This story is by Selma Writes and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
THEIR EARS, NOT PIERCED
“The Heresy of one age becomes the Orthodoxy of the next” Helen Keller
I sit on a bench outside the airport newly arrived on my flight from Asia. Two little girls sit beside me. They’re either twins, or very close in age. Their ears, not pierced. They are wearing dresses that reveal chubby arms with rubber bracelets of many colors. They are completely absorbed in their iPads whose cases match the color of the dresses they wear. They don’t acknowledge my presence and neither does the young mother. She stands swaying from side to side tapping her baby’s bottom with a rhythmic beat as she hums softly. The baby, she carries in a sling. The baby’s hand is all I can see because it is dressed in a hooded-Pikachu-romper. Yellow. The young mother’s gaze is focused on the street and she is obviously waiting for her ride. I close my eyes for a moment and immediately, I’m transported back to a time when there were no iPads.
Both of my sisters and I wanted to sit by the window on the bus. We wanted to look out the window to see the villages go by. We wanted to see the dogs barking and chasing after the bus. But we were too little; the windows too high. More than once people sitting on window seats offered that we sit on their laps. Mom would let us. But the roads soon lulled us to sleep. We’d wake up with our cheeks stuck to the unfamiliar necks of sweaty people; the necks of people whose faces we didn’t ever remember seeing before. Who were these people we’d think and then we’d give out a cry for our mother.
Once I remember being awakened by a pair of hands with rough nails caressing me down the front of my little body under my little dress. The unfamiliarity of the hands alerted my senses and startled me awake. And yet another time a woman shoved me way under her own blouse and had me sucking on her breast like a baby. The salty taste of her skin made me feel like gagging and woke me up with a tremendous start.
Growing up in Macondo my friends and I always saw it as a good place to grow up and a good place for raising kids. There was nothing the townspeople wouldn’t do to help young mothers. It was as if the entire town was involved in the raising of children.
As young girls learning about our place in society, we all agreed that here, mothers did a lot to help their children form lasting friendships by exposing them to other children. Someone was always ready to attest that growing up their mothers were good at making play-dates for them, at hosting parties, picnics and outings. That observation was uncontested. Sleepovers at friends’ homes were unheard of though. For that, mothers here relied on their own sisters and sisters-in-law and employed the assistance of cousins. In my case, sleepovers with my cousins meant a 5-hour bus ride in the company of strangers.
In my mind I can still see my mother carrying one baby boy, a big over-stuffed bag holding books, blankets and baby clothes and three little girls running behind her. The day before the trip we were made to understand that we would be wearing our cousins’ clothes because though he was still too young to notice that he was a boy, society required that mom had him dressed in boys’ clothes at all times. This was mostly as a tribute to dad for having reached that coveted goal of procuring a boy — dad’s trophy.
Girls were produced at a-dollar-a-dozen but boys had to be special-made. So that when a family was blessed to introduce a son into the world, God forbid they’d ever be mistaken for a girl. In those days, no boy-baby ever knew the joys of wearing pink and orange and purple or variations of those colors. So cloaked in that mentality, mom did as she was told.
Those early practices of sharing clothes and riding buses molded us. They taught us that we belonged in a community of girls and that we had each other to rely on when we needed support. Every bus ride ended being a happy time; unhappy incidents, if any, only lived on in our minds.
In the Macondo that I know, there has always been a strong belief that girls have to endure much grief and pain throughout their lives starting with the miracle of birth. Of course there were male-doctors and nuns ready to assist in the delivery of a baby, but neither the doctors nor the nuns had first hand experience of what the pain was like. Epidural anesthesia was unheard of then as it was understood that the price of the miracle was the pain.
“Our main job as women is to carry a heavy banner and to make it look easy. No matter what, you cannot give any hints of how heavy or painful it all is. You do that, and all the other women will continue supporting you. Fail, and you stand alone.” That’s the mantra my friends and I heard repeated often growing up. Thus, when in the throngs of the delivery, wet towels would be shoved into the mouth of the mothers to prevent any sound of agony from escaping into the waiting room.
If a boy popped out, the doctor himself would shout it out in siren fashion: “…itsa booooooooooooy!!” And this would ring through the town by word of mouth. A celebration, tailored for the father, would then begin and it would continue until the mandatory 5 days of rest for the mother was over. Acquaintances and family alike would drop in on the father to offer a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. A small present that almost always consisted of clothes for the baby — blue, would accompany the well wisher.
On the other hand, if a girl popped out, there would be no such announcement. The doctor would exit the room, seek out the father’s eyes, and just nod a sympathetic nod. At this, the father would lower his head in an apologetic gesture and his buddies, standing at sporadic locations, would read into the father’s demeanor, wave and walk away saying “better luck next time buddy,” under their breaths. The new mother would still qualify for the mandatory 5 days of rest and one day, during that short rest-period, the baby would get her ears unceremoniously pierced to comply with their antiquated belief concerning girls and pain.
Everyone knows that babies cannot fend for themselves. They need feeding, bathing, cleaning up after and more. But unlike other countries where independence is encouraged in boys and girls, here in Macondo the practice of doing everything for the boy would continue. Never allowed into a kitchen, sisters would turn into maids for their brothers. And brothers would take their sisters for granted never really conceding to the idea that what they were doing was unfair.
There I sit out on the bench, thinking all these things in no particular order. I am tired and sleepy but forcing alertness. The tropical breeze on my face, arms and toes titillate my senses. I slip off my sandals, crack my toes, open them wide then rotate my ankles. The girls and their mother are still there. I stand next to the bench, leaving my sandals where I sat, clutch my hands and stretch my arms long causing my back to curve. I proceed to stimulate my body into alertness with my various stretch poses and then as I am in limp-pose with my head touching my knees, I hear the mother speak for the first time.
“Come on girls get your things, dad and grandma are here.” I straighten up and remain standing. I glance over at the girls as they scurry around trying to fit little feet into their rubber polka-dot boots. Then holding their iPads by the small handle they stand shoulder to shoulder by the edge of the sidewalk giggling softly. Dad gets out of the car and kneels down on bare knees to embrace his girls.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy,” they repeat over and over. They each kiss daddy on his cheek and the next moment one of them is on daddy’s shoulder and the other one is hanging on to one of his arms. With the girls stuck to his body this way, he stands and kisses his wife on the forehead and pats the sleeping baby on its hooded head once. I don’t mean to intrude, but my eyes get fixed on his ears. Dad is wearing earrings. On both ears!
“He couldn’t stay awake for daddy huh?” he says, rubbing the baby’s head again but looking into his wife’s face. “That’s okay,” then he discreetly pinches her on her hip. “I have missed you terribly honey,” he whispers close to her ear. Then sliding the door of the minivan open he places his giggly-bundle inside and directs them to the back seat.
Grandma sits in the middle of the seat so the girls position themselves on each side of her. They strap themselves in, kick off their boots again, raise their legs and the next moment they are staring into their screens again while grandma strokes their hair one at a time. The baby in his Pikachu romper, a boy I come to understand, is strapped into his purple car-seat and off they go back to their lives.
My ride into town doesn’t arrive for another hour. I expected them to be late as usual; only people in Asia are punctual, but they just wouldn’t let me plan on a bus-ride. Too dangerous they said. So I wait. Out here I see people come and go. Teeth flashing in open laughter on the faces of some, mostly the newly arrived passengers and restrained smiles on the others.
“Those girls are studying medicine, and those will become pilots and engineers,” a voice says to me from inside my head.
“Yes,” I say to the voice absentmindedly. “Still in its nascent stage, but things are different now. I wonder if they can feel how much the winds have shifted. I get the impression that Macondo is ready to embrace the change that is being soldiered on by those kids returning with knowing-laughs on their faces.”
“They are the lucky ones,” I reassure my imaginary companion sitting on the bench now. I sigh long and feel a weight lift off my shoulders. My whole face breaks into a smile.
“I’m glad I made this trip. Ten years away is a long time.” I speak the words aloud to my companion again, “I’m one of the lucky ones too!”
I hear the buzz of dreamland calling me. I yawn such a great big yawn that tears spring from my eyes. I go over to the food-stall and get a coffee-smoothie and I plead with my mind to keep watch for just a little longer. I sip my smoothie and wiggle my toes.
“Change’s a-coming”, I inform my toes this time.
An off-duty taxi drives up to the curb; its radio blasting. I recognize the song playing and I smile from ear to ear.
“Oh Michael Buble,” I say out loud, “you and me both. I am feeling good!”