Thursday, 27 February 2014

Child

There's a child that never leaves me. A real child, not some figment of my imagination like an invisible friend or ghostly inner child. A REAL female child with a freckled face, sea-coloured eyes, and sun-kissed hair. She follows me everywhere: into shops, libraries, caf├ęs and restaurants, where she skips behind or sits beside me. People say she must take after me, but she's not mine I say.
I don't remember when she appeared and I don't know where she came from. I've tried countless times to shoo her away, but wherever we are she lies on the floor and screams. I ignore her and walk away; she's not with me I say, but she picks herself up and runs to catch me up, dragging an unattractive dolly with a grotesque head in a nylon dress with her.
Why does she cling to me? I'm not her mother! At least I don't think I am, but sometimes I wonder... Is it possible I could have had a child and forgotten all about her? Can you blank pregnancy and the complications of labour? Erase a baby's milestones? Their first word and tottering step?
Each time, I dismiss these thoughts. NOT BLOODY LIKELY!
If she's not mine, then WHOSE IS SHE?
Other people can obviously see her so I'm not going mad. They often comment on her healthy chubby glow, so she's well looked after. I don't see her when I'm in my own home, so where does she go I wonder? I don't recall a sleepy head in my lap or dent next to me on the sofa. But then my internal and external lives are kept separate. I assume different roles at different times in different spaces.
Could I be Mother to a daughter and not know it?
At weekends, she tries to sneak her tiny hand into mine, but I don't let her. People might think I'm abducting her! And I'm sure they would believe her lie over my cry that I'M NOT HER MOTHER!
Sometimes if she follows me to the seaside, she begs for an ice cream or a red balloon. I ignore her pleads and incessant tugs on my sweater. I was taught to never speak to strangers, so why does this child insist on stalking me?
I've thought about reporting her to the police, but the last time I tried, she told the community officer she wasn't lost or missing. And with her apple cheeks and naughty grin, he was bowled over.
Why isn't her own mother searching for her? Doesn't she want to know where her baby girl goes at odd hours? When she tucks her tight into bed at night does she ask her? Does she sing her lullabies and stroke her forehead?
I'm the last to know what a child needs, but I imagine comfort and security. A bubble bath, a mug of milky cocoa and a bedtime story. Has it changed since I was a girl in a cotton nightie?
What does this child need? What does she want from me?
What can I possibly give that her own mother, whoever she may be, can't give her?
Will she always be with me? Trailing behind, walking beside, or skipping in front of me?
A lost child that says she's not lost - SHE'S WITH ME!

*A tale inspired by 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo