By Sylvia Heike
I am born without sight. My first sensations of the world consist only of what I sense with my remaining four: the warmth of my mother and twin brother, the faint lingering smell of strange foods on her breath, the creamy almost nutty-sweet taste of mother’s milk, and the soft shuffling footsteps of my mother’s movement.
My mother cannot speak, so I mostly listen to the weather, comfortably nestling in the bed I share with my brother. When it rains, I feel the rise in humidity, but I never go out in the rain. The loudest sound I hear is thunder, but safe in my bed, I am not scared of its distant rumbling. Birdsong is the most recurring disturbance to my days of lull, and usually not enough to fully wake me.
My mother always watches over me and my brother, keeping us safe from the outside world. I rarely wake up without an indication of her presence; her light touch or the subdued echo of familiar sounds. She makes sure that my belly is full and that I am always clean and warm. I love her more than anything in the world, or perhaps as much as I love my brother, who never leaves my side. I never meet my father.
I start eating firmer foods. Milk becomes carrot and carrot becomes other vegetables. I love my greens. My mother does not mind that my face is smeared in sticky residue after a good meal. I cannot see it, so neither do I. Only my fingers know it’s there.
Every evening, people visit our house. I sit on their laps without a single complaint, even though I miss my mother who remains nearby. Her faint scent comforts me. The people talk for hours, in a foreign language that I cannot understand. They bring strange smells into the house with them; on their hands, on their clothes. I go from lap to lap, hand to hand. I don’t know them, but I never cry.
I don’t like the car ride; it scares me. The tremors make me feel like I’m sitting on top of an earthquake, not knowing when or if it will end. It’s a one-way trip.
I move to a new house, to a new family. I am separated from my brother and never feel his small body beside me again. My mother’s scent is gone. I am surrounded by strangers, exposed to a new environment that is not home.
I have a new mother and next to her, a deeper voice introduces himself as my father. I have a new soft cot to sleep in and I never go hungry, but I often wake up alone in the night, afraid of the changed shape of my world.
My new mother and father speak a lot, but I cannot understand their words. Over time, I learn they say they love me a lot, but I’m not sure what makes those words so important. My mother could never say it out loud, but I know she loved me. Her love was simple and pure, just like my love for her. Without words, I knew.
For my parents, love seems to mean a slightly different thing. They drown me in their kisses and hug me close, more than I want to and even when I don’t want to. They give me toys I don’t know how to play with, so I just put them in my mouth or push them around. Their hands are gentle, but I prefer sitting on my own.
A strange new appliance in the kitchen springs to life and I panic. I run forward till I meet the other end of the room, almost falling over things I can’t see. By the wall, I find a chair to hide under. Why does this house have so many different pieces of machinery? There are monsters everywhere.
Sometimes we go out into the garden, the whole family: my new mother and father and me. I love the various smells of the outside world: the freshness of the grass, the sweet pungent scent of the wild flowers, and the hearty aroma rising from the earth under my feet. My nose and ears are filled with information to decipher. I want to taste everything, but my parents are quick to stop me. They pick me up and carry me back inside.
I don’t think of my parents, even my mother, as new, anymore. They are all I know, my whole world. I can tell apart their scents and the sounds of their footsteps from everyone else’s. While I lose the meaning of their words, I recognise the music of their voices.
Sometimes when they leave, I am afraid they won’t come back.
My mother cradles me in her lap, her feather-light touches stroking me to sleep. Her fingers are long and narrow, but I don’t flinch at their touch anymore. I rest against her rounded chest and let her comforting scent envelop me. I move up and down with the tide of her chest, her soft warm breath caressing my cheek.
As I’m falling asleep, I think of another place where I felt this kind of love and safety before, but I cannot put a name to it.