I look out my window. I sit in the window seat and gaze down over the pavement. Five storeys up and it’s hard to see if there is moss growing in any of the cracks, or if there’s chewing gum trod into the concrete. I can see the amorphous canopies of those neatly planted trees. And the slender finger of the apartment building across the road; the older, darker, tamer ones that rest each side of it. There’s a café over there on the corner, and a dairy a little bit further down the other side. A couple of blocks away there’s a park, with a playground, and a pond, a little clubhouse, playing fields, and oh-so-many people coming and going and living. Beyond them, dark against a reddening sky, the silhouettes of downtown, beginning to turn on their own lights, challenging the sky.
It’s all out there, but I’ll never set foot there. I’ll never see it.
“That’s for people who were born,” my mother tells me, while I stare out the window with splayed fingers against the glass. “Not for people who were made.”
“Why was I made then?”
“So that I could have a child.”
“I want to be born.”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“It’s not fair.”
She wraps her arms over my shoulders, drops her chin onto my head, “Oh, my love, so many things are not fair. I wish you could go out in the world and see it all. But it’s not meant to be. It simply isn’t.”
And I know what she means by that. Because there was a time, a couple of years ago, when I defied all her warnings and stepped out into the incredible world. It was a beautiful sunny day in the early part of summer, there were swathes of flowers floating along the walls of houses I could see just a block from where I huddled. There were children playing. There were dogs running about. The blossoms on trees I could see in the park were smudging from pink into green. Mum was at work.
I was scared. I could feel my spindly legs trembling. I had no coat, but the weather looked warm. And I had no shoes, but if I stuffed some extra socks into a pair of Mum’s so I could keep them on my feet.
But when I stepped out into the world, I learnt this awful truth: the world hurts. I’d had no idea what pain could be like until I set my foot on the paving stone. It felt like fire, shooting up from the stones, travelling my bloodstream, lodging in my head. The outside air stung against my skin, flaying it, ripping at the bones, blasting against my eyes. The wind, the chatter, the rumble of cars – too loud, it assaulted my ears.
But I was young – I was brave with youth – I believed I could adjust to this torture. I squeezed my eyes shut, I took another step, then another. But it didn’t stop. My skin felt sticky, it felt acid. I forced my eyes open and I stared at my forearm: a thin layer of blood formed all over the surface, baking as if in an oven. And I tasted the same blood in my mouth. I might have screamed, but my mouth wouldn’t open, the lips locked together. And my legs felt weak, wobbly, like they wouldn’t move. I saw the first of my fingers begin to droop. Begin, like it was melting…
… I had to get out of there…
I stumbled back into the building, collapsing against a wall in the foyer. And I left a bloodstain where my face hit the polished tiles. My knees gave out on me, and I was kneeling there, staring at my limp fingers for – I don’t know – maybe ten minutes, before my strength returned enough to let me stand, before my fingers were solid enough that I could press a button on the lift and flee to safety.
I stared at my face in the mirror. The skin still a bit gluish, lips melted together, and then bloody as I manage to tease them apart. I could watch as my face healed, reformed, became itself, as the vaporised skin on my arms, cheeks, neck, became whole again. I was afraid as I washed the blood away that my face would go with it, but instead I became me again. Fragile, beautiful, trapped.
Mum told me when she got home that I was lucky my excursion hadn’t killed me. “If you’d taken a few more steps, you wouldn’t have been able to make it back. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I wanted to be free.”
“I told you-”
“No, you didn’t. Not that.”
“I told you, the world out there is not for you.”
“But not that. Not what it was like.”
“You know now then.”
“I want to be like everybody else.”
“But you can’t.”
“I want to go out there.”
She shook her head sadly. “You have all the world you need in here. You have a home, you have pretty clothes and chocolates, you have toys, you have me. Please don’t be ungrateful again. I deserve better from the daughter I gave life to.”
And so, I live the world through pictures. There are movies and TV shows, there are chatrooms, and Google Images. I can see what the beach looks like, and the forest, and the Arctic, the Antarctic, jungles, deserts, plains, cities. All these old ruins, these pyramids, these grand marketplaces. I study them in pixels, fascinated, alone – and there’s something on the screen that’s missing, even when I display them on the big TV in the lounge. Something sanitised and not-alive. Something not the same.
And so, I cuddle up against the glass, against my window, and I watch them all go by.
One of them is Bobby-Joe-George. And I know that’s not his name. But it’s the name I give him. And in spite of the distance, I can see that he’s attractive, and I can see something in the way he walks that tells me he’s confident, self-assured, adjusted, certain, probably meant for greater things. I think that sometimes he might look up, might notice my shadow against the glass. And I wave to him, unseen, drinking in the sight of him. One day he’ll take girls out to movies, he’ll take them to dinner, and for walks along the beach, or through the park, he might kneel down in front of one of them one day with a diamond ring. She might dress in white for him, who knows?
But I do know: that girl can’t ever be me.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work