“The Tumor” By Noor Rahman

There was too much chaos and all I heard are battle cries. I couldn’t see or think.  It was all around me and there was no escape, but the thing is, I couldn’t tell the difference between my own voice and the others. I was trying to be louder than the crowd, but it was no use, they were too angry and too close to victory to back down. These were the soldiers in the war I started, and I was the general who had lost control of his troops. I knew arguing was no use, so I joined in the yelling and pushed to the front of the crowd. I hung onto an artery attached to my home, the Right Kidney, and watched members of my faction break off and fly through the stream of blood in the adjacent vein, each one whooping with joy as they went by. All I could do was wait until The Brain decided to shut everyone off for the night; then it would be quiet enough for me to think.

The crowd finally died down, but we could all tell The Brain was struggling to shut everyone down that night. All the Tumor cells and our supporters had been at the rally that day to celebrate The Girl’s visit to the doctor. All the cells in the whole body were silent as we waited for The Ears to tell us what had happened, and of course, the moment they announced the doctor’s surrender, the party broke loose. I have to admit that even I was happy to hear about the surrender. It meant that members of the faction I founded, The Tumor Cells, would no longer be murdered by radiation and chemo.

The Brain had no hope of shutting me off that night, even as the rise and fall of The Diaphragm rocked all the cells around me to sleep. My mind was racing with panic and conflicted emotions. This was the day I had been fighting for, and yet, this would be the reason for my doom. When I started this war, I was young and angry, and I didn’t know that my actions would ruin everything. More than anything, I ached to tell my faction about the consequences of what we had done, but I knew they were too invested in our cause to change, too much like the angry, young cell I had been.

Much like in the movies The Girl watched, my life flashed before my eyes as I thought about my imminent death. I remembered being born, naive and pure, into the bustling world of a kidney. On my first day of school my mother told my siblings and I not to go near the brain or heart cell children. We were instructed to stay away from everyone except our fellow kidney cells. As soon as we arrived at school, the reason for these instructions became clear. We swam past the brain cell students, who were seated at the front and were dressed in expensive-looking uniforms. Then we went by the heart cells, who were seated directly behind them, then the blood cells, then the lung cells, then the liver cells, then the pancreas and stomach cells, and every other organ until we reached the last row, which we were to share with the bladder cells. The bladder cells, who are parents always made fun of for being poor, were our neighbors for the rest of our education. It was humiliating to be next to such vermin. From the moment we got to school, we were taught about the magnificence of the important organs, like the lungs. Occasionally, the kidneys were mentioned, but only when talking about whose job it was to clean up after the important organs. My siblings and I hated the important organs, and we would plot about how to infiltrate their homes and destroy them.

As we grew up, everyone around me became used to how we were treated compared to the other cells. The kidney cells are noble, hard workers, who do their job regardless of what the others think about them. But I was never able to accept my status as a second-class citizen. I did not want to be the waste remover for The Brain. I was sick of the Blood passing by us without giving us our nutrients for the day because they thought it was funny. I was angry that The Brain consulted everyone else when it made decisions, but not us. Mostly, I was frustrated that no one else in the whole Right Kidney cared about these things the way I did. Whenever I expressed my anger, the other cells thought I was ungrateful. They were blind to the injustice, the perfectly colonized subjects of The Brain and the important organs. They were brainwashed to be content with the most vile work in the whole body. I had more pride then them.

The Girl was six years old when she fell down the stairs, changing the course of all our lives. The Brain instructed The Ears to block out the sound of the ambulance’s sirens so that we could hear his announcement. He explained that we were going to a hospital, where there were a lot of potential invaders, so we should all be on high alert for any unfamiliar cells and report any suspicious activity. I watched with disgust as the leaders of individual organs blindly sent their cells into a panic in order to protect The Girl. I had nothing against The Girl personally, but to follow the orders of The Brain as if he was a king was abhorrent.

After we had been at the hospital for a while, The Ears and Eyes were once again instructed to block everything out so we could hear The Brain’s instructions: “We are about to go into an x-ray machine. Protection will be provided, but you should all know that this is a dangerous environment. This is not something we can hear, see, touch, smell, or taste. There is no blocking it out. The x-ray will feed you false information and will try to change your DNA. If you submit to the will of the x-ray, you will hurt The Girl.” I was once again disgusted by echoes of gasps from around the Right Kidney. I was also curious about the false information the x-ray would spread, so I decided to keep an open mind.

