Normal

We all lived close to each other, in the community. There were no predators in paradise but we were alert, nonetheless. We found our way with sounds and clicks, with shapes that loomed when they came close to us, dark grey on light grey and grey on black. We knotted long ropes to tell our fingers where the paths were so our fingers could tell our feet. The colours were my secret. As were the contours and the shadows. As was the horizon. They were all my secrets and I kept them all close to me, holding onto them like we held onto the navigation ropes when we walked. I could be normal if I tried. In the evenings, we would gather together and sing, as birds flock and chatter in the one tree. It was a simple life, and one we took pride in. There were no outsiders. That is to say, outsiders did not last long and then we never spoke of them again. I was determined that that would not be my fate.

But then there was a boy. Actually, two boys. It’s always that, isn’t it? The place where the story unravels, or begins. The first one bumped up against me a couple of times while we were tending crops; fake accidentally but enough that I caught some of his scent; sage and lanolin under sweat. He walked off grinning each time with a kind of a lurching swagger. I was fascinated. The approach, the bump, the smug face and the words of apology that were so at odds with his smile. I took to experimenting. When he approached, I would dart away, leaving him to move his head back and forth, sniffing with a surprised frown. Within one pace of me, he could change direction too, but two paces and he was lost. I felt powerful and then swiftly anxious; my power could reveal me. So I let him bump me, his hands stretched out to feel my shape. I even let him move them on me one day, before twisting like a spring breeze and batting him away. I was curious to notice that he still grinned.

Nightfall was particularly bright that day. I sat and listened as the colours glowed like heat then sang themselves into the distance, high and cold. My heart was full already when the huge globe rose from behind dark hills, the colour of sand melting into the colour of surf, like it wanted to call the sea. A great longing arose in me, and a great loneliness. I was the only one in the world who could hear it. It was only then that I noticed the second boy. He was sitting ten or so paces away from me, looking at the sky. I stared at him, squinting in the moonlight. I must be mistaken. He gazed up at the globe, bright now like the belly of a heron. Then he turned. He saw me. He saw me watching. He startled. He saw me. He saw the sky. He saw me. Without thinking, I ran and clasped my hand over his mouth.

‘Don’t tell’, I hissed.

I had seen him before; I’d seen everyone before. He was older and in a different family group and he farmed a different food (fruit, maybe? Or grubs?) His hair was sand colour, like the globe. His shape was much the same as other boys’. My heart thumped the walls of my chest. My hand was still over his mouth, my eyes still looking at him looking at me looking at him looking at me, transfixed. He shook his head and pushed my hand away.

‘Of course I won’t tell. I’m not stupid.’

Then, amazed, ‘You can see it too.’

‘See what?’

But I was fooling no-one. He swung his arm in an arc and saw my eyes follow it.

‘This. All this.’

‘Yes. And the daytime. And faces. And the edge of the world.’

We met many times after that. Our hands and faces became our secret language. A wink for hello. A rub of the cheeks for the colour red. A quick flick of the wrist for the silver blue of a jumping fish. The other boy began to speak to me but what use did I have for that, now? He used the same old words that everyone else used. I wanted new ones. I wanted to run, surefooted. I wanted names for every silent cloud in the sky. My new companion’s name was Wren, like the bird. I pronounced it silently with one finger hopping briskly up and down to show a bright blue tail. He swooped his hands to show me flying high up; Hawk. Our real names. The other boy, Parrot, we never spoke of. Perhaps we should have done.

Wren and I came home one day to find a circle of elders gathered with serious faces. Instinctively we separated, unsure which one should go first, but they called both our names. Parrot was sitting in the circle, nervous and self-important, with a jutting chin. What had he told them? I saw my parents’ serious faces, smelled the sharp smell of fear. Wren and I never touched because it was a luxury not to have to. We mirrored each others’ movements often, close but never so much as brushing the others’ skin. I put my hand near to his, now.

‘Hawk and Wren, we have serious matters to discuss with you. You may speak only when told to speak. Do you understand?’

This was it; the moment I had been dreading my whole life. My mouth was too dry to reply.

Wren stepped forward.

‘Respectfully, elders, we have great news. We wish to bring you a gift.’

There was confused murmuring. I was rigid with anxiety. What was he playing at?

‘Speak.’

‘We are not abnormal. We are something new. We can see into the distance. We can move faster than anyone has ever moved. We can help the community in ways you could only dream of. Let us share our gifts with you.’

My mother’s face a mask of horror, mine a mask of pain. All those years of care, undone by two boys. I could not bear to be banished. I fled.

Wren found me two days later lingering on the hill, gazing at my parents in the distance as they tended their crops. My mother’s back was bent with sorrow.

‘Did they banish you?’

‘Yes.’

‘And they banished me too?’

‘I’m sorry. I tried to make them understand.’

‘What’s to understand? We’re not normal.’

And that was how I met my fate after all.

The sky was a rich blue, filled with bright white clouds. Behind us were the farms, all greens and browns and well-worn pathways. Ahead of us were the open yellow plains, flocks of parrots grazing, the tall trees standing in shady copses. The distant bulk of mountain ranges, the far away shimmer of the whale-filled sea. Light and colour and contour and shadow. The future unfolding before our curious eyes.

Photo by Fillipe Gomes on Pexels.com

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