Drops of rain push past the window frames to splash the marble floor. The windows swing frenzied against the gusts of wind. The moody black night often gets interrupted by sudden flashes of lightning. Broken branches hang awkwardly off the silver-oak trees lining the driveway.
So much chaos around me, yet stillness engulfs me.
Forcing the windows closed, I go to move but find that I can’t. The rain is pelting the windows with a vengeance, but it seems unreal. I see the downpour ram into the glass, but that’s all I can do.
I don’t get to experience it, this excitement of the rain. It will never get through to my soundless inner world.
I gently trace the streak of a droplet gliding down the glass. Pitter-patter. The rain sounds so, I’ve read. Somehow, I feel that’s not how tonight sounds. Pitter-patter is too incongruent for the harsh torrent slamming at the window.
A Blind Man’s Elephant, sound is for me. If they tell me rain sounds pitter-patter, it does. If they tell me rain sounds slosh-slosh, it does. If they tell me rain sounds drip-drip, it does.
I will always be groping my way, thinking an elephant is a tail, or trunk or torso.
Strong hands band around my waist, but I already knew he was here. I could never not feel his presence. It was beyond sound, beyond sight, beyond touch. When he was close, I knew.
Shivers race through me as he places a soft kiss below my ear. I place my arms on his and close my eyes. I wish I were more, so he could whisper his sweet nothings to me. I wish I could listen to his voice as he called me his Bambino.
Almost like he knows where my thoughts are headed, he weaves his fingers through mine and squeezes hard. His rougher kisses trail to my neck and he draws me closer until the smooth planes of his chest mould to my back.
And I hear it, though all my thoughts soon disappear under his lips. The steady dum-dum of his excited heart against my own when I turn around in his embrace.
The sound of rainy nights was as simple.
His heartbeat and mine, the only sounds I’ll ever truly know. That was the thought that finally brought a smile.
There is silence in my world.
I watch as my mother speaks to Ms Shawna, adjusting her grip on the heavy grocery bags dangling from her hands. Light glints off her metal bangles as they slide against each other with the motion. Ms Shawna’s gaze quickly darts to the bangles, almost like she can’t help it.
I crouch and run my fingers through the fine sand dusting the playground, trying to understand. They’re beyond me, these things that happen. How Ms Shawna knew of the bangles before she saw them. Why Dad tiptoes into the living room when he wants to surprise Mum. What made the milkman jolt despite the neighbour’s dog being locked up out of his sight.
The other day, I was practicing my signs in front of the window. It was raining outside, an early morning drizzle to ensure the midday’s stifling heat. I had thrown the window wide open, to feel the cool breeze swoop into my sultry room. As the first drops of windblown rain landed on my skin, I began signing the alphabets. By the time I had completed three rounds, I was pretty proud of myself. Everybody in the kindergarten class would want to be my friend now. They usually stared when I signed to them, but that was probably because I was doing it all wrong. Smiling, I dashed to my bed to pick up the book lying half-open. ‘Sign Language ABC’, it said.
I had gotten most of it right, except for A and E. I flung the book down and clenched my right fist. Thumb pointed up, A, thumb pointed in, E. The bed shook as I jumped up and down. Today, school might be fun. Today, someone other than Ms Shawna might talk to me.
I bounded off the bed back to the window. I was so happy I expected the calm around me to feel it too. Like a pebble rippling the water, I wanted to do something so the silence enveloping me would thrum with my joy. My smile was not enough. There was a strange feeling bubbling up my throat, and I wished it would bubble out around me.
The rain sprinkled me again, as it rushed to splatter the ground with dampness. The drops of rain hit, hit, hit the mud to disappear, and I wondered. Do you feel it too, rain? Do you want the world to know when you smack into the ground? Do you want to shatter whatever it is that holds you silent and hear it ring?
One moment I’m playing in the sand, and the next the sand is warming my face. The air is knocked out of me. The back of my head throbs angrily as my blurry gaze takes in the ball rolling to a stop a few feet ahead of me.
I wait for the daze to wear off before climbing to my feet, hardly noticing as Mum dusts my trousers with fluttering hands. My gaze flits over the kids spread across the ground, each eyeing me with confusion, frustration and some semblance of childish pity. Some of them have their hands thrown up, others are standing closer to me than I would have expected.
They seem to be shocked, exchanging wide-eyed looks and signing with their mouths among themselves. That is another thing that had recently dawned upon me. They sign with their mouths: tongue, teeth and all. Even Mum, Dad and Ms Shawna.
Is that why my classmates ignore me, because I haven’t learned their signs? Why does Ms Shawna not teach me that, then?
Everyone keeps staring at me, so my hands grow clammy. I don’t like this feeling, of me somehow being on the other side of an invisible line. The urge to run and hide is overwhelming, especially when I lock eyes with a boy whose glare is the sharpest.
My skin prickles under his stare, but I can’t look away. He looks at me like there’s something wrong with me. Discomfort snakes through me, along with a strange sensation that keeps inflating.
