When I was a little girl far newer to the world than I am now, I was given to my mother as a bundle washed and clothed; and, for the first time, she held me on the outside. My tiny hands kept themselves in fists for a long time after I was born, she tells me. She tells me it’s something all babies do till they gain control of their hands.

I know I did it for a long time after.

When I grew up a little and made a few friends in school whose names and faces I have long since forgotten, I thought that I was happy. I was told to draw smiling faces and sing happy rhymes in class, and I assumed that since it was the only emotion I was surrounded with, it was the only emotion at all. I had no reason to feel otherwise, none that I could catch on to at that age.

A few years later, I learnt that my heart was about the same size as my fist, and I wondered if other people could see how tiny my clenched fists were. I decided that day, subconsciously now that I think of it, that it will be bigger in all other ways that were possible. I had to believe that it could stretch to accommodate important things.

Important things, like promises, memories, and the hope of a share in something beautiful.

Important things, like people.

Many a wind passed, many a solstice I saw, and when the grass was yellowing yet again did I finally get hit. My fists were bigger now, and I had started to feel the beginnings of what they now call loneliness. I breathed in and let it out, and let my heart open to whatever – and whoever – could find it. And so, it stretched a little, and it filled me up. Unable to stop, ignorant of the dangers of going on, it stretched and stretched and stretched, till the pressing weight of others was all my heart was – it had become a fist, it hit me hard and again, and I couldn’t escape.

But fists break too, and things leak out of them. Then they lie by your side, cut open and damaged beyond the point of healing completely.

And so did I.

My illusion broke all at once. There was so much more to the world than happiness, and now, with my eyes wide open and refusing to shut, I could see them all. I was forced to see them all. I saw them right back to the nursery rhymes and the drawings of smiling faces taped onto windowpanes, behind which were faces contorted with hatred.

Hatred existed. Sadness was there – sometimes at first, and later, always. The people  I held close had let themselves out, leaving behind the shell made of my arms. It wasn’t just a prison break, but a breaking of the prison itself. Funnily enough, I was the only one left behind, stuck in a rut. I was hearing the departing footsteps of people who had never really arrived, at least not on my door; and the more I realised this, the more I withdrew. I still wanted to reach out, but my hands were clasped into fists and my nails were biting into the flesh of my palms.

Who knew who I was? I wasn’t sure of it myself. I wasn’t sure if I existed beyond the dying meadow full of withering leaves of solitude that were crumpled underfoot as lightly-packed travellers passed by. Sometimes they stopped to take pictures, other times a relic; and sometimes they left a small token I could hide in a coffer crafted with my fingers – I thought I could never really call them fists again, not allowing them the ability to throw punches and cause hurt. A few people noticed that the meadow was singing, and they often deemed me human enough to ask me about the song.  On days when the wounds in my buried heart would be singing too, I would tell them.

I would tell them, filling them up with my whys and hows like balloons with helium, and whenever they found themselves full enough they would tie the ends and float away. Maybe they let the air out somewhere far and distant, but I – still rooted to my old spot – will never get to know.

Who knew who I was? I am still not sure of it myself.

I took to wearing gloves a while ago. In the cold. In the summer. When the rain would soak through. Even then. They don’t last too long, but they always keep my heart warm. The red wool is comforting. It is like second skin in some places, and bandages in others. Maybe someday my hands won’t be balled up, and a gust of changing winds will take them off. One thing is for sure, though – the day those fists beat again, the heart will not.


6 thoughts on “Helium

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