When the x-ray turned on, everything started to shake and the debilitating chill of panic washed over my being. Everyone around me scrunched themselves up to protect themselves from the shaking. I did not. That is all I remember.

In the days that followed, I felt different somehow. I was more dissatisfied and disgruntled with my life and the lives of the other kidney cells. Everything bothered me and I became irritable. Whereas the young cells used to enjoy my company and had given me status as a sort of delinquent older brother, parent cells now warned their children to stay away from me. However, they did not usually listen to their parents and spent time with me. They all liked me because I did not make them do their work and I would sometimes help them skip school. After the x-ray, I began discussing my opinions on the hierarchy with them. It was as if the radiation had made it so that I could not physically keep my thoughts pent up inside without feeling sick. At first, I spoke to the adolescent cells informally. To my surprise, they seemed to agree with me. For the first time, all of my thoughts that had made me a social pariah amongst my peers were being accepted, and I wondered why I had never spoken to these kids more in depth before. I eventually gained enough support from the younger cells that we held weekly meetings in secret to discuss our opinions and vent about the injustice of being the garbagemen of the body. We called ourselves The Tumor.

The Tumor meetings went on for about a year, until we finally had enough support for me to begin giving formal sermons to other cells, including the adults. My ideas resonated with them, and The Tumor grew. It seemed that the strength in our growing numbers made cells more willing to listen to our principles, and eventually, come to agree with them.

Another few months passed, and then one day changed everything. Someone had informed The Brain about our group and the war against us began. Our opposition came up with a more derogatory name for us: Cancer. Every day, new doses of chemicals flowed through the blood and killed off members of The Tumor. This made me even more angry; we had held meetings and slacked off on work a little bit, but we hadn’t done any real damage yet. They should not have been attacking us. But because of their attacks, we had no choice but to become violent in return. If the Kidneys had been looked down upon before, it was nothing compared to the inhumane treatment we received now. As a result, even though our members were being killed off by the drugs coming through the blood everyday, The Tumor was growing faster than ever, with new alienated kidney cells joining constantly. It also created an even bigger internal divide between The Tumor and the rest of the cells; they were livid at the violent reputation we had given them and worked tirelessly to show the rest of the organs that they were not the same as us.

Eventually, our threats and violence were too much for the other kidney cells to resist. Even if they did not help our cause directly, no one was able to their work. The blood passing through was cluttered with toxins, overcrowding everything else and making it difficult for the drugs to kill us. One sermon I was specifically proud of came after The Brain called this buildup of toxins “Kidney Failure.” I talked about how, in the midst of violence and protests, The Brain still refused to listen to our concerns and continued to alienate us further. In this fashion, The Tumor kept recruiting more followers even in the face of the assault of medicine.

Fast forward to the present. The Tumor of the Right Kidney had gained enough followers that we could actually plan real battle strategies. We would routinely deploy troops to enter the bloodstream and infiltrate other organs, gaining followers everywhere. A week ago, we had celebrated our infiltration of a small portion of The Brain, making communication among the various organ bases of The Tumor easier. During our celebration of this victory, my mother timidly approached me. I had not seen her in a long time, and she was now old and crippled. She told me that I had finally won and it would not be long before the doctors would announce their surrender. She said something else as well, “I hope you are happy. Now you about to kill The Brain and The Heart and The Lungs and all the other organs you’ve always hated. In the process, you’ve killed an innocent little girl, not to mention yourself and all those who are loyal to you.”

I took no notice of her words until a few weeks later. We had just infiltrated The Heart, and The Brain reported that it could not get the heart to pump fast enough to supply everyone with enough oxygen. The issue was quickly resolved when The Girl put on an oxygen mask. But this instance revealed the meaning of my mother’s words: our victory would ultimately mean our destruction. We could not survive without The Brain or The Heart. We were all ultimately doomed.

Since this revelation about three weeks ago, I had tried in vain to put a stop to the movement I had started, but it was too late. I had been too logical and too fiery. Today, the doctors announced their surrender. They also announced that The Girl had two months left to live. I was left alone while everyone around me slept, knowing that I would be responsible for the deaths of trillions of cells. I started to panic. I started to move desperately around the Right Kidney, looking for a way out. I kept bumping into other cells, mumbling apologies as I roused them. I stopped moving and tried to turn my thoughts off. One thought persisted: we had won the war. Now we would have to die because of it.