Suddenly, he breaks our stare-off and looks behind. I follow his gaze to find Ms Shawna calling him.
The thing welling inside me bursts. It’s a groggy realization at best, but deep inside, I’ve come to know. I know.
There is something I cannot attain, something that they all share but me. They can sign with their mouths without having to look at each other because of that. They’re not pushing me to the other side of the invisible line; I’m already there. I’m different, because I don’t have what they do. I might never.
I blink back the tears pricking my eyes. No, I won’t let myself think like that. I retrieve the ball and toss it to the closest kid. I smile at her, but turn away before I see whether she returns it. I’m going to learn their mouth signing and drag myself to their side. I’ll see her smile then.
Mum is still fussing over small scrapes across my knees so I tug her mutton sleeve. When I pat her hand to assure her, she hugs me before reluctantly standing. She pulls me along with her to Ms Shawna. Ms Shawna, who was busy chiding my mates, now looks me over. While Ms Shawna and Mum say their goodbyes, I acknowledge the gaze burning into my face.
The boy cocks his head and studies me with an inscrutable look. Maverick, I think. He’s popular and has lots of friends. He could be my hook to the other side.
In a moment, I’m going home. I wrack my mind, wondering what a moment’s difference I can make, for him to lose that wariness while regarding me. For him to regard me as one of them.
When my Mum tousles my hair to get my attention, it strikes me. I might not know their mouth signs, but I’ve seen this boy sign with his hand. I have no clue what it could mean, but it’s worth a shot.
So I do it. I raise my middle finger at him.
As years pass, I resignedly accept that that which eludes me is not as easy as being learnt. It’s beyond that, so I’m never gonna capture it. It’s simply beyond me.
There is silence in my world, and chaos inside my head.
There is always a wind whistling in my ears, a clock ticking in the room or a bird chirping faraway. No true silence anywhere. No knowing how it would feel without sheer life bustling around me, despite me.
That kind of silence can be lonely; I see that over the years.
The boy who gave me the finger in kindergarten becomes more notorious with every grade that passes. Third grade, he slipped away from the class when on a trip to the beach and almost drowned in an attempt to hear the sea. He had waded further than he could handle because he thought having the sea directly in his ears would help him listen to the crash of waves.
Fifth grade, he snuck out to go to a rock concert that his parents wouldn’t take him to. The management had found him snuggled up behind one of the speakers, running his hands all over to feel the vibrations.
Seventh grade, he skived off school and lazed at a nearby park. He had startled an old lady quite out of her senses when he had started screaming out of the blue. I remember him being so proud that week.
Ninth grade, he stole the counselor’s iPod along with the earphones and walked around the entire day wearing them. Usually, he would do anything to steal attention. And he got it too, because despite his antics, he was somewhat of a charmer. But that day, no one had mattered to him. He had been in a daze, wanting to do nothing with all those around him.
Somewhere along the way, he had gone insane. Doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results.
It was in the tenth grade that that daft boy finally got that he was deaf. Of course, he had known all along, but that was when he forced himself to accept it. He realized there was no way across his soundlessness.
Now, he’s back to being the boy he was before all this. Zayde reads, Zayde sketches, Zayde takes long walks in the park by himself. Zayde has cut himself off from the world that he can’t listen to, and given in to the world where he can.
Clench your teeth hard. Really hard for a few seconds. Do you hear a sort of zing in your ears? It’s a sound, you’re welcome.
That was the first note I sent him. It was nothing special, nothing I wanted to do for him. I accidently discovered it, so I decided to be gracious and pass it on to him.
What does the moon sound like?, he sent back.
I had a good laugh before sobering to how it was not funny at all. Not only did he not know sounds, he didn’t know that not everything made sounds too.
I also realized that Zayde was the kind of person who would steal your house if you gave him an inch.
Tell me more.
Because of my abject altruism, I did. In my not so very poetic words, I told him the mixer sounded like rattling everything inside his head. The clock sounded like a more mechanical version of his throbbing headaches. His Mum's voice sounded like honey, and mine sounded like bread toasted to a crisp.
I never directly approached him. I wasn’t about to learn sign language just to entertain that boy, thank you very much.
You’re probably not smart enough to. Since when did inner voices snark and snort?
Ten years before the day we exchanged vows was the day I finally mustered the courage to face him. Somewhere along the way, I had fallen for his silent sounds and endless longing. I had fumbled head over heels so he knew of sounds that could fill his haunting calm. All sounds he knew, yet none he could ever experience.
Ignoring my breathless heart, I had strode up to him.
I thought long and hard about this, but came up with only one sound that I didn’t have to guide you through.
I closed my palm around his fist and pressed it to his heart. Funnily, that was the moment I got my first true silence. Watching Zayde experience his first true sound.
His heart was racing underneath our joined hands when he raised his other open palm to mine.
Not the only one…