THE ORNITHOLOGIST'S DAUGHTER
She held papers to the conceptual republic and stood at the check-in desk with no luggage, just her papers and her ticket. She was leaving soon. A sense of family surrounded her.
Antwerp. Midwinter. I stood in a bookstore reading the large black words in children’s picture-books. For days I had been standing there, going through the shelves, not really knowing what I was looking for. And although I knew all the characters in the books were dead some of the images kept moving.
The departure lounge was full. Everyone had a seat on the flight. No one spoke. Yet she heard indiscernible voices seeping through the air as though spoken from behind a screen of warm wet cardboard. As they waited, she stared ahead, and there everyone had a something, they saw.
I remember I had written the book I was reading. The words on the final page were mine – as I read them I realised I knew them by heart. A member of staff asked me if I needed help. I began to cry shamelessly and replied as I had replied before.
The plane prepared to take off into the night sky. She grew tired thinking of the journey. She was directed to her seat, and sat next to a polite old man who smelt of apples and tobacco with hints of cinnamon and seaweed. As the inertia of the roaring vessel hijacked her body, she fell asleep.
There were no names on the books. I felt a strong childhood longing to hear my mother read on the radio. All day I had sat by the hi-fi, intent on hearing my words read by her. At four her voice finally unwrapped from tall wooden speakers with the static sound of brown baking-paper. A story without an alphabet – scribbled on the back of a Corn Flakes box – a story of the little men and the neighbour’s daughter.
Flight UV-509 went silent twenty-three years after take off. In a town two thousand miles off the Republic’s coast, some inhabitants remember a morning when they woke to find yards streets littered with personal belongings: toiletries, clothing, jewellery, limbs.
In Antwerp, I can still hear the trams screaming, the small wheels rolling under the tremendous weight of metal. All winter I had thought of their horses leaning over our hedge for apples. The grapevines entwined with birds. Her pink and blue T-shirt. Her milk-smile broken in half by two missing teeth.