was not of her individuality. Where before there was the greenish skin of the wall, there now appeared grayish meat; the true face of the walls. Nella would find, nevertheless, the way to secretly satisfy herself. The gray was the color of stones, of sharks, and of clouds just before it rains. In hiding, She would find Them.
She wondered, scratching her head, when she had last cleaned her sanctum, but she couldn’t remember. Everything would be written in first person. The smell of dampness and sweat made her eyes droop. Everything would be written from Nella’s perspective. That evening she would have to clean, get rid of her own waste that covered the floor. No: writing only from Her perspective wouldn’t work. Among the reptile-wall skin there were invisible pieces of her own skin, long black hairs, fingernail clippings that hadn’t landed in her stomach. The novel should also be narrated by Their voices. She looked at the floor like someone looking into a mirror. We are falling apart every day, she said to herself, time erodes us, that’s why it’s necessary to deceive the reader. She had to start writing now while the characters still burned for her, while she was still able to sweep up her own remains. The reader couldn’t know the truth. To write was absurd, pointless, in Mexico or in Spain. You could only deceive the reader temporarily. She didn’t fully know what it was she wanted to say, but she wrote to learn it; she said a pornographic novel about three children in a boarding school just to disguise the pressing need to speculate, to think, so the world wouldn’t tell her she was wasting her time. They and their cynical voices would block out, for some pages, Nella’s true nature. Thinking was an invisible activity that had to somehow be made physical. Diego and Eduardo would appear to be the corrupters. Writing was the only way she knew to sculpt ideas. But the one with the spider’s web would be Nella. She should write so that the words don’t speak for her, so that the language behind the ramparts don’t destroy her. Diego and Eduardo’s voices were essential. With metaphors, perhaps, she could save herself from the foreign constructions. They would be the flies. The only thing she wanted was to say it in her own language. The bugs that fall into a spider’s web aren’t innocent. All she wanted was to speak to herself. My characters will be the real and I a fiction.
She had felt dreamt up before, when she was a girl and her parents took her to the circus for the first time. The room, backlit, is a basement. The actors were dressed up and made up like caricatures of themselves and their costumes hadn’t been cut to their measurements. The room: an intestine. Some were stuffed into them, with their skin marked and red where the clothing ended, and others struggled, with the help of thick, colorful laces, to remain clothed. The room: a toothless mouth. That day an acrobat in blue stockings fell from the tightrope and, to the terror of the spectators, his leg bone ripped through the skin and the stockings to splash the floor with crimson. The room: a lizard’s tail. Two muscular men carried him away and immediately brought in the elephants. The room: a fortress. The people forgot about the acrobat. The room: a clearing. The tent filled with applause and elephants with sad eyes. The room: a placenta. She knew, looking out at the public, that she was the only one who wouldn’t forget the acrobat. The room: a blank page. She knew she was the only one who wouldn’t let the elephants distract her from the fallen man. The room: a twisted tongue. The show must go on was, really, a terrifying life motto. The room: a stage. The show must go on was the formula through which people looked forward, smiling, while someone at their side bled out. The room: a self-portrait. That was her first contact with the indifference of the rest of the world. The room: a cell. She understood it better when, years later, her father left the house to run off with a woman with graying hair and, before leaving forever, told her he loved her. The room: a wound. That time she knew for sure it wasn’t true, but that it was written in the script of what a father should say to his daughter before abandoning her. The room: an aleph. She was revolted when—because it was in the script of what a daughter should say to her father before he abandons her—she responded that she also loved him and she theatrically begged him not to go. The room: never a room. In fact, she remembered, at that time she didn’t really care if her father left and, if she were being honest with herself, she loved him less than Chicho—a Doberman with the devil’s eyes who died when he was run over by a sanctified van sporting the stamp of the Virgen de Guadalupe—but she told herself that she should love him, that she should be sad, that that is exactly how the show must go on. Her roomneveraroom. She was too young to understand that breaking with the script wasn’t a perverse act. Her room: a luminous cave. Later, when she grew up, everything was much clearer and much more complicated.
The light that filtered into the room was tenuous, pallid, like the light that shines from a lava lamp. Just like the circus, her room had a different kind of light, one that made her skin look like a disguise. Nella, the spider, would be a character covered by a thick mist. Many years ago, in the stands of a traveling circus, she fell in love with a Chinese juggler from Beijing. Diego and Eduardo would have known each other for a long time and they would be together like brothers, like lovers, like friends with the minds of twins. To write was to juggle with words. The boarding school would be big, with ample gardens, with a forest and a lake for good children, children like those in Musil’s novel. She only saw the juggler from Beijing once, but she remembered his long arms, made to embrace, and his way of moving through the air to diligently trap all kinds of colorful objects. At first, They wouldn’t be interested in Nella, the new girl. Were there circuses in Barcelona? But She would discover them doing something forbidden. Anyway, she didn’t want to go to the circus; that’s what the street was for. And They would torment her for having discovered them. That’s what that six-room apartment was for. Then, involuntarily, they would enter the mist.
She slid her hand across the drywall and, feeling the reliefs and roughness of the shredded wall, thought about a crocodile’s back and knew this was the only way she could write a novel: surrounded by scales. Diego and Eduardo would be, in spite of their fourteen years, sexually active. The smell of dampness in the room was sweet like a fountain of ripe fruit; it penetrated her nasal cavities and cloyed her throat. Before Nella came to the boarding school, They would have already had their first sexual experiences with girls from higher grades. She lifted her tongue and slid it like a snail across the roof of her mouth. They would have also experimented with physical pleasure with each other. In Mexico, writing had felt like walking on pins. Diego and Eduardo would fall in love with the same intensity as they desired the opposite sex. It isn’t possible to write at home, her mother told her once, not when it’s full of your shit. They would approach the girls in the boarding school like a serpent with two heads. Barcelona was also full of shit, but other people’s shit, shit that didn’t have anything to do with her. Diego and Eduardo would be a single person. That’s what was good about living in Spain: that she could write as a Mexican. Diego would have hair dripping with oil. Writing like a Mexican meant being a waterfall without a river. Eduardo would have the eyes of a vulture. She was never so aware of her Mexicanness as when she arrived in Barcelona. Diego’s eyes would look beyond things. The chauvinist motto of the UNAM, “the spirit shall speak for my race,” had never made so much sense. Eduardo’s hair would cover a centimeter of his forehead with blonde curls. In Barcelona, she could write without having to prove who she was. Vasconcelos was a fucking idiot. Abroad, few things were as certain as the fact that she was. And, furthermore, an asshole.
She walked back to the bed and let herself fall alongside the blank page. The circus was a dead metaphor. Last week she had erased every last line she had submitted for the FONCA grant. The circus was infancy. Twenty scrawny pages, a .docx file with languid sentences from a voice that wasn’t hers landed in the trashcan without any remorse. She wanted to start from zero. Remorse was a curious word. She wanted to write as if zero were something more than a hollow. It meant continuously gnawing at your conscience; sinking your teeth in, as into a piece of gum. She wanted to write as if zero were a starting point. The circus was an ouroboros devouring its own tail. But writing from zero was impossible. A novel could be an ouroboros. Why a pornographic novel? Why Nella? Why Diego? Why Eduardo? It had to be possible to create a language that didn’t devour itself. Her intention, the most honest of all, was to explore the unsettling; to say what cannot be said. Is there anything more human than desires and fears and the indifference to the desires and fears of others? In the prohibited was the full creative beginning. Literature cannot be distracted by elephants, you have to set them aside and see the fallen acrobat, take an interest in their suffering, in the grimace of pain that is carried off stage because it is inappropriate, because it breaks with the harmony, because it makes the spectacle obscene. Within the prohibited, social syntax was fearfully curled up. Writing only makes sense, she repeated to herself, if it is used to look beyond the elephants. And, nevertheless, the room was a sanctum-reptile-wall where her voice resonated, indifferent to thousands of voices, where her voice blew out the rest with a single puff, where she was deaf and blind, but not mute, and her condition made her stammer into the void and gnaw on her fingernails and know herself only by not being able to listen to herself, without being able to know if the words came out of her mouth or ran like trains through her imagination.
Three knocks on the door made her snap shut like a clam.
“Who is it?”
Iván’s voice, a hand grabbing her by the hair.
“Come on out of your batcave, güey. They beat the shit out of Cuco.”
Mónica Ojeda, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1988, has a Master in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies and has taught at the Universidad Católica de Santiago de Guayaquil. She is currently working on her PhD in Humanities with a focus on Latin American pornographic literature in Madrid. She was awarded the Alba Narrativa Prize in 2014 for her novel La desfiguración Silva (Arte y Literatura, 2015) and the Third National Poetry Prize Desembarco in 2015 for El ciclo de las piedras (Rastro de la Iguana Ediciones, 2015). In 2017, Mónica was included in the prestigious Bogotá 39 group, which selects thirty-nine writers under forty who have the potential and talent to mark the future of Latin American literature. Ojeda is one of the most exciting contemporary writers from Latin America because of her willingness to explore topics that others might consider taboo, the precise and surprising ways that she uses and language, and the way she weaves theoretical perspectives and pop culture references into the worlds she creates.Sarah Booker
Sarah Booker is a Spanish-to-English translator and doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she focuses on contemporary Latin American literature and translation studies. She has translated and published work by Cristina Rivera Garza (including The Iliac Crest, published with Feminist Press in October 2017), Amparo Dávila, Margarita García Robayo, Camila Fabbri, Patricio Pron, and Ricardo Piglia. Her translations have appeared in publications such as The Paris Review, Asymptote, Nashville Review, Latin American Literature Today, Palabras Errantes, and Translation Review.