I am eight.
I have outgrown my Sunday dress and my wrists are exposed to the Autumn breeze. I have my favorite summer sandals on, with white knee-length stockings to protect my feet from the coldness. My restless hair is tied in a ponytail stemming from the back of my neck.
As the church is crowded, Mom decides that we stay outside in the churchyard. I like it better there. The garden smells of raindrops. Mom silently prays—the features of her face forever stony. I, on the other hand, carefully observe. I like watching people. I enjoy their happiness as though it is mine.
I spot a girl my age. She has her Sunday dress on too. She too is with her mom.
“Mommy, Mommy look at me!” she cries her lungs out, but her mom doesn’t appear at all upset by her unfit behavior.
The girl lets go of her mom’s hand and runs, and jumps, and swirls around, and gently lifts the sides of her dress when she bows. It must be a new dress, because I like to do that hopping, and swirling, and dancing in a new dress—when nobody is watching.
Her mom tries to look austere when she places her index finger on her lips, but she fails miserably and cannot help smiling back at her. She guiltily excuses herself for her daughter’s behavior, but she still can’t conceal her smile.
I am still standing next to Mom. I lift my chin high so as to get a clear view of her face. She glances at the little girl and her mom, very briefly, and then turns to her front, she sighs and lowers her head. She continues her prayer. Am I in it?
I look at her hand hanging loosely on her side. Age spots litter the wrinkled skin.
I fit my own hand snuggly into her papery palm. It feels rough; almost lifeless. She glances at me, surprised by my deed, but avoids eye contact as though she is afraid. She squeezes my hand lightly just for a brief moment.
I am twelve, with thick black eyebrows, tangled strands of hair gushing down my shoulders, fuzz over my upper lip, and the like. I am a flat-chested scrawny kid and I haven’t had my period just yet. I have boyish legs—scars, dirt, hair and everything.
The girls in my class, those with ribbons in their silky smooth hair, boyfriends and the first signs of what is going to evolve to an actual bosom, surround me in the schoolyard like I am some sort of strange animal. Their faces reveal a pastiche of feelings toward my person—pity, bewilderment, contempt.
I lean against a pine-tree’s trunk—my face serious under the circumstances and my jaw clenched.
“You won’t be able to make babies,” they tell me.
I don’t know how babies are made—all I hear are some ridiculous stories of boys sticking their thing inside you but I am absolutely sure that none of it is true.
They tell me that when I get it, if I get it—my period that is—I should ask my mom to slap me in the face.
Why on earth would a sane person ask someone else to slap them in the face? Shouldn’t the pain, and the bleeding, and the embarrassment be enough?
As though they can read my mind—those know-it-alls—put their adult faces on, and explain that, this way, the horror from the sight of blood on my underwear will go away; it will just vanish in thin air
“You will no longer be a girl, you will become a woman,” one says with the self-assurance of a grown up, and her gaze lingers for a while on my legs.
Confidence is a concept unknown to me. I was never been told of it, never been taught of it.
The things they say hover in my thoughts during breaks and while in class. They haunt my dreams at night. In my prayers, I ask Jesus to send me a sign, to help me understand. I cry myself to sleep wondering what is that horrible thing I have done to deserve such a punishment.
I want to tell my mom but I’m too shy, too embarrassed to admit my incompleteness. I want to ask her, what is the big deal about getting your panties all bloody and having your face smacked really hard because of that. I want to press my face against the soft dome of her belly and cry warm tears at the prospect of a childless life—her papery palm on the back of my head; soft caress. I know for a fact Mom loves me, even though she has never put ribbons in my hair.
There they are again. Small palms hiding their mouths as they talk with their stare fixed on me. Their silken ribbons fly in the wind.
I am running home from school. My limbs feel strangely strong, resistant to the harsh toil they are under. My heart is pounding and my cheeks burn with distress. Tears run down the sides of my face and I wipe my nose on my sleeve as I run. I am sobbing—really loud—I know I must sound ridiculously comic.
Mom is standing by the sink washing the dishes meticulously. They have already had lunch, Mom and Dad that is, and my plate is waiting for me on the table, covered with a checked kitchen towel.
“What has happened to you?” she asks.
Her face, as though made of wax, appears to have melted by the passing of time. Its characteristics—tall forehead, judging eyes, small condescending mouth with big lips, protruding cheekbones—resembles mine in so many different ways. There must have been beauty there once but I guess nobody has ever told her.
“I want to shave my legs,” I blurt out. I wipe my nose on my wet sleeve and I unwittingly snort. Perspiration and tears run down my thumping temples. “I want to shave my legs,” I scream. My voice comes from a strange unexplored place, deep inside me, and it sounds as though it is not mine anymore.
I am twenty-one.
Ghosts have no features.
I step out of the bathtub. Droplets of lukewarm water hang on my skin. The hotel towel smells of chlorine. I stare at the sweating tiles and I can almost see through them—him waiting at the other side of the wall.
He is not nervous with anticipation—sitting on the edge of the bed, his head lowered, hands tied together in a prayer-like position, staring at the floor; his heart bounding; cheeks flushing; breathing inconspicuously as though not to disturb the sacredness of the moment. Nothing like that.
In the dark pathways of my mind, I try to retrieve his face as though it has been years since I last saw him. I find it extremely difficult, as though I have no recollection. My mind creates a reproduction of his face—a collage of features that do not necessarily blend together in a harmonious union. Grotesque!
I glance at my own face in the mirror. It is hiding from me behind a hazy layer of humidity. I run my finger on the wet surface drawing the outline of my head, and my shoulders, and torso; I also draw a smile in the circle that is my face. My traits are obscure—just like my thoughts, and my dreams, and the things that I wish for.
I think of Mom’s face—so carefully carved upon the walls of my memory—condescending and austere as though she is unable to experience any sort of feeling.
I wish I could see me through Mom’s eyes but I can’t; my face is lost in a sea of faces in the murky vastness of the world.
She is dead. It’s been two years she is dead.
The bathroom tiles feel cold and dirty underneath my soles. I could vomit. Particles of dust and hair disturb the longed for cleanliness.
I place my palm on the mirror, on what is the reflection of my chest. I press hard, and it almost feels as though my fingertips will submerge into the secret trails of my heart.
I squeeze my eyes shut until I hear the whispers of the seas rushing out of the coiled tube of a seashell. I am submerged in the blueness. Cleansing waves in slow motion lean softly against my body and infiltrate through my skin leaving the tingly sensation of their foam on a wished-for self of mine curled somewhere deep inside me like an embryo.
I wish I could run away into the night. I wish I could be swallowed in its sheltered world of unanimity. I wish I were a ghost hovering over the city, resting on the warm limestone walls overhearing the words of secret lovers, long lost into time, echoing through the centuries.
Choice is a concept unknown to me. I was never been told of it, never been taught of it.
His lovemaking is clumsy. I am not being kissed. I am not being loved nor am I able to love.
His rubbery penis pokes me. It brushes against my thighs; craving, searching, failing. My thoughts run wild far away from that hotel-room; they escape on the seashore and into the quietness of the underwater, where I can be lost—lost forever into the reassuring, cool abyss.
Minutes after fast sex, I am left with disgust nestling in the pit of my stomach. I am suffocating under his weight. His penis hangs limp between my legs and the inside of my thigh feels wet and dirty from his secretions.
I am thirty.
My hands are tied—literally—like a crucifix’s on the cross. I am stark naked but, strangely enough, I do not feel at all exposed. The overblown dome, which is what has become of my belly over the past nine months, is the center of attention.
In the operating theater the air is cold and sanitized. The anesthetic creates a comforting, warm, tingly sensation down my spine, which spreads allover my back. It neutralizes any sort of feeling from the waist down. The nurses, the doctors, the anesthesiologist, carry out some mundane conversation. They laugh and tease one another as they go about what is for them their everyday routine.
My husband cannot hold my hand as all sorts of tiny tubes and cables stem out of its back. He holds my index finger instead. He gives it a reassuring squeeze once in a while.
My teeth are clattering as though I am a skeleton in a cartoon movie. I find it extremely difficult to stop. I tell them “it’s freaking cold in here!” but they tell me it’s normal and they carry on. My husband gives my index finger another reassuring squeeze. The features of his face, carefully aligned, maintain the balance of my world.
My hands are still tied when the doctor cuts me open, when he submerges his hands inside me, into the guts and the blood and the organs. I can feel the intense pressure reaching the small of my back, then receding, then returning again and I almost find it difficult to breathe. Feeling his way into the uterus he is searching, wanting, persisting, achieving—I hear my son’s cry as he is plugged out of me. He is so clean. His skin has the whiteness of snow.
Cleansing waves, in slow motion, lean softly against my naked body and brush against the walls of my open uterus. For some reason Mom’s stony face emerges in my stream of thoughts. Her remembrance almost aches as her body is rotting away, buried in the wet soil.
I press my palms on the mirror of my memory and fervently wipe away the circle that is my face that so much resembles hers. The waves suddenly gush down on me in all their might, awakening me from lethargy—shaking that long lost wished-for self of mine alive. It feels as though I am suddenly and unexpectedly granted the ability to love.
I, somehow manage to liberate myself from bondage. I can bring my hands, with their catheters and their thin tubes and cables hanging, to touch him when they bring him to me but I remain still; in the crucifix’s position. I don’t touch him, as though not to disturb the whiteness. His face is near mine. I kiss him softly, right above the lips near his tiny nose.