Hands

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I’ve always liked the fact that the French word for hands is mains. I don’t know what the origin of the word is, but, translated back into English, it seems appropriate. Our hands, after all, are what we mainly use to get things done: writing, eating, labouring (and, yes, wiping our arses, which in some cultures is confined to a specific hand for reasons of hygiene). The sports that don’t require the use of hands are an anomaly (although football, in which only one player on each team, the goalkeeper, can use his hands, is the most popular game in the world. At the same time, I’ve never understood why Australian Rules Football has that name when the players use their hands far more than their feet). It is a traditional punishment in some Muslim countries for thieves to have their hands cut off – striking at the part of the body engaged in the theft, yes, but also at perhaps its most utilitarian part. The fingertips, I seem to recall, have more nerve endings in them than most of the rest of the body, making them a frequent target of the torturer’s art (I had an unpleasant taste of this the other day when I was cleaning hardened noodles from a colander and one slid under the nail of the third finger on my right hand. The pain was excruciating, and I can still see the bruise). We shake hands, and our hands shake. We high-five and fist-bump. We slap and we hold. We display our engagements and marriages there, and anxiously bite away the nails when life is not all we would want it to be (in primary school I once bit a thumbnail so far down it bled. I don’t bite my nails anymore, that particular nervous habit having been replaced by the gentle grinding of the soft outer layer of skin on the insides of my cheeks. There are white lines there but nobody can see them). Palms are read but not, to my knowledge, the soles of feet. When I look at my hands I see: two different ‘lifelines’, one (on my left) broken about halfway along, the other (on my right) complete. I don’t know if this means I’m going to die young or not. I see a silver signet ring, which I was recently asked about by a customer in the bookshop where I work. He told me he liked silver (and gold too, but that was more expensive) and remarked that my ring was badly scuffed, had lost its patina, wondering if something that had been engraved there had been worn away. I told him it hadn’t. I also see the thumb on my right hand, the top of which was sheared away by a door on Guy Fawkes night when I must have been one or perhaps two years old. I don’t remember it, but the story goes the top – which was hanging by a thread of skin – was hastily stuck back on sans stitches, to eventually reattach itself, leaving a faint scar on one side and a ridge-like indentation on the other. I see a mole, which makes me think (not for the first time this summer) that I am overdue a check-up of my skin.

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