From an early age Ibrahim Erarrat had an incredible appetite. He ate and ate, yet nothing seemed to satisfy him. The food he consumed passed through him like water through a tunnel. He had a hollow within him like a cave: dark and wide and impossible to ignore. In quiet moments, he’d look down and see the belly of darkness, jaws open, waiting to swallow him. He tried to fill this hollow with chicken wings, with mashed potatoes and gravy, with carrots and green beans, but that didn’t work; these too disappeared into the void. He tried to fill the cave with cakes and chocolates, washed down with a cow’s worth of milk. He tried raw fish and onions, pizza and pasta, kimchee and curry, but nothing seemed to satisfy him. Once he was aware of the void he found that he carried it with him at all hours, as though he were always walking a tightrope above a dark and massive hole.
As a teenager, Ibrahim Erarrat began to experiment. He started by chewing ice. He woke up, rubbed his eyes, went downstairs to his freezer, and took his first cube of the day. He lay his head on his pillow to sleep, feeling the last cold remains of his final cube pouring down his throat. As long as he chewed ice, he could ignore the hollow at his core. But before long the cave shuddered, its jaws expanded, and Ibrahim found that even ice could not distract him from its depths.
In time he took more drastic measures. He chewed on pencils, eating the splinters. He would buy cheap wallets from the nearby Carrefour just to chew on the leather. He would even pick mosquitoes off his skin and eat them, their blood, himself.
As he aged Ibrahim began to eat metal, coins at first, then keys, until he found himself deconstructing broken alarm clocks so he could eat the nails and copper wire. He went to the ocean and filled his belly up with salt water; he was under the waves drinking for so long that some on shore thought he had drowned. At dinner with his parents, Ibrahim excused himself, went to the bathroom, and took a hidden pouch filled with faux gemstone jewelry from his pocket. He opened the pouch, heart beating fast, hands trembling, and removed three rings, one ruby, one emerald, and one sapphire. He shoved all three rings into his mouth, swallowing while he tied the pouch and replaced it in his pocket. Then he flushed the toilet, wet his hands in the sink, and re-joined his parents at the dinner table. Despite Ibrahim’s efforts, the void never fully filled, and on quiet evenings, when he was alone, he sometimes could not help but feel himself sliding down its gullet.
That is, Ibrahim Erarrat could not bear the hollowness and hunger he felt until one fine day in October, when his friend Oscar Raleur sent him an invitation to go apple picking.
At first, Ibrahim did not want to go. He preferred to stay in bed all day, eating nuts and bolts, watching videos with his computer propped up on his belly. But Oscar was an old friend, and Ibrahim had declined his other recent invitations. The very least Ibrahim could do was spend a day keeping up appearances. He agreed to go.
They drove past Versailles, out to the country. The sun that day was bright and the air was woven of autumn’s chill. The trees were all orange, and red, and yellow, and the sky was a brilliant blue. Oscar parked his Honda beneath an oak tree, near a trailhead leading into the woods.
“Ready?” said Oscar.
Ibrahim said he was, and the two of them started down the trail, which was flanked by apple trees bearing ripe red fruits. As they hiked, Ibrahim ate apple after apple, seeds and stem and all. The two men didn’t speak as they walked. Oscar filled a satchel with apples, inspecting one carefully before placing it amongst the others he’d gathered. Ibrahim mindlessly ate the abundant apples, thinking of Oscar, who was to be married in the spring at a chapel in the Alps. Then he started thinking about mountains, and from mountains his thoughts went to the railways, and from railways he began to dream of far-off lands, of India and America and Peru. They passed a waterfall with a rainbow in it, and, just after that, Ibrahim realized an astonishing fact, something that stopped him, made him look around, made him touch his face, his chest, his stomach. He still existed, he still breathed, but he had not felt the horror of the void once in the last hour, not since he’d started with Oscar on the trail. It was as though the sun had spilled into the cave and evaporated the darkness.
The wind embraced Ibrahim Erarrat when he and Oscar broke the line of trees to a clearing. It wrapped its chill arms around him, while the sun warmed his skin and filled his eyes with brightness. He tasted dried apple juice on his lips. His body beneath his puffy jacket felt warm from the long hours of hiking. His eyes were filled: the colors of the world seemed so bright, as though he were in a painting or film. His ears were filled: birds sang bright repetitive songs; he was entranced by the sparrows and blue jays and finches. Leaves tumbled down around him, one by two by one. Ready? The word echoed in the cavern. He was ready. For far too long he had been obsessed with the void, distracting him from the wonder all around him. As he looked and listened his eyes and ears filled; he existed within a miracle, and was part of it.
The void was still there, somewhere inside of him. The emptiness would never leave him, but it would become bearable, for it had changed: the cave had filled to become a pond, struck by autumn falling leaves, rippling. Nothing of the world changed, yet everything transformed. In that moment Ibrahim felt at one with the void, with Oscar, with the apples in his belly, with the stars. He found for the first time in his life that he was full.
Later, hunger found Ibrahim Erarrat once more, as it inevitably finds us all. The void was but a passing thing, temporary, and thus he could simply wait, be it hours or years, until at last he felt full once more. When he grew hungry he pictured himself in that golden forest with Oscar, watching the rustling leaves. The wind was food. The song of sparrows was food. The memory was food, and it sustained him.
Karim Ragab Karim Ragab was born and raised in Ohio, and still calls the Cleveland area his home. He is one of the hosts of Radio Freewrite, a creative writing and storytelling podcast. He has had stories published in Flora Fiction, Dissonance Magazine, and Literary Cleveland and the Cleveland Public Library’s Neighborhood Voices anthology. He recently quit teaching in order to pursue a dream of writing. He is at work on a novel, entitled Manifest Destiny, and a book of short stories, called Mixed Episodes. “Errant’s Apples” will be included in the collection.