The Misleading Vices of Non-Comprehension
One of the things about being little is everything is very big.
When we lived at the edge of the world I was very little. I remember things in bigness. Huge fields of white sand that filled my eyes all the way to the top. Choppy plains of pale teal water that were dangerous and exciting, and way beyond my comprehension. The house with its great tall doorway, the trees that stretched on and on upward forever, the adults that towered over me like gods... It was all rather large.
But the frightening thing when you are a child is not that everything is big, it's that some things that are big are not necessarily strong. Some things that can hold you and feed you, the things that can save you from tsunamis and whirlwinds and angry little red crabs are not all powerful.
I believe I was six, though days and years past with ought recognition out at the edge of the world. But if I was six, I was six going on sixteen. I knew the world like the back of my hand, I understood all of daddy's jokes (once they were explained to me) and grandma’s long tales. When mommy said 'keep it secret, it's just one of those things...’ I looked her in the eye and tried to tell her with all confidence that I understood. Though I don't know that she believed me.
I was, in fact, so knowledgeable that some days, my parents would let me go outside in the garden on my own. And sometimes, just sometimes, they would let me pop right outside the gate where I could still be seen from the house and play in the white, white sand. I don't remember anything from before we went out to the edge, but I remember thinking 'core, this is so much better than where we used to be!'
It was one of those days, those rare sunny days, when I was aloud just out of the gate and into the sand. Mummy had said to me earlier that I shouldn't go out to the water, because only brave men were strong enough to go out there, and I might get hurt. Well, I knew what she really wanted was a seashell. She had told daddy that a week before when he had forgotten her birthday. He still hadn’t gotten her one. I was six, but I knew enough (about seashells, and where to find them and what kind mummy liked) that really, in my head, I was definitely a brave man.
So once I was outside, I waited in the sand till I could hear shouting, then I crept along behind the low stone wall with my little plastic bucket and green butterfly net (it wasn't quite as big as daddy's net, but I was sure it would do) and headed down through the desert of salty sand to the ocean.
As I got closer the sand got heavier and damper, and eventually I was standing where it was wet, and the waves just tickled my toes. The waves were as big as mountains from where I was standing, but they got smaller closer in, and I was sure I could deal with those. I went in a bit at a time, getting that nervous feeling you get when you are doing something you are not supposed to be doing that might not work.
By the time the water was up to my waist I was getting cold and I hadn't seen any good shells. It was also getting late, my grandma would probably come looking for me in a minute and then I might be in trouble.
I was just wandering a little too the left in the azure waters when I heard a voice screaming somewhere behind me, about a second before I saw the muthruv pearl (what mamma called it) glint a few waves forward. Well, I didn't think twice, I dived for it.
My fat little fingers were closing round it when the water that was up to my chin rolled over my head. It was the second worst moment of my life. Everything was pulling, pulling down, and I wanted to breathe, to scream but the water seemed to be holding my mouth closed. My parents were never there when I just wanted them, but so far in my life they had generally been there when I needed them.
Not know. At least not to my knowledge. That minute or so I was struggling, clinging to the little glinting shell, I felt so utterly alone I could have died of emptiness, forget the sea. Then a hand closed round my bare belly and pulled me back. It was the best feeling in the world. To be free again, to breath. I took great sucking breaths trying hard not to choke on the air that was now, so precious. My mother held me very tight as she walked back up towards the house. She held me so tight, I thought maybe she was afraid I might fall back into the ocean if she let go. It hurt a little bit, but I didn't tell her that. Mainly because she was doing something very scary, she was crying.
I hated it when she cried. She did it often and it scared me just as much each time.
"Why did you go down to the sea?" She asked me tearfully, as we passed the gate. Slowly, I pulled up the large, shiny shell, and showed it to her. This of course, was the proud moment I had been waiting for, but when my mother saw it she gasped, and seemed to cry even harder.
She didn't say anything more till we were in the kitchen and grandmother was getting me juice. That was when I carefully passed her the shell and she took it from me. She stared at it as though it was something terrible, and I asked her "don't...don't you like it?"
"It is the best present anyone has ever given me," she replied very simply. She then placed it delicately on the table, just where the light would hit it, and returned to her bedroom. It looked like a small star, a very special gift brought into our kitchen to sparkle at us forever.
I felt more proud than I had ever been in my life. I puffed out my chest as my grandma brought me some lunch, and I ate my greens like the man I was. I drank my juice without slurping, and then I colored contentedly for a long while.
So long that the sun had started to set when I finished. The best thing I had drawn was a picture of the sun setting over the sea. It was a beautiful picture that I had to show to my mother.
I rose from my seat, walked down the hall and opened the door to my mother’s bedroom.
For a few moments the glorious red sun blinded my eyes, but when I could see properly again, I still couldn't really comprehend what I was seeing. There was just water everywhere, all flowing from the bathtub. It sparkled and shimmered from the light coming in from the glass wall, it flowed across the room and out over my bare feet and I didn't understand.
What on earth had mother done? She knew we couldn’t waste water (this seemed silly to me as we lived on a beach, but father was always yelling about it). Had she simply left the tap and not ever turned it off?
“Mama?” I asked this tentatively, as I couldn’t see over the tub and didn’t even know if she was still in the room.
There was no answer.
I stepped further into the room, feeling scared.
“Mama? Are you there? My voice rose a little, “mama? Mama, the water is running…” My voice trailed off into nothingness. Why wouldn’t she answer? That was the bit I never understood. All I ever wanted her to do was listen.
I stepped forward and peered into the tub.