The Interesting People of Mount Kilimanjaro, by Stephen Koster


This story, along with many others, can be found in Issue Six of Tincture Journal. You can buy a copy here.

The smell is instantly revolting—enough, in fact, to make me gag. The milk inside looks green and is divided into two parts: green curds and green oil. The curds side is filled with some kind of cheese sweat, and the oil side glistens like a gasoline spill.

Outside, my neighbour’s sprinkler has fallen on its side and is spraying his house. The sound of its mechanical arm whacking against the wall echoes inside my head.

This is dumb, I think.

No. It’s only dumb because other people would think it’s dumb. There’s nothing inherently stupid or smart about it.

Then, again, that’s because it’s pretty dumb.

Ah, screw it.

There’s a tribe near the base of Kilimanjaro who perform ritual circumcisions upon their young men when they come of age. The boy in question can’t move or yell out. Any reaction during the ceremony is considered unmanly. You have to forget your foreskin ever existed.

Now that’s chaos.

Two opposing beliefs at a crossroads. Trying to circumcise a grown boy who loves his foreskin, and a system that believes in the goodness of things stripped of their foreskin.

I’m not boring. There are lots of things to prove that. For example, when coming home from work every day, there are different routes I take. Sometimes these routes lead past places I’m not too comfortable walking past, like privately-owned convenience stores.

I could go to a museum, I think.

That sounds boring.

Nothing’s inherently boring or interesting, it’s all in how you—

Said that already. Got to stop saying inherently.

Setting the milk on the counter, it’s only a few moments before the excuses come. This could affect my health. This is not a rational exercise. It won’t be fun.

There are obvious reasons to put the milk down the drain. The smell, the taste, the fridge space. Expired milk isn’t good for anyone. In the natural state of humanity, someone encounters something foul-smelling and throws it away. Thus, by knowing this milk is past its prime and not disposing of it, I am rejecting nature.

I find a clothes pin and plug my nose with it.

Bungee-jumping. I could go bungee-jumping. That would be fun.

The pin smells like wood shavings and nothing else. An absent sort of smell. A smell vacuum.

The milk sloshes as I bring the edge of the bucket to my lips. The metal ridge is warm.

They all called me boring last week. Isabella and the rest. In a family restaurant. In public. It wasn’t like I overheard them say it in a private conversation. It was right to my face.

They were there, underneath the fake taxidermy moose head on the wall, going through the menu, and I was talking about investment strategies.

Dave was wearing a striped shirt that no one called boring.

No one called Linda boring, and she only ordered a salad.

Isabella wasn’t boring either, but no one made fun of the fact that she always orders at least two diet pops every time we go out. She should be the obvious choice.

Yeah, so I’ll drink it. So what? I’m fine. I feel great.

At first there’s no taste. My taste buds are in denial. There’s nothing wrong with this milk, the taste buds believe. They taste the greasy yellow sludge, but the signals don’t reach my brain.

My tongue feels the milk before it tastes it. A hard, curdling mass. Going south, through pipes and tubes. Buried deep in my stomach. Weighing everything down.

It’d be funny if they found me on the floor or outside in the neighbour’s sprinkler, or with my head in the sink, like I’m bobbing for apples.

After one swallow I start to reel, immediately regretful. Lurching towards the sink I shove a quivering finger into my throat and gag. Nothing comes out. I feel the milky mass inside me, gurgling and slipping around, and going everywhere but back up.

My throat tightens as nothing follows nothing. A little saliva, but that’s it.

Choking, I wretch and fall to the floor. The veins in my forehead bulge out like little blue highways. The ceiling spins.

That’s fast, I think, as the ceiling goes one direction and I the other. Can we go the other way? Let’s go the other way.

I find my cellphone and, crawling, scroll through the contacts to find a name while holding a hand to my forehead, which is burning up. At least I think so. It’s hard to tell. It might just be the heat. Lying motionless feels good. I could stay like this.

Floors look weird. We never look at floors this close.

The call goes through, reaching an uncertain voice on the other end.

“Hello?” it says.

“Hey, Isabella, it’s me,” I say. “Could I borrow your ironing board collection?”

She’ll say no and then I’ll probably die.

Now the vomit comes. The spray goes on and on and won’t stop. Though I try to shut my mouth, this only causes the flow of breakfast, lunch, and milky curds to go through my nose, forcing the clothes pin to fall into the expanding pool of human oatmeal beneath me. There are at least three smells instantly detectable, all of them cheese related.

“What?” Isabella asks. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I manage to get out before the next wave comes exploding out of me. I see teenagers with black skin and shaved heads, jumping, landing on the tips of their toes, all of them with blood-stained loincloths. They are jumping under a mountain shrouded with clouds, on top of my stomach.

Can you guys stop? I dig the enthusiasm, but it’s killing me.

“What did you say?” Isabella asks. “Are you wearing a mask or something—I can barely hear you.”

A primal choking sound comes from my throat as a shot of vomit sends my phone skittering under the fridge, burying Isabella’s voice under a three-hundred pound appliance and a pool of stomach sludge. At this point her words are unrecognisable. Anglo-Saxon mumblings.

No more. Please.

This would be even worse with a circumcision involved. I try to think about not-mountains, not-cloudy peaks, not-circumcisions. Kilimanjaro. This wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone for the hot sauce challenge. I wonder if those village elders had this problem. The unwillingness to commit.
had to be watching National Geographic.

had to realise I’d never be as manly as a grown adult who willingly lets his foreskin be shorn off.

The phone continues to wonder what’s going on. I don’t know. I start to forget where I am. I’m not in Africa, that’s for sure. The thirteen-year-old tribesman dancing on my head tells me so.

Ease up, man. You’re heavy.

I know the milk won’t kill me. In the morning I’ll be stronger.

It’s a Nietzsche thing. There is no milk.

I fall to my knees in front of the fridge and reach under, making rainbow arcs with my arms. My hand touches something palm-sized and rectangular.

I pull out the phone.

“Isabella. Are you there?”

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“Remember what you said about me being boring?”

“You’re not seriously hung up on that?” she asks. “I only meant—”

“Have you ever been to Mount Kilimanjaro, Isabella?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Would you think someone who went through an adult circumcision was boring?”

“Jesus,” Isabella says. “You didn’t—”

“No,” I say, wiping froth from my mouth. “Only metaphorically. In reality, I drank a lot of expired milk.”

Or at least that’s what I try to say. My mouth is somewhat occupied.

I vomit again, all over my clothes. Like jumping into a swimming pool full of pig’s entrails. The phone slips from my hand again. Through my own fluids and mucus, I notice the call has ended. Picturing Isabella’s face, all I can see is its outline and a frown. I grab the phone and before redialling her number, I dial nine-one-one.

Okay, guys. You can start dancing again. Just keep it down when the paramedics get here. I know you’re happy to be circumcised and all, but let’s keep it in check. Some of us aren’t there yet.

Some curds drip down the spout of the empty milk bucket, like I’ve forgotten them. I scoop one up along the edge of my finger and drop it into my mouth.

I have, as they say, become a man. Under my jeans, my foreskin is nodding furiously, clapping its folds of skin together in prayer.

See, I think.

This was much easier than going to Africa.

The call goes through and I give the friendly man on the other end my address before I pass out. Though time becomes a bit fuzzy, I notice that sometime later Isabella very courteously helps carry me to the ambulance, which I think is a bit of a dramatic gesture, and frankly the kind of thing a boring person would do around a more exciting person, and as the paramedics passed me over to the kids of Kilimanjaro, I mentioned this. They carried me bleeding to the mountain through a long river of frothy green milk, telling me the whole time I am no longer boring.

“Victory at last,” I say to the ambulance driver.

From an upside-down position, the ambulance driver’s face looks sullen and a little bit stoned, like he’s ignoring me. Like I’m a fool. Like my finally becoming a man is inconveniencing him.

Well, he hasn’t seen the mountains yet.

Stephen Koster is an abominable snowman. He spends his days eating Sherpas and developing an advanced system of hand communication. His greatest fear is the little fuzzy things that get stuck between your toes when you wear socks. You can follow his work on Facebook:

3 thoughts on “The Interesting People of Mount Kilimanjaro, by Stephen Koster

  1. Pingback: Issue Six Table of Contents | Tincture Journal

  2. As a person who would consider himself a milk lover (not in a sexy way, but in an ‘I like to drink it and couldn’t live without it’ way) I can honestly say that this story captures the raw, physical experience of having something that you ordinarily enjoy becoming such a source of repulsion that it elicits a physiological response such as blowing chunks of curdled milk all over your kitchen floor. A job well done by the author.

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