We are not heathens, just from another country, not knowing English yet. We are the town’s curiosity, the zoo that people visit, to see how we live, what food we eat, and how we talk. Some visit regularly, especially the church ladies. They come to give us printed papers, single fold with Jesus’ stories and other biblical messages. I’m sure their hope is that, not only will they help us learn English, but they will gently nudge us onto the path to salvation as well. My parents were of Presbyterian and Catholic persuasion, so they needn’t have bothered. We knew what church was. We even went to a white Presbyterian one, just up the street.
Sometimes they brought many of the same story, a stack of cheap paper printed with one ink, usually blue or green. Never red. Brownish, gray paper, ugly to look at, and uglier to touch. The kind of paper children learn to write on, with thick solid lines and dotted ones in between. The only time I really liked this paper, was when we tore it up and glued the pieces onto a balloon that soon became a pig. I was very proud of my pink and green pigs. They were supposed to be piggy banks to save money, the trouble was, you had to cut them into pieces to get the coins back out. Just another stupid idea in my opinion.
They usually stayed for a chat and tea. A long chat and tea usually. I think they were trying to teach my mother to read those ugly things. I would rather learn from picture and comic books, much easier and prettier.
I saw him crawling, why was he outside? I was all the way down by the river playing with stones in the water. He was moving towards the bridge, crawling towards the bridge. The gate was open! the ladies didn’t close it behind them, they must have left the front door open too. I yell at him to stop, but he’s little, he doesn’t understand me. I run to him as fast as I can, he’s already on the bridge, my heart is aching and my head is hurting. The bridge has no sides, only ropes grownups can hold onto. I crawl towards him and latch my hands onto his slippery little feet. He is wriggling to get away. I hold tighter. I can’t see his head any longer, the only things I see are his feet and my arms, we are crossways, the wrong way, dangling above the river, he on one side, me on the other. I hold onto his feet as tightly as I can, and scream…and scream…and scream…and scream…
I wake up in my bed. I must still be alive. I run into the other room, he is sleeping in his cot. Was it real? Did I just have another nightmare? But of course, it happened, because she has a new story to tell about “How I almost lost BOTH my children, even though the gypsy said only one will die” and a long, drawn-out, description of her valiant rescue of both her children, pulling them up from the brink of certain death, and carrying them with superhuman strength to safety.
I wonder if he remembers? I wonder if he remembers the rocks below, the water flowing underneath him.
I have a reminder of that day. I know it happened because my voice was torn from me that day. I think my screams floated down the river and the eels feasted on them, they feasted on every single one, until they were bursting full. That’s why they wriggle, even after they’re dead, they wriggle because my trapped screams are trying to leave them, and come back to me.