Date Of Birth

Entry by: jaguar

28th October 2015

'Thank you, Ella darling, but I was going to start lying about my age.’ I hold the big, purple ‘I’m 40’ badge against my chest and reach to hug you. You squirm like a hooked fish as if something is bothering you today.

You look at me from under your half-moon lashes, your dark brown eyes showing your hesitance as they frame all your emotions. ‘Is it always wrong to lie, Mum?’

The ground shifts slightly under my feet as I realise this is the moment I’ve been dreading. How do I answer you honestly without giving you the wrong impression? Has the time come already? But you’re only eleven and, more to the point, I’m just not ready for what I have to do.

I did what I did because it all webs out from that date on a page that pins you to your existence. Belonging, expectation, rights. It comes from knowing the exact moment you entered the earth and screamed. How much harder would you scream if you didn’t know.

If you were destined to be that person who bobs at the bottom of a weir, never getting traction, never freed from the water’s relentless ask.

I think that might have happened to you if I hadn’t heard your cry. At the worst you would have gone undiscovered until your end. At best you would have drowned in the waves of people clamouring for help. So many people with their breeding needs. I believe there was no one left to wade through it all with you held above their head.

So I stood, with you in my arms, and decided to commit a crime. All around me were the effects of chaos. I was a volunteer, there to help but it was overwhelming. Once we stop respecting each other’s space, values disappear like dust before a vacuum cleaner. Nothing was where it was ten minutes before. Limbs were missing, parts of the ground, friendships, honour, lives - it had all gone astray.

So what did it matter if I took you too? If I filled the hole where your parents, your place, your culture should have been? If I pretended I was there at the moment of your birth? Went further still and claimed your conception, your bloodline, your being?

I'd been pregnant when I left Ireland six months before but during my journey one of my mornings came incomplete. There was a shattering I didn't quite manage to patch together. A haunting sense that I hadn't wanted the baby enough, had just let go inside.

Once we went back to Ireland I registered you as mine, explained where I'd been overseas and it was easier than I thought. Your birth certificate is, of course, a fake. It says father unknown but that’s the tip of the iceberg.

You came from a refugee camp you see. A few days old when I found you under the earth mound the floor had vomited when the bomb fell. Next to a woman who slumped back with a horrible, unyielding slap when I tried to raise her body. Her face was gone so I don’t know if you look like her. I gathered you up and checked you over. You were crying fit to burst so I went in search of milk. I took you with me, of course I did.

That day haunts me through my dreams. Over and over again I go back and check for survivors. I cry in delight as I discover your father, your real mother waiting there for you. The dead woman disappears and I fit you back in. I leave you to your desperate existence. I undamn myself but I still wake crying.

During waking hours I wouldn’t make that choice. I’m glad I rescued you, I know you are better off here. You’ve been fed, loved, educated, spoilt even but your core character hasn’t changed.

There were so many different nationalities in that refugee camp. I can’t even tell you, for certain, where you’re from. But, in many ways, you tell me every day. Generous to a fault, conservative with a small c, passionate about your education and so very proud. I’ve blended you in to Southern Ireland seamlessly because there are so many parallels between our cultures.

Yet, Ella, every cell of you is Syrian and I promise you silently, on the day humans stop being idiots I’ll tell you the whole truth and take you home.