I was fifteen when it happened. Life felt like a blank canvas back then. That year my canvas was painted with a crisp, blue summer. The heat wore on that year, and the guava trees never came into bloom. The air was full of dandelions whisked away by the wind. They floated wistfully in the air, longing to fall back down to their original resting position.
I am at a cemetery now. The air is still as bright. The guava trees are dead now. The dandelions have been lost to the changing weather conditions. My canvas has overflown with pain and doubt. I wrap myself with it to hide my shame.
In 1964, in Scotland, in the barn next to the cemetery, I gave birth to a baby girl. She was half-deformed, with crooked legs, one of them crossed across her shoulder, thick swollen lips and a flat nose that made her look almost like a frog. I have never decided how I felt about her in that moment. She was a reflection of my humiliation, the product of a disturbance in my quiet, still life in the village.
The biological father was the son of the master of the house where we worked. I could not bring myself to tell you who it was before because I knew you could have done nothing. I knew that our poverty had stolen from us our right to be treated humanely. It had chained us and in all his cruelty, this boy knew it too. When he asked me to accompany him to the spare room one night, I knew I was helpless. I was helpless because I was poor and because I was a woman, and also because I was a child.
We grew up together playing hopscotch behind the white-washed walls of his house. His skin would turn red under the midday sun, like the bricks which lined the boundary to the servant quarters where I lived. I remember touching his hair once. It felt like hay, dry and dirty-brown at the same time.
When it happened, I grew quiet. I grew quiet because it taught me that I had no value as a person. That I did not matter because one day I was a playmate and the next I was the play itself. That was the way with rich people. They used you.
The days wore on and I felt life awaken inside my belly. The boy kept silent and avoided me. You begged me to tell you what had happened but I had closed myself off to everyone. I did not talk anymore. I knew that stories about me bounced from ear to ear among the other servants and a mix of anger and shame rose inside my chest like a flame every time I heard whispers.
As the seasons went by, flipping from summer to winter and then finally to spring, my hatred toward the bug growing inside me only strengthened. I did not deserve to lose my youth like this. I deserved to ride horses on the moors and play the piano like the master’s girls did. I deserved to wear frilly dresses and wear tulips in my hair like them. The mistress did not let her darling girls near me for fear they would ask questions about my state. I was so ashamed of myself.
When the child was born, it almost destroyed my body. I bled all over the haystack in the barn where the child came out for far longer than my body could handle. I don’t know when it cried. I couldn’t care. It took my childhood away.
There is darkness inside all of us. My darkness grew from my exploitation and my poverty. From having to do things girls my age weren’t supposed to do.
One night, when the child had reached two weeks of age, my misery washed over me. I fumbled in the janitor’s room looking for a spade, knocking things over in my ferocity. Then I ran out in the rain, the thunder crashing over my head, and jumped quietly over the low wall of the cemetery. In a patch of vacant ground, I thrust the spade and dug vehemently. The mud smelled musty and the smell of dead roses from a grave nearby hung in the air. I dug and dug until I had created a hole the size of a cradle. I sneaked back into my room where I picked up the bundle that lay near the fire and brought it back outside to the hole.
Dear Mama, I buried my daughter alive.
She was such an ugly thing.
I visit the cemetery every week. I stand over an unmarked grave and scatter roses over the decaying mud. I am thirty-four now. The rape does not haunt me now like it used to. But the past has dug its claws into my brain and I cannot escape it. I keep dreaming about the cemetery at night, about the crudeness of the kill. And yet what eludes me is that I feel no remorse over any of it. I simply feel no remorse.
Perhaps my visits are compulsive. I told everyone the child was stolen. The mistress said it was such a shame. The whole thing was such a shame, she had said, shaking her head.
Life continued after that as usual. I almost became happy again, scrubbing clothes in the open, yellow fields of the farmhouse. When I grew to be twenty-five, I learnt that my marriage to the miller that year was a result of his pity for my poverty. But he had a lot more money than I did and so I became wealthier than I had ever been. I spun my web of lies in front of him too, pretending that I did not want children again because the loss of my first had been so tragic and so devastating that I could not begin to think of having another again. I don’t love him either. I don’t want his children.
The past is a difficult thing. I have never come to terms with my own because it shows me how I find my villainy to be normal. I keep visiting the cemetery to make sense of myself, to feel perhaps, a hint of sadness.
But I don’t.