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The Man is born fully clothed, with Hammers for hands. He wears boots, a jacket, and in his sleeves he has no wrists. He has no palms, no fingers, nor thumbs, only long steel handles ending with a Hammer. On one side, long forked hooks stretch out like claws. On the other there is a pummel, its steel face flattened and hard.

His father holds him and he is cold. His mother holds him and he is hard. His sister doesn’t dare touch him. His brothers mock him when she does. He keeps his toys in a padlocked room. He swaggers with stiff shoulders through a garden that is full of grey walls.

As a boy, I was born for self-reliance. I valued discipline, resilience and determination. Everyone I met wanted me to become a Self-Made-Man, a saltrock on a sand dune. [So] I learnt to be good with my hands. I used the tools given to me and I put the right shapes in the right holes.

Everything he finds in the garden is a Nail. He strokes it and the sound is of metal against metal. All around him, the other Men make this exact same sound. He listens to the orchestral clang, and he pulls back his hand. He stares at the Nail, studies it, and in one smooth motion, he smacks it on its Head. He does this a hundred times a day.

I remember the first time playing with the local boys, how proud I felt. Like all the boys our age, we made such a racket. And from inside that sound, [it felt like] the whole world was cheering us on. It wasn’t the nicest sound, but I was happy for it. It bonded us in a world where everything was a struggle. You found the sweet spot and rode the wave, or risked catching a serious earful.

After many years, the Man starts to think about Nails. How they are long and shiny and make a sharp noise when he hits them. And he laughs because what a silly thing for something so small to sound so big. To bang so loud and then disappear into a wall or buckle and bend but does a feeling happen? Does the nail feel anything when he makes it disappear? And the Man listens to the smack and thinks of his own Head, which is soft and fuzzy and not at all like a solid Nail.

And the man thinks gosh how lucky not to be a Nail in this world of Hammers. And the thought makes him flinch and the flinch makes him smack and the smack is bigger and louder than before. The noise rings between his ears and so the Man never forgets his own, very vulnerable Head.

I did sometimes wonder about the cost of our friendship. We had a great time, but always at someone’s expense. We seemed to be gambling on the hope of a joke that was also an insult. Together, we toed the line between banter and bullying in a way that was never clear. And this ambiguity meant you couldn’t count on [your friend’s] support if you got hurt. Actually calling someone out would be crossing a line, and if you took things “too seriously,” things could get real serious for you. No one wanted to be a victim. No one wanted to lose friends. So you just played along, and learnt to protect your place by putting people in theirs.

Sometimes the Man comes across a window or a gate. On the other side is a wall-less garden, whose soft ground is moisturized by rivers; a meadow of grass and rubble with painted nails scattered amongst the blooming fingers. And the Man walks by without stopping, because he sees no Nails.

I knew other ways existed, but never seriously felt they were open to me.

And then the Man meets someone new — a man like himself, but a man like no other. His hands are full of fingers, each one with a neatly cut nail. His palms are soft, for reaching delicately out to the things around him. He is interested in everything he sees. He lingers near windows and gates. He gazes far into the distance as though seeing something that isn’t there.

And the Man is confused by him, because he’s not sure what he recognizes in him. And the Man wants to speak to him, but doesn’t know what to say. They seem distanced, separated by a lifetime of choices. They seem to share something old, and neither of them know what to do with it.

He can’t stop staring at me. It’s like he’s seeing me for the first time since I was him. But I’m not sure I want to be seen by this Man. His gaze makes me feel warm, it gives me hope for my childhood. But I don’t trust what he might do with this hope. Or with me if I name it to him. And right now, it feels like the only real difference between us…

I spend less time with those old boys. Not for spite or safety, we just naturally drifted. I began picking at the ways we kept me in place; kept me in the right kind of clothes, playing the right kind of role. So I’m different now. But different from what? If I’m different from myself, I have to hope it makes me happier. And if I’m different from him, I have to hope I am still safe.

The Man is struck by the beauty of his hands.

I want him to love me as the person I am now.

He notices the strength of his shoulders. The clarity of his skin.

He is moving towards me and I don’t know what to do.

And all around them there is a massive silence. Not a nail is hit for miles around. And in the corner of their eyes, they can see the other Men watching.

This piece has been authored by an Equimundo Writing Fellow, a member of a cohort of forward-thinking individuals with a global perspective on masculinity and male partnership for gender equality. The content of this piece represents the views of the author alone.

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