A prose piece by Zarmala Naeem on the topic of anxiety.
Chapter 1: Childhood amnesia
From the moment I first woke up as a human being, I knew that I wasn’t one. I knew, because it was dark. I knew, because it was quiet. I knew, because I was still inside my mother: it was like being inside somebody’s mouth who hadn’t got a tongue. I was born with a tongue, though for a long time nobody knew it because I kept it hidden inside me, like a secret that can never be told. Perhaps not, were it not for my hands and feet and eyes, which were bad at keeping promises, and even worse at keeping secrets.
They got into a lot of trouble for it, growing up; they still give me trouble now. My fingers have got up to all sorts of things, not always the right things. My feet have taken me places I would swear I didn’t ask them to go, though no one would believe me for it. My eyes would see things they shouldn’t have seen, and now there’s no going back from it.
In the giant pink, squishy canal where most of my childhood happened, there were two parts: one which I could enter, and one where I was not welcome. My mother lived in the part where I was welcome, and my father lived in the other. I didn’t mind this. My father lived in a tight black hole, and my mother lived in the flappy, airier parts. I was not afraid of small places or the dark, but I was afraid of small things and darkness. I was not frightened of fear. It never occurred to me that it should be frightening.
All I remember is a great big monster, sucking and smacking and slobbering with its undulating tongue. Its tongue was the weapon, the part you really had to look out for, because as soon as it touched you, you were paralysed, its poison oozing from the tip and sticking you to the ground, before it swallowed you up and took you inside a cave where you were good as dead, but it would not kill you; it would throw you up and start all over again.
Was I ever swallowed? Sometimes. It was hard to avoid always, especially as the beast had a taste for children. I was safe when I was with my mother, but my mother was not safe when she was with me. I didn’t know what to do to save her, because the monster was her husband, and my father by reason, though I did not make the connection quite yet. And the reason this monster hated me so much was because we were both in love with the same woman. I wasn’t sure if I should stay away from her so the monster would be appeased, but I could not leave her with him, even if I was just a baby.
Whoever heard of a baby rescuing her mother? It cannot be done. But surely, a baby trying to rescue her mother has been documented in the copies of history? I only ever did more harm than good. My mother was frequent in reminding me that I could never make her happy and to the contrary, did nothing but make her miserable. My doomed efforts made me all the more determined.
My mother held me in her arms in the semi darkness of a square room that was half safe. It was a central area that was somewhere between a cloakroom and dressing room, because you weren’t sure whether it was a public or private place. There was a door on every wall: one coming in from the front door, one leading to the kitchen or somewhere unimportant, one to the bedroom that was safe and one to the bedroom that was unsafe.
I wasn’t exactly sure why my mother was holding me, as I was not being changed or fed or anything else that demanded immediate attention. I was not held like this very often but neither did it feel entirely new to me. Whenever I look back to this memory I always remember her as looking hostile, but after a long time, I remind myself that she was gentle in the original. It was one of the rare times that she was not angry at me for doing something wrong, like existing in the wrong way. Most people would think that’s hardly a crime but I think it’s one of the worst crimes you can commit. Most people think they’re right and I’ve got it wrong, but I think there’s no right or wrong answer.
I cannot explain what my crime was. I cannot transcribe what I did that was so bad. I can only assure you that I was born knowing that I was the child of evil as inherently as I knew that I came in human form and the poor woman that gave birth to me was completely innocent. I was guilty of deceiving her womb; perhaps I had killed her real child, the child she should have had and would have loved.
It made a lot of sense. It explained her impassivity towards me. She normally got on with me like I was an unavoidable piece of housework that you just accepted as part of your daily routine but that didn’t mean you had to like it. It explained why the evil monster was always at my back; it wasn’t so much trying to take me away as take me back.
As my feet brushed against her silk body, I felt a tide of excitement rush through me, spewing me onto a bright blue ocean that knew no depths or bounds. The water was her sheer, smooth skin. It was a clear, sunny day but the sun was not something that shone in your face, shouting its presence; its presence was a mere suggestion, winking at you in the mysterious sparkles of the powerful sea.
I often went away to places like this, doing something perfectly ordinary. I never thought that I had magic powers but I automatically assumed that magic existed and it was a straightforward fact of life. That’s why it was so easy for me to accept this woman for what she was: my whole world, compressed into a single life-form. Her soft curves were the contours of a planet, beyond which was outer space I suppose, because I never looked that far. This was the epitome of beauty: a full-sized woman with the touch of a baby, whose eyes were syrupy dark chocolate treacle; whose nose was a cat come to play; whose lips were edible rose petals; whose neck was a ladder leading to the sky; whose breasts were the fluffy puffs of clouds; whose waist was a stuck steering wheel; whose tummy was the perfect pillow.
Zarmala is a second year Psychology student who enjoys writing poetry and is currently writing a novel in her spare